Soulier Shines At The Hood Downtown
Monday, September 19, 2016 ArtfulEdge : Susan B. Apel
Laetitia Soulier's "The Fractal Architectures" is the perfect inaugural exhibition for the Hood Downtown. It fits the gallery's rationale: to maintain the Hood's touch in the public and academic communities by bringing global contemporary art to Main Street. It is sumptuous in look and has intellectual heft. You could stroll through the space, taking in the rich colors and forms, or you could study the intricacies of a single photograph. The detail will not let you go.
Once you have familiarized yourself with the space and the works, you could study a brochure, or go to the Hood website to read an essay about the exhibition, or attend one of the artist's talks to understand Soulier's vision and process. Her work in this show consists of two sub-series of photographs, The Matryoshka Dolls and The Square Roots, as well as a miniature model constructed on site (look for her incorporation of bricks from the old Hood Museum) and a sculpture.
The Square Roots 2 by Laetitia Soulier
The Matryoshka Dolls are deeply soft, undulating, richly red and as Soulier says "womb-like." The windows and doorways arch, the stairways spiral. (Their curves contrast with the fricatives and plosives of the words, "fractal architectures.") The opposite is true of The Square Roots, all right angles and boxes within boxes, relieved with greenery, seeds, emblems of organic regeneration. In each series, the eye wanders back and forth between the repeated patterns and intricate details and the human form. Some of the time, the human model is the full physical body; at other times, only eyes or feet peek out at various points in the frame.
The first step in Soulier's process is to design wallpaper--segments are on display--with the desired pattern that provides a structure that will infuse the finished work in larger or smaller proportions (hence the term "fractals"). Soulier then hand-builds a miniature model of a room or rooms, complete with tiny and exquisitely rendered furnishings. The exhibition includes a video showing the artist's hands at work. She places her human model over, beside, or behind the created "rooms" and photographs them. The photos are enlarged--in this show they are 40 by 80 inches--to allow the viewer to feel the depth ("like diaromas") and to see each small detail. You may find your fingertip inadvertently hitting the protective glass as you point out tiny noteworthy images to your companion.
Self-portrait by Laetitia Soulier pulls back the curtain. Soulier shows herself as the artist in process. The drawing that she is working on is actually a drawing of the room in the photo. Note the photographer's shutter release in her hand.
At an artist's talk given at the gallery on the afternoon following the September 16 opening, Soulier explained that she chose models of 8 years of age because it is a time when a child's reality encompasses both the rational and fantastical. The tension between the two is one of the themes of her work, as is the constraint of mathematics juxtaposed with freedom and imagination. (Perhaps not such opposites, Hood Director John Stomberg commented, noting that Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland fame was a logician.) Soulier spends time in developing a character for each series and then considers several candidates to serve as the human model. Occasionally, she said, in the middle of that process, she might even find "the perfect candidate on the subway" in New York City, where she lives and works.
Viewers had differing interpretations of Soulier's work. When one said he thought the images were light and buoyant, Soulier pointed out one of the Square Root series that she thought felt tomb-like. Other viewers commented on the young girl in Matryoshka Doll 2, her face half in light, half in shadow. (See featured photo, above). Is she whimsical, pensive, sly, or as one person said, creepy? A favorite interchange occurred when someone asked Soulier how she determined when she had gotten the proportion between the human form and the miniature model just right. Her answer: "Over coffee."
Laetitia Soulier, center, responds to questions at her artist's talk on September 17. Hood Director John Stomberg, seated far left.
Among the best things about this show is that it is difficult to exhaust in a visit or two. Especially with the gallery's evening hours, I would anticipate that The Fractal Architectures will be graced with repeat viewers.
Detail, peering through the top into the sculpture from The Matryoshka Dolls. The three dimensional sculpture adds a different perspective from that of the two dimensional photographs.
The Hood Downtown is open to the public, free of charge, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Sundays 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. It is located at 53 Main Street, Hanover NH. Laetitia Soulier's "The Fractal Architectures" runs through December 11, 2016.
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