Art

Delirious Architecture Filled with Fractal Trickery

Laetitia Soulier "Fractal Architectures: SquareRoots" (1) (year). All images courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver gallery. Photos by
Laetitia Soulier, “The Square Roots 3” (2016), C-print (all images courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery)

The old saying “God is in the details,” connoting that paying attention to small things can have great rewards, resonates powerfully in Laetitia Soulier’s The Fractal Architectures, now on view at Claire Oliver Gallery. There’s a rare quality of genuine wonder in these photographs and set models. When I visited the gallery to talk to the artist about her work, I saw people animatedly gazing into her Matryoshka Doll sculpture, talking to each other, pointing out particular features: the spiraling wooden staircase that winds through the work’s core, the tiny vanity with its art nouveau curves, the anthropomorphic clock shaped like the doll figures on the cardinal-red wallpaper that lines the entire room. The work is earnestly charming, but this endearing feel is achieved because it’s persnickety in its material details, layered in its meanings, and visually bountiful. You need to spend half an hour looking at one photograph to gather all of what’s happening inside it.

Laetitia "The Matryoshka Dolls" (2014) mixed media sculpture
Laetitia Soulier, “The Matryoshka Dolls” (2014), mixed media sculpture

The exhibition’s title references fractals, which, according to the Fractal Foundation, are “never-ending, infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales.” This comes into play with the mechanics of Soulier’s construction of the sets as documented in the large-scale color photographs that make up the larger part of the exhibition. It’s all repetition of objects and motifs — some beneath the threshold of easy notice.

02_Fractal_Architectures_Square Roots (1)
Laetitia Soulier, “The Square Roots 1” (2014), C-print

In “The Square Roots 3” (2016), the green wallpaper is a pattern of alternating nested boxes. The central figure in the scene, a young boy, sits on a cross-sectioned staircase that is also essentially a series of boxes within which are further elaborations on this theme: small rooms that contain square cubbyholes for books, a partially laid floor foundation that reveals a lattice of rectangles beneath it, a drawer spilling out building blocks. Even the boy’s belt contains the wallpaper’s pattern in reversed colors. The work rewards your looking: upon closer inspection, the fractal trickery seems to play out almost infinitely, making delight verge on delirium.

The Fractal Architectures SeriesBuilding the imageThe Fractal Architectures, is a series of nine images divided into three chapters: The Matryoshka Dolls, The Square Roots, and The Star Shells. The hyper-realistic models, conceived for the unique point of view of the camera, are built in the toy scale of 1/24 to life size and above, following a fractal logic. Within the interlocked spaces, body parts such as a foot, a thumb or a face appear to reveal the multiple scales incorporated in the model. Young characters unfold within these fractal architectures, which are at once their toy, their home, their childhood, their adulthood, the space between their past and their future. After the photograph is realized each of these miniatures is deconstructed.Fractal GeometryThe conception of each model begins with a simple geometric figure; the circle for the Matryoshka Dolls, the square for the Square Roots, and the spiral for the Star Shells. These elementary forms repeat at different scales to create an intricate pattern, which weaves together the infinitely small and the infinitely big. This never-ending fractal motif spreads across the wallpaper, and is the basis of the model’s floor plan and interior design. The Matryoshka DollsThe first chapter of the Fractal Architectures unfolds the archetype of the circle. The wallpaper for the Matryoshka series is made up of nested dolls woven in a circular dance, each impregnated with this repeating pattern. Similarly in the model, the circular archetype puts everything in rotation; the hardwood floor grows in concentric circles, the doors bend in arches, and the staircase swirls to the higher alcoves. The walls undulate organically, folding and refolding in a womb-like interior where the exterior seems to no longer exist.
Laetitia Soulier, “The Matryoshka Dolls 3” (2014), C-print

Soulier achieves her effects by playing with scale. Most of the photos feature models that vary between a one-to-one scale and one-twelfth scale. Like the matryoshka dolls, chambers are nested within rooms nested within other rooms. It takes Soulier several months to build these sets — in one case (“The Square Roots 3”) it took an entire year. The god she serves requires the sacrifice of patience.

Often the works include a glimpse of a child, a being more open to the imaginative adventures that adults tend to refuse, one who is always on the threshold of becoming something new and different. The child’s physical presence within the image frame and his metaphorical status as a liminal being helps to illustrate the paradoxical nature of Soulier’s worlds. The artist told me that she studied logic and epistemology, gravitating toward Lewis Carroll, creator of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because with his paradoxes, Carroll pushes rationality into a corner.

The fractal interplay in these pieces focuses the viewer’s gaze, but there are other ideas percolating. In “Fractal Architectures: Square Roots 1” (2014), Soulier has included a tree at the basement level growing up right through the floorboards. It’s as if she’s saying that the natural world models endlessly proliferating cycles of growth that, like a child, will always grow out of carefully constructed frames.

Soulier has created a unique set of visual enchantments that, as the poet Andrew Marvell wrote, “grow vaster than empires and more slow.”

The Matryoshka Dolls 2/3
Laetitia Soulier, “The Matryoshka Dolls 2” (2014), C-print

Laetitia Soulier: The Fractal Architectures continues at Claire Oliver (513 West 26th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through April 9.

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