Text by Nancy Webb
Magalie Comeau’s surreal architectures recall the shadow worlds of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In Calvino’s book, the explorer Marco Polo describes to the emperor Kublai Kahn the 55 magical cities that he has visited in his journeys, each in dazzling imaginative detail:
In Olinda, if you go out with a magnifying glass and hunt carefully, you may find somewhere a point no bigger than the head of a pin which, if you look at it slightly enlarged, reveals within itself the roofs, the antennas, the skylights, the gardens, the pools, the streamers across the streets, the kiosks in the squares, the horse-racing track. That point does not remain there: a year later you will find it the size of half a lemon, then as large as a mushroom, then a soup plate. And then it becomes a full-size city, enclosed within the earlier city: a new city that forces its way ahead in the earlier city and presses it toward the outside.
These invented worlds are annexed throughout the book’s nine chapters to themes such as Memory and Desire, which speak to the breadth of human experience. Similarly, Magalie Comeau’s work explores the relationship between space and embodied experience. Her nebulous spaces, which hang suspended in the pitch black or frozen in deep expanses of white canvas, fabricate realities out of half-remembered shapes that signal interiority. These are not clearly defined iterations of space—shopping mall, office, bedroom, attic, for example—but decontextualized inner sanctums.
Gradients of light vaguely delineate the features of these interior realms, creating a voyeuristic feeling, like looking in on a row of quietly illuminated living rooms on a suburban street at night. Comeau’s luminous geometries also deftly imitate the gauzy effect of daylight slicing through cracks in the walls of a darkened room, where dust particles tend to float lazily.
It is liberating to thwart the inevitability of organized space—to attempt to undo the bureaucratization of space by dreaming up imaginary architectures. Différences évanouissantes does this work of clouding the familiar logic of space. Comeau creates otherworldly coves that reconsider the way spaces ought to behave. Rather than being stable, legible and controlled, might spaces instead possess shapeshifting abilities? Spatial uncertainty is represented here by interstices and shadowy folds—the spaces-in-between that typically go unnoticed.
These dense but precise clusters, skillfully rendered in oil paint, feature repeated elements. They are like parts of a scattered map. Visual repetitions get snagged in the soup of memory; remembrances of specific rooms run thick in the mind (seem opaque and unchanging) but are always fleeting, always flawed. Like memory, Comeau’s work communicates in fragments — a glimpse here, a pinhole view into another reality there. Her paintings challenge the objectivity of place. Each is a reminder that we build our own experiential frameworks on top of our environments. Like secret scripts, our embodied memories and desires define the places that we inhabit.