Lauren Marsolier says she'sliberated from traditional photography. Forget asking people to pose. Forget waiting for what Henri Cartier-Bresson, her French antecedent, called "the decisive moment." There are no singular moments in Marsolier's images. Hell, there aren't even any people in them. Instead, Marsolier's photos are montages — collections of photographic snapshots she rearranges into dramatic panoramas that, at first glance, seem like actual settings. The drama lies in the images' dissonance, in their ability to convey —almost like an Alfred Hitchcock set or an Edward Hopper painting — something stark, isolating, "off," and yet altogether alluring.
In Marsolier'sTwo Roads (diptych), a stained set of white mattresses buttresses a tree trunk, nearly glistening new buildings, a white-walled property, a tagged black wall, a perfect patch of green grass, and a light-blue skyline that accentuates the gray cement below. Both skyline and pavement stretch out as far as the eye can see, but it's the mattresses and their stains — from coffee, sex, feces? —that set up the photo's sui generis scene. So many questions, so few answers.Two Roads (diptych)is the centerpiece of "Dislocation," Marsolier's new San Francisco exhibit at Robert Koch Gallery.
As a young photographer, Marsolier — who was born and raised in Paris — did fashion and portrait photography. But a little more than a decade ago, she moved with her husband, who's also an artist, to the French countryside, near a small Burgundy village that was the cultural antithesis of the bustling French capital. They lived there for three-and-a-half years. It rained constantly. Few other people, and hardly any artists, lived in the area.
"I was not adapting well to it," Marsolier says. "From the bottom of me, I was not quite ready to deal with what I had to deal with. So it triggered a lot of hard things, but interesting things, too. I had conflicting emotions, and I was thinking about change and how you connect to your environment."
That's when she tried capturing her feelings of isolation and disconnectedness through photography, and began amalgamating images that dug into the psychological nature of dislocation. By doing digital alterations of photos — a road here, a building there; a lake here, a tree there — her photos struck a nerve with art-goers. The series has evolved, becoming even more staged and more about society than about Marsolier's personal experience.
"The last three years, I've been playing more with having multiple perspectives and having multiple points of focus," says Marsolier, who moved to Los Angeles in 2009. "The [early] images were pretty realistic compared to now. Now, they don't show reality in the sense that, over time, visually I've been really inspired by painting. And before, it was more about my own circumstance. Now it's evolved into something that's more a collective consciousness.
"Since I moved to Los Angeles, it's been on my mind a lot about how we experience change collectively, day to day, and how fast we have to adapt to new ways to interact socially, new ways to act to our physical environment, the digital world. All these things inform my work now."
Marsolier says digital photography has "emancipated" her work, which has been collected by such museums as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Ariz. The ubiquity of phone cameras and filters, whichlet anyone instantly edit and upload images, has changed the cultural perspective on what is a "real image." With her digital alterations, where she occasionally distorts a photo fragment, Marsolier creates a kind of perceptional photography, inventing geographical spaces that transfix no-man's lands. Occasionally, art-goers will recognize a building or another object as being from, say, Los Angeles, where Marsolier frequently works. But because Marsolier depopulates her scenes, and they have no obvious movement, her scenes inhabit a kind of "silence." It's this silence that Hopper captured so well in paintings like Intermission, of a single woman in a theater, which SFMOMA acquired in 2012. Marsolier relates to Hopper's work.
"I've always liked his paintings," she says. "He was probably expressing things that I have in common with him, like the transitions that were happening [in the culture], and how modernity was affecting people. It made a lot of people lonely. And [he focused on] buildings and geometric structures. Geometry is important in my work. I like to work sometimes with grids and things that give the work some kind of rigidity. But there are other parts where you can find some part of nature in my work. I play with that."
Hopper featured people in his canvases. But with Marsolier, there are never any human figures — an unconscious choice, she says.
"For the longest time, I didn't really know why — I just thought it had to be this way," she says. "And then a friend of mine told me something that really spoke to me. My landscapes are very psychological, and he said if I put people [in them] it would be distracting, because people are already in there somehow — from an inner perspective, and a psychological point of view. Having them would be redundant."
As it happens, another French artist with a unique perspective is exhibiting in downtown San Francisco. Lou Ros' paintings inhabit that space between abstraction and figuration, veering from one end to the other and decidedly in-between — as in The Lady in White, where a Marilyn Monroe-like figure is standing amidst scrawled blotches of blackness, whiteness, charcoals, and whatnot. Oh, yeah — a man's hands are grabbing the woman's left calf and ankle. Strange. Ros has a background in graffiti, and his purely abstract pieces — ones titled No Man's Land — have both an exterior and interior dimension. You stare at them because you can't help it, really. The scrawls, brush strokes, and amalgamated textures add up to something important, even if words fail to describe it in detail.