Catherine Bolduc explores the space between desires and reality

Artist’s work shows how nothing turns out as we imagine

By John Pohl, Gazette Visual Arts Critic August 30, 2013
Catherine Bolduc explores the space between desires and reality
 Catherine Bolduc’s My Secret Life (I Was Loving You in Secret) features Ikea cabinets, steel wool, plastic beads, fluorescent tube, MP3 audio, speakers and a strobelight. Photograph by: Maxime Ballesteros


MONTREAL — Winning the Powerhouse Prize was a dream come true for Catherine Bolduc, an artist whose practice is based on the idea that nothing ever works out as we imagine.

Of course, most dreams are more complex than hoping to win the Powerhouse Prize, worth $5,000, in a competition with two other worthy finalists, Nadia Myre and Thérèse Mastroiacovo. The award is given by La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse, an artist-run centre, to a mid-career female artist who has contributed to Montreal’s cultural life “with determination and without compromise” over a sustained period.

“I am interested in the way the human psyche perceives and constructs reality by feeding it with its own desires,” she writes in her artist’s statement.

Travel is a perfect example of how our perceptions affect reality, she said in an interview. “We project an ideal world, based on tourism brochures.”

Disappointment is the inevitable result, but the new reality can itself be magical. Describing an adventure in Japan, where she drew herself as a manga character, Bolduc talked of an initial disappointment that she would never see Mount Fuji except on a sign. Her photograph at a lookout of a grey, cloudy scene doesn’t even hint at the hidden mountain, but a sign in the foreground shows Mount Fuji under blue skies.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter that she visited Mount Fuji at the wrong time of year, Bolduc said. “The reality was that the mist lifted on a night with a full moon, and the room I was staying in had a direct view of the mountain.”

Bolduc writes that her work is “an invitation to experience phantasmagorical spaces” that allude to utopian dreams of love and exotic quests, but where magic can work for — or against — you.

“My esthetic is to evoke human vulnerability when facing the discrepancy between desires and reality,” she writes.

Bolduc’s installations are often boxes or rooms that emit light and sound through openings or peepholes. Inside are dollar-store items transformed by coloured lights, smoke and mirrors into attractive objects.

But the strobe lights and sounds can repel visitors even as she is enticing them with her gaudy objects. During a residency in Berlin, she exhibited a tower that emitted not only lights, but the sound of gunfire.

This exhibition, in a Berlin museum, was followed by what she called the Ikea version when a gallery asked for something smaller it could show in its stone cellar.

Ikea products entice as cheap versions of good design, she said, and she remade her light box from an Ikea wardrobe. A later version shown in Quebec, with multiple wardrobes, was a precarious house of cards with unbearable strobe lighting.

“The house of cards is a metaphor in all my work,” she said. “It’s fantasy you can construct, but which can dissolve or disappear at any time.”

A childhood experience set Bolduc on her path.

“When I was 5, my father told me about a Christmas gift of a ‘Chinese game’ he was to give me,” she said. “It became super awesome in my mind because of the story my father invented.”

But when the “Chinese game” was unwrapped, it was just a banal game made in China. “My father’s deception created something imaginary that was marvellous in its own way,” she said. “It continues to this day as a joke between us.”

In 2005, Bolduc commemorated the Chinese game with an installation of the same name at Galerie de l’UQAM.

“I didn’t use it illustrate the toy, but to re-imagine the experience of expecting something marvellous,” she said. “Not to be disappointed, but to find something marvellous in the reality.”

For more information, visit Catherine Bolduc’s website at or her blog at

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