Luce Gallery announces Memory Palace, the first solo show by Johanna Mirabel at the gallery in Turin from October 6 to November 18, 2022. The Paris-based painter incorporates pensive figures into dissolving, dream-like interior spaces. By combining symbolic hues, tropical plants, household objects, and suggestions of exterior spaces with detailed portraits, she creates deeply intimate works that explore the immersive and transportive experience of recalling a memory. When viewed together, the paintings on display pose deeper questions about how our memories can simultaneously coexist and conflict with our history, cultures, and even identity.
The exhibition’s title, Memory Palace, refers to the Method of Loci, a memorization strategy based on mental visualizations, which helps to remember information by associating it with well-known spatial environments. Using this mnemonic device, we imagine we are walking through a familiar space or memory palace relating the element to remember to the corresponding locus. For Mirabel, these familiar comforting spaces are the interior rooms of a home. In her own interpretation, the artist reveals the psychological process of how we recall and experience memories by juxtaposing elements from the exterior world with our interior spaces. Each painting illustrates how some details – like ocean waves or a breeze through palm trees – are recalled more vividly than others, understanding that our memories work less like pristine photographs and function more like fragments of images, sounds, feelings, and tastes.
In the context of Mirabel’s paintings, memories seem to be a combination of both personal recollections and taught experiences of historic or cultural traditions – all that have shaped her identity and journey. The brushstrokes – often loose, gestural, and painterly – are used to simply imply an object or area. By contrast, the artist creates realistic portraits of the sitter’s faces who are typically friends or family, including herself and her twin sister, Ester. Each has a detailed somber expression – capturing a moment of deep thought or reflection. Similarly, there is also a great deal of care and detail incorporated into the floor, with the wood grains aptly articulated to lure the viewer’s eye. For Mirabel, the meaning is two-fold, the flooring references the lumber industry for French Guyana and reminds her of visiting her relative’s homes there. Tropical house plants are also incorporated into the compositions with reversed light and shadows adding to the mystery of what is part of the space and what is part of the vision. The artist uses a bright palette of cerulean blue, red ochre, golden yellow, and burnt sienna, inspired by both Guyanese Tembé traditions and their rich red clay earth. The diaphanous washes of colors dissolve the physical barriers between interior and exterior spaces and instead emphasize the veil between them. The strength of her work is how she captures the transition between two distinct states – physical and mental – and challenges the viewer to decipher which details and symbols belong to the memory and which belong to the present.
In Living Room n° 23 (2022) we see a suggested room captured in monochromatic red ochre with hardwood flooring and a collection of tropical houseplants. On the left, a woman is slouched in an unseen chair. Her legs and arms crossed, her shoulders slightly shrugged. She gazes downward but is not fixated on any object. Instead, her solemn expression seems to confirm that she is lost in thought, perhaps on the one being conjured just behind her. Surrounding the fence-like edges of the red interior space, are overcast clouds with hints of a cerulean sky beneath. Below the figure, the detailed floorboards activate the depth of the scene, creating an uneven perspective that appears to gradually lift upward and slightly curve, as if leading us towards something in the unseen distance.