“Encounters” will be at Maine Studio Works for the entire month of August, supplemented by a live musical performance every Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The first minute and a half of your visit to the interactive art exhibit “Encounters” is spent in a space shuttle, or perhaps it’s a teleportation pod, or maybe a time machine. Regardless, you are transported out of East Bayside and into an extensive space filled with iridescent lights, sweeping sculptures adorned with projections that react to your every move, instruments that sing back to you, and other unconventional art installations.

“Encounters” is the brainchild of James Laplante, owner and founder of Emmy Award-winning studio Sputnik Animation in South Portland, and Cindy Thompson, owner and founder of Transformit, a fabric sculpture company based in Gorham. Together they formed Chroma2Four, the company behind the pop-up exhibit, which will be at Maine Studio Works for the entire month of August, supplemented by a live musical performance every Saturday.

Laplante and Thompson, who have hopes of creating a permanent exhibit in the future, worked with other local artists and programmers to answer a question, Laplante said: “What if these mysterious other-worldly beings come to Portland, and they install art and an art space in an effort to communicate with us?”

Cindy Thompson and James Laplante, the creators of “Encounters,” an immersive pop-up exhibit at Maine Studio Works in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The outcome is their idea of what that might look like. Thompson’s expertise in metalwork and fabric sculptures has resulted in massive, uniquely shaped structures that change the architecture of the space. She said that she “doesn’t make straight lines very well.” For Laplante, the sculptures serve as screens for his projection art.

“A lot of times in these immersive spaces, you’re painting on a flat wall, and I find that not a very challenging surface and not a very interesting surface. (Cindy’s) got these incredible, fascinating, curvilinear, geometric shapes that you can arrange like Lego blocks,” said Laplante, who had a pair of Lego pieces for earrings. “To be able to project on those surfaces – it’s a much more creative canvas to play with than just a wall.”

The exhibit goes beyond visuals. A soundtrack for the exhibit was composed by harpist Emily Hopkins, who put her instrument through a series of guitar pedals to make it sound appropriately alien. There are also instruments that audience members can play and that will respond as the “visitors” play back.


Every Saturday, “Encounters” will host a musician to play in a concert that combines sound with the visual elements of the exhibit.

“It’s not your typical performance venue,” Laplante said. “The stage is almost like a living, breathing organism … They’re performing for a live audience, but then they’re also playing for this light-projected being behind them that’s going to create art based on their performance.”

Thompson said it was “organic” how the various sculptors, painters, programmers, musicians, animators and other artists became involved in the project. One artist would suggest another, who would suggest another, and so on.

Musician and composer Maria Finkelmeier, center, and intern Cait Winston discuss whether the marimbas are centered within a fabric sculpture while preparing for the opening of “Encounters.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

And almost all of them are Mainers. Laplante and Thompson said that they, and many other Maine-based artists, are growing tired of having to do out-of-state projects to make their living. Inspired by the success of other immersive experiences, they decided to create an interactive art installation in their own backyard.

“That’s really our philosophy – to be able to run a business to earn enough money to continually hire local artists and showcase their work and give them a place to make their living,” Laplante said.

“Encounters” will transform throughout its month-long residency. Laplante said the artists are excited to make adjustments, big and small, based on how audiences play with their work.

“We want our audience to interact and play, but as artists, we also want to interact and play,” he said. “Whatever we start with at the beginning of the month will not be what we end with at the end of the month.”

That’s just another thing that makes “Encounters” different. “In most galleries and museums, the art process has stopped. Here, the art process is still going on,” Thompson said.

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