Fancy Fences, Waterloo Public Square (left), Roy Street, Kitchener (right)

“The steel fence, an urban and modern object of crowd control, offers us great possibility . . . We want to use it to realize carousels, arches and mobiles that inspire freedom and creativity. We will transform this object that was intended to reduce delinquency into something that inspires delirium.”1

After almost 10 years of working together and exhibiting in Quebec, the trio of artists that call themselves BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière), came to the attention of English Canada in their remarkable 2005 Toronto exhibition, Besoin de croire/Need to Believe.2 Throughout their 16 year collaboration, the collective has frequently returned to the production of installations that critique the spaces where art exists and the real and perceived boundaries that define those spaces. These installations typically parody the physical institutions of art: a rustic Quebec maple sugar shack in a gallery, (Le Chantier, 1997) contrasted the “high art” gallery space with an icon of folk culture; a chapel within a chapel within an art gallery (Chapelle Mobile, 1998); and a studio with the remnants of previous projects and installations reconstructed in a gallery space (Le Discours des Elements, 2006).

Left to right: Le discours des éléments and Besoin de croire/Need to Believe.

These rooms within rooms are often vertically subdivided, forcing one to “transcend” both physically and metaphorically from a lower level to a superior level (L'Abri des Arbes, 2001 and Besoin de croire/Need to Believe, 2005), or to “break through” laterally, where a car appears to have dramatically crashed through an inner wall (Besoin de croire/Need to Believe), or where a "torched" hole in a wall may reveal another realm of possibility (Le Discours des Elements). When BGL works outside, they occasionally bring parts of the gallery space with them, installing, for example, a drop ceiling in the woods or in a back alley (Domain de l'Angle I, 2005 and Domain de l'Angle II, 2008). For BGL, containers and barriers are made to be broken.

Left to right: Domaine de l'angle #I and Domaine de l'angle #II.

In 2011, CAFKA's programming committee invited BGL to propose a project for SURVIVE. RESIST. The possibilities for both interior and exterior projects were discussed, however it was finally decided that the project would be outdoors. At the time, BGL was engaged with the idea of mobiles involving a variety of incongruous objects, precariously balancing from a single point of vertical contact. For an exhibition at Rodman Hall Art Centre in St. Catharines, BGL built a 1000 sq. ft. mobile that balanced a PVC replica of a galvanized steel crowd-control barrier. 3  BGL proposed a similar mobile using a cast iron lamppost in Kitchener's Victoria Park as the fulcrum. Logistical problems, however, did not permit the construction of such a large mobile in the park, so the trio went back to the drawing board.

A key piece of the mobile proposal was the crowd-control barrier. BGL discovered that they could make full-scale, light-weight facsimiles of the crowd-control barriers using grey PVC electrical conduit. Facsimile barriers carried the same visual message as the steel barriers without the weight. This made it possible to delicately, if not seemingly incongruously, balance a plastic barrier in the mobile. Having acknowledged the problems of building an outdoor mobile, BGL turned their sights on street lamps and proposed instead to suspend the faux barriers from street lights around the city.

BGL submitted sketches illustrating local lampposts, each with crowd-control barriers precariously hanging from the lighting standards, as though tossed in the wind like loose sheets of paper caught in tree boughs after a wind storm. CAFKA chose to situate the project primarily at Waterloo Public Square, where seven fences were hung throughout the parking lot and across the street. One was one perched on a lamp standard at the top of a parking garage, five stories high. Another was enmeshed into a decorative steel structure above a public walkway and another was tangled up in the light ballast of a street lamp. The precarious position of these fences – their height and the fact that they were strapped around the structures that they were hanging from so that they could still move in the wind – caused a small amount of panic, which had not been anticipated.

Each fence was assembled before it was to be installed with the help of City of Waterloo staff and a cherry picker. As the fences were made out of plastic, the brackets could be snapped loose from the frame, and woven around the existing lamp structures. Each part of the fence was secured with screws and tethered with airline cable to prevent them from flapping too much.

CAFKA Artistic Director, Sarah Kernohan remembers the installation: “Although the installation took place in plain daylight, business owners at Waterloo Public Square reacted almost immediately. Within 10 minutes of installing the first fence, the manager from a bank that backed onto the square called the police to issue a complaint. After some discussion, we were able to continue to install the fences. Despite all discussions with City staff, and securing all of the appropriate permits, there were still issues. An oversight: I had forgotten that unusual pranks were relatively common in a city with a large university engineering program – and it was immediately looked on as such.”

After installing six of the seven fences at the public square, BGL decided that they had done their work. Then upon further discussion, it was decided that installing a fence in a tree would be a good idea, and Sarah Kernohan offered the use of the tree in front of her apartment building.


1            York University Fine Art News, “Odette sculptors-in-residence BGL 'Fancy Canada,'” <>

2            Besoin de croire/Need to Believe, Mercer Union, Toronto, Ontario, January 13 - February 19, 2005. <>.

3            BGL SOLOS, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, Ontario, October 1 - November 20, 2010. <>.