Laetitia Soulier is a French-American multimedia artist residing and working in New York City since 2006. Born in France to an Algerian-Berber family. Inspired by her French and North African heritage, she crafts mesmerizing large-scale fractal architectures. Through the combination of two and three-dimensional mediums, Soulier seeks to challenge and expand the viewer’s subjective experience of reality. Soulier’s work offers, on the one hand, an atmosphere of oneiric complexity, flushed with color and steeped in mystery; and on the other, mathematical structures and scientific research. Her work seamlessly integrates magic and scientific thinking, and richness of form and concept. Her multi-scale photographic and sculptural sets engage viewers in reflections often relating to post-colonialism and environmental issues.
She studied throughout Paris to receive her BFA from the Art School of Cergy, her MFA from l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, and a degree in philosophy from the University of Paris X. She then earned a master’s in photography and studio lighting at Les Gobelins-Paris. Her installations and large-scale photographs have been exhibited internationally at the Musashino University in Tokyo, the Venice Arsenal, the New York Foundation for the Arts, Miami Art Basel, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and the Aperture Foundation in New York City. She was also selected as the New York Photo Festival’s Multimedia category winner and won the Exposure Award grand prize. Most recently she had a solo show at Claire Oliver Gallery and the Dartmouth Museum of Fine Arts. Her work is in many private and public collections, such as the 21C Museum, the Hood Museum of Fine Art, the West Collection, among others.
I am reminded of the perspectival loom of the Quattrocento period in early Renaissance when viewing the pictures of Laetitia Soulier as though experiencing a subliminal stroboscope that rapidly alternates between a still shot and it’s underlying mathematical lattice-work on which it is constructed. The viewer is plunged into a kinematic rotorelief of pulsating fractals and figures that through a juxtaposition of contrasting scales is effectively internalized, subject to the same perceptive inquisition it employed to examine things. The installation serves as a threshold to an un-folding itinerary from where one emerges like a charged Baudelairean kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness.
Interview between Laetitia Soulier and John Stomberg, Director of the Dartmouth Museum of Fine Art for her exhibition’s catalogue
John Stomberg: Could you please discuss the importance of straight photography to your ideas? You could achieve somewhat similar results in your photography through Photoshop and 3D software. Clearly not the same, but certainly easier to execute. Still you choose to start with images of actual models.
Laetitia Soulier: Every element in each photograph is handmade, from the architectural model to the furniture. I do not use 3D modeling to create any part of the final photographic image. I do, however, use Maya and AutoCAD to draft the architecture and the furniture prior to construction. I also use Adobe Illustrator to create the design of the wallpaper that covers the photographic set. After photographing the set, I use Photoshop to post produce the images. In my process, digital technique and craft are completely intertwined. My work plays with the idea of photographic images as constructs. Photography transforms our perception of the world around us. Through photography, we project a vision as much as we record reality. I create from that zone of indiscernibility, where ideas and physical reality meet.
JS: Why is the material reality of the model crucial? What do you do with your set design after the photograph is taken?
LS: While digital media became available and prominent for my generation, my practice integrates traditional craft and high-tech processes. The physicality and labor of the construction of the set is like a ritual—like the making of a mandala. It’s a very slow and layered craft. Every piece is carefully put in place like grain of sand after grain of sand, and after being photographed, the set design is taken apart so only the photograph remains.
JS: Is the act of making the models a significant part of the process for you or is it all about the resulting images?
LS: The making of the model and the resulting image are both equally important. My approach to photography is closer to painting or cinematography; just as the filmmaker builds their movie set or the painter composes their still life before painting it, the construction of the architectural model is part of my photographic process.
JS: Please discuss your interest in fractals.
LS: I find some interesting connections between fractals and photography. Fractals repeat a figure at different scales, from very small to very large. They connect microcosm and macrocosm. Photography also plays with scale; something quite small in reality can appear really large in a photograph and vice versa, depending on the lens, vantage point, and printing scale. I use fractals in my photographs as a way to reflect on the photographic medium and on the concepts through which to perceive our environment.
JS: In the worlds you create, we become— slowly—aware that everything that seems real is actually constructed. Does that metaphor have a wider significance for you? If so, could you discuss it?
LS: My work plays with the idea that photo- graphic images are constructs. These multi-scale architectural models are visual mazes or visual paradoxes. They are kaleidoscopic environments that disrupt our perspective and question our perception of reality. I want viewers to look at my photographs and wonder what they are looking at and how it was made. Through the combination of two- and three-dimensional mediums, and the multiple shifts in scale and perspective, I seek to challenge and expand our subjective experience of reality.
JS: Each of your series has a dominant color associated with it: green in one case, and red in the other. Can you discuss how and why you arrived at using such prominent color themes?
LS: In the Matryoshka Dolls series the rooms are warm and circular like a womb. This series explores the circular and feminine archetype. Nested dolls can be found in various places around the world: in Russia, China, or Japan; They are very cross-cultural symbols of filiation and generation. Inside the architecture, the red walls undulate following the outlines of the dolls. In the belly of the matryoshka there is a double-helix staircase shaped as a strand of DNA. The red color of the series refers to bloodlines and the animal realm. The green color in the Square Roots series refersto plant life. In some places, the geometric patterns of the wallpaper blend with the ivy climbing up the walls. I am very interested in morphogenesis and the growth patterns of plants. Inside Square Roots, the vegetation is outgrowing the model and breaking through the hardwood floors. I started the Square Roots project after traveling to the Amazon jungle and spending time with the Shipibo people. Their relationship to plants was very inspiring for this project.
JS: There are many references to childhood and imagination in your work. Ironically, children often pretend to be adults, and the idea of a dollhouse exemplifies this phenomenon. Can you describe your interest in play and its relationship to being grown up? Also, does this relate to the idea of creativity for you?
LS: I often work with child subjects, though not exclusively. Children are physically and psychologically going through a growth process, which contains a metaphorical significance for my work. The Fractal Architectures series mirrors the children’s morphogenesis and transformational process, as the rooms and objects appear in different scales following a fractal logic. Children unfold within these spaces, which are at once representative of their toys, their homes, their childhood, their adulthood, the space between their past and their future.
JS: Is your work a very serious form of play on some level?
LS: My work is inspired by children’s play. Construction games and patternmaking help us understand spatial relations between singular elements and a greater whole. Through these forms of creative play, we get a sense of our place as individuals in relation to larger cosmic harmonies. Child development answers in miniature our collective unraveling from an individualist view to systemic thinking. In a sense, all art is a serious form of play through which we create new maps and ways of being.