MICHEL DE BROIN at Mercer Union (37 Lisgar), to December 8. 416-536-1519. Rating: NNNN
Michel De Broin creates consis tently thoughtful and provocative pieces about the inherent and subtle contradictions in social systems and infrastructure, especially about the ways we get around in and occupy urban space.
One of the most obvious sources of tension, both social and environmental, is oil. De Broin sums up this conflict in a neat sculptural object by turning a gas-guzzling land yacht into a pedal-powered vehicle.
He's removed the transmission, suspension, engine and interior from a 1986 Buick Regal, replacing them with four plastic bucket seats, bike pedals and gear mechanisms that push the car along, Flintstone style, at about 15 kilometres per hour. Votive candles replace the headlights. A video of the car tooling around Hell's Kitchen in New York City accompanies the piece.
De Broin makes a straight-ahead critique of the petroleum economy, but also plays around with the object's many implications. A pedal-powered luxury sedan poses a provocative question disguised as an intentionally failed solution (one of the bulky and low-velocity vehicle's purposes, according to De Broin, is to "block traffic"). Beyond that, it has a whimsical flair that rescues it from being a shrill, one-note symbolic clarion call of resistance. Above everything else, it's charming.
Toronto traffic police, however, didn't think so. While pedalling around the block, Mercer Union members and staff were charged by traffic cops for operating an unsafe vehicle. Though the car has raised law enforcement eyebrows in New York and Montreal, police in those two cities haven't pursued any fines. Here in Toronto, however, Mercer faces a fine of $500.
Interesting that his vehicle should be labelled unsafe when placed next to an actual car, especially in a city that prides itself on its green inclinations. If we are compelled to mull over this particular irony, De Broin has made his point.