New Hood Downtown exhibit features art by Laetitia Soulier

by Arunav Jain | 9/29/16 12:00am

Contemporary French artist Laetitia Soulier plays with geometric shapes, repeating patterns and human models to encourage viewers to take a second look at her art. Interested visitors are able to do just that at the place where her work has been displayed since Sept. 16: the Hood Downtown exhibition space. Located at 53 Main Street, the exhibition space aims to fill the shoes of the Hood Museum of Art, which will remain closed for expansion and renovation for the next two and half years. During this time period, Hood Downtown will display the work of ten contemporary artists from different corners of the world.

Soulier’s exhibit, titled “The Fractal Architectures,” features images based on the mathematical concept of fractal geometry, in which a certain pattern is repeated at every scale. The artist places human models — often children — in meticulously-fashoned life-size models and takes a photograph to permanently capture her creations.

“I was interested in how photography plays with scale,” Soulier said. “It lets you take something very small or something very large and make a smaller print of it.”

Despite their animated appearance, Soulier’s images are handcrafted from the large winding staircases in “The Matryoshka Dolls” to the minute bookshelves in “The Square Roots.” Not surprisingly, one image can take Soulier anywhere from three to nine months to create.

Viewers at the exhibition space can watch the creation process of the tiny sculptures on one of the wall monitors. The exhibition also includes a sculpture and an installation that allow viewers to experience first-hand Soulier’s sets — environments that almost seem too perfect to exist.

Soulier describes her work as a “conversation” between photography, sculpture and installation. However, the artist still interestingly refers to her works as “paintings.” Regardless of this complex diversity of media, her works are united in one aspect — they are all visually stunning and succeed in capturing the eye. This aspect is in many ways connected to one of the focal aims of the Hood Downtown, under the guidance of Hood director John Stomberg. As curator of the exhibit, he purposefully selected artists whose art is both appealing and meaningful.

The intention is to invite more people to the world of contemporary art; they may initially approach the work due to its attractive qualities, then realize the deeper theme once they’re actually standing in front of it. Kevin Ponce ’20 admitted that he was drawn to “The Matryoshka Dolls” due to the warmth of the red color and was surprised with the level of detail when he saw it up close.

“It was modern but comfortable,” Ponce said.

The structure and location of the exhibition building aids Stomberg in his goal to draw more people to contemporary art. Soulier’s artwork “The Square Roots” is right up against the front wall of the exhibit, exposing it to the people walking past on Main Street. Stomberg describes this as “throw[ing] the doors open to contemporary art.”

“There is a large audience for contemporary art in the Upper Valley, but the Hood Downtown is also for anybody who happens to walk by — it’s like a gift to the community,” Stomberg said.

With this project, Stomberg, who specializes in contemporary American and European art, also plans to “demystify” contemporary art, specifically by debunking the general perception of it as something that has to be “off-putting and challenging.” He describes Soulier’s work as both visually and mentally captivating.

“The more time you spend with her work, the more complex it becomes,” he said.

Stomberg’s attempt to demystify is echoed in Soulier’s motivation behind her exhibit. With her images, she intends to “invite the viewer to pay attention — to dive deeper into any image.” Soulier describes her art as a process of “cultivating observation,” an idea she feels becomes all the more significant in the fast-paced world we live in.

“There is something very important about shifting to that quality of presence, of observation, where you are more contemplative,” Soulier said.

Like she repeats patterns in her art, Soulier repeats the importance of slowing down to students who are beginning to immerse themselves in studio art. She cautions them against sticking to one medium at first.

“Go in as many directions, creating a field of possibilities as expansive as possible,” she advises. An important idea she emphasizes is to be ‘more process-oriented than outcome-oriented.’”

Soulier maintains that it’s integral for students to relax and not worry about the product, instead enjoying the work that leads up to it. When it comes to her own busy schedule, she keeps a balance.

“I am not always creating,” Soulier said. “There is a moment when I’m just having dinner.”

“The Fractal Architectures” will be displayed at Hood Downtown until Dec. 11. The space is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.