- Aurélie Verdier
Belgian photographer and installation artist. He studied theatre and cinema in the late 1960s, creating a fruitful ground for his future installations and later dividing his work into four categories with the aim of blurring the frontiers of art and social reality. One such category, ‘Transformation–Installation’ was rooted in a spoof governmental pamphlet written by the artist in 1979 announcing the bankruptcy of art: he argued that art was unnecessary since it was inherently non-functional. From that point on, this ironic point of view was built into his recreations of everyday environments injected with incongruous elements, as in Driving School Z (1979; see 1998 exh. cat, p. 44), an installation in an Antwerp gallery that recreated the soulless premises referred to in the title. At once bleak and dramatic in its painstaking reconstruction, it contained furniture from a real driving school as a way of blurring the distinction between art and reality. Bijl’s polished installations have an unsettling atmosphere, as they lack any sense of human presence. Tackling issues of mass culture and its vehicles, he reconstructed some institutions in tableaux that mixed the artificiality of highly stylized objects with the tangible reality of everyday artefacts. By so doing, he questioned the identity and meaning of environments once they have been relocated to an institutionalized art context. In Composer Memorial Room (1991; see 1998 exh. cat, pp. 104–5) he demonstrated a fetishistic approach to historical personalities, and to the display of culture and memory. Bijl also raised the issue of the banality underpinning dream industries such as the auction house or the travel agency; the consumer society, the leisure industry and the notion of tourist culture remained central throughout his work. An installation realized for the Renaissance Château d’Oiron in France, Wunderkammer (1995; see 1998 exh. cat, p. 115) displayed a humanist’s cabinet of curiosities and parodied the curatorial labelling of culture. Here the artist played with the surroundings in a witty way, drawing attention to the fact that an old French château was no longer an aristocratic home but had instead become an exhibition space devoted to the display of contemporary art.