NOW SHOWING: Architect Isabelle Jolicoeur

My first encounter with Isabelle was through an Instagram DM. A page called @aetypik messaged me on Instagram to ask me if I were interested in being part of PANORAMA, a collaborative art show between 4 Haitian artists. Drowsy and still adjusting to the morning sunlight, I quickly responded "YES OF COURSE!" I didn't know at the time that this would be one of the best decisions I'd make in my career as a visual artist so far. Behind the username @aetypik is one of the most talented, driven, and innovative woman I know. She is Isabelle Jolicoeur. 

Portrait of Isabelle Jolicoeur

Portrait of Isabelle Jolicoeur

Steven: Who are you? 

Isabelle Jolicoeur: I am a creative and I always have been. I studied in Architecture (Bachelor and Masters) at the University of Montreal (see part of her thesis project below). I knew from very early on that I wanted to be an architect. I recently discovered that I have an entrepreneur part in me which led me to explore other creative ways to practice and live for architecture. And so, I am the founder of Aetypik, a virtual platform on architecture, arts and design in Haiti; and co-founder of Morphopolis, an Montreal-based architecture competition. Photography, graphic design and more recently event design/scenography are an important part of my creative life. 



S: Why architecture? 

IJ: My mom is an artist and my dad is an engineer. Somehow their different ways of thinking and perceiving the world around them made for a perfect match where they would complement themselves. I like to think I am the product of that complementarity. Something about creating space out of thin air and making  it significant and of value to someone drew me towards that field. I am as much drawn to the logical aspect of architecture (resolving problems, managing and making a project feasible and functional) than the more imaginative, instinctive, perception-oriented realm of it. In architecture, I feel like I can satisfy these two sides and achieve, in the end, something that will matter and change people's lives.


S: In your opinion, why do you think Haitian architecture should be important to us as a culturally rich country and society?

IJ: Architecture is representation. It is not only part of our collective memory but also an important tool to the shaping of our society and its representation internationally. It echoes our identity and cultural heritage outside our geographical borders. You can learn a lot about a society by simply analyzing their architecture, how they live, how they choose to fit into their environment etc.. 


S: If you could build anything, what would it be?

IJ: If I could build anything I would build a cultural center or a museum. Haiti has a serious lack of cultural facilities, and that is despite the many existing artistic and ethnographic collections, and our well-known and recognized general creativity. The focus of my thesis project was to actually create a museum of Haitian culture in Jacmel, the cultural capital of the country. I imagined it as a space open to all, where art and daily life intermingle. The objective was to expose the general public to culture and art in a building well integrated in its environment and acting like the extension of the boardwalk with no borders or clear delimitations. To showcase our creativity through built creativity. 


S: You are the founder of an arts, architecture, and design driven website called Aetypik? Can you talk a little bit about the site and its purpose?

IJ: I created Aetypik in 2015 just after finishing my thesis project.
Aetypik is an exchange and diffusion platform solely on all creative fields (art, architecture, landscaping, graphic design etc..). Its mission is to inspire, showcase and share our creativity locally, in between creative disciplines and internationally. 

IJ (cont'd): Last year, we also introduced Panorama (see photos of the show below), an annual creative event showcasing emergent Haitian artists.  Originally,  I had thought about a website where all Haiti-related architecture projects could be listed and accessible for all to see and learn from. Since the earthquake, a lot of students and professionals had come to Haiti to think about inventive ways to inhabit space, new ways to use recycled materials etc.. But these projects where scattered around the internet or hidden deep in archives thus not really serving their ultimate purpose: demonstrate, open a debate, question. I strongly believe that ideas are worth sharing with others. 



S: What's the future of Aetypik?

IJ: Aetypik is just now starting a collaboration with a similar initiative in Martinique called Kay Karayib, to extend our horizons regionally in the Caribbean. And so, we would like to build strong relationships outside as well as locally with cultural and design-driven associations. The main goals would be to organize and engaging in creative and educational events whilst strengthening our online presence and share as much quality content as possible. And always make Haiti's creative people shine!


S: What other medium inspires your work (Photography, painting, writing, etc)? Why?

IJ: I like to re-discover buildings and spaces through my lens. It allows you to have your interpretation of the work before you and might change your perspective. It also emphasizes the mechanisms used by the architect to frame a view, to put in a place a scenography or to make you feel, a sense of belonging or grandeur for example.  Free drawing has a therapeutic effect on me (it calms my nerves) and allows me to create impossible illogical worlds. It is also an international communication mode in architecture. Ideas are worth sharing, images are impact-full, and finally words have a weight of their own. Words allow me to define spaces perception-wise (i.e I want this room to feel airy). The way a dancer interacts with the space around him/her is also really appealing to me. One of my best friends is an exceptional dancer and seeing her dance always makes me think about how we perceive our world through motion and these thoughts echo in my practice in architecture.


S: What would you tell your 16 year old self if you could travel back in time?

IJ: When I was 16, I was in the midst of the post-2004 era (Haitians will understand), recovering from an heartache and aching to fly (in every sense of the term) to Montreal to start studying architecture, on my own. I would tell myself to realize that collaboration is key sooner than I actually did; that life is not a sprint (nor is your career); to explore other creative fields around architecture; that nothing beautiful ever grows in the comfort zone, and that molds are made to replicate not grow. And lastly, as rule of thumb, I would make myself ask the following question: will it matter in five years? 


S: What's next for you Isabelle?

IJ: My boss might read this so I have to be careful haha. I am longing for the freelance life which would allow me to quench my too-diverse thirst for creativity and juggle between architecture projects, exhibitions, graphic design, managing Aetypik, and other future entrepreneurial endeavors. Ultimately, I will get back to Haiti to do so. 

One of the many things I admire about Isabelle is that she has taken her passion for art, design, and life and has turned it into initiatives that show the true power of Haitian artistry. I cannot wait to see what she does next! Make sure to visit, follow their Instagram, and like them on Facebook.

Stay tuned for more Haitian artists and creatives on NOW SHOWING! Peace + good vibes.