The elegant and poetic tone of Noémie Goudal’s exhibition at The New Art Gallery Walsall is anticipated in its title, ‘The Geometrical Determination of the Sunrise.’ Goudal’s films and photographs, while typically minimal in form, belie more complex construction processes and ideas that operate in the overlaps between art and science, landscape and man-made construction.
‘Ciels’ (2014), for instance, is a large photograph which fills one wall of the gallery. Its subject is an interior space flooded with clean water which is supported by concrete columns in a neat echo of the gallery’s own concrete ceiling. The photograph has the effect of rendering the gallery walls permeable, almost as if one could step through. Subtle optical illusion is a thread that runs throughout the exhibition, something that the interpretation material describes as enabling the visitor to enter and not enter the spaces created.
Noémie Goudal, Satellite l, 2013, lightjet print, 168×213 cm, Courtesy the artist.
Further visual experiments can be found in ‘Study on Perspective I’ (2014) wherein sheets of transparent acrylic printed with photographic fragments are rendered three-dimensional by virtue of clever spacing. ‘Stereoscopes’ (2012) feature twin photographic glass plates mounted on tall-legged supports that the viewer animates with their own perspective.
A series of ten large-format black and white photographs, ‘Observatories’ (2013-14), are based on Brutalist structures for astronomical study. Goudal has re-photographed and re-contextualised these in new landscapes, many of them bleakly beautiful shorelines. Close inspection reveals the construction of the works: crumpled corners and gaps between pieces of paper show the structures to be two-dimensional backdrops in the manner of a stage set. Eerily still and beautiful, the images are at once monumental and incredibly fragile.
Noémie Goudal, Observatoire lll, 2013, lambda print on silver baryta paper, 120 x 150cm, Courtesy the artist.
Most engaging are Goudal’s films ‘Diver’ (2014) and ‘Tanker’ (2014). Shown in adjacent rooms and perfectly complementing one another, these are projected as large portrait format films that appear almost to be living, breathing paintings. The scale and formal, classical composition of both works invite the viewer into strange scenes of activity. In ‘Diver’ five men in black wetsuits climb up the staircase of a metal tower, diving at intervals into the sea below. The visual and aural rhythm of the piece is punctured by splashes as the men climb, fall, splash and climb again to repeat the process. Similar vertical movements are depicted in ‘Tanker’ wherein a man dressed in a white jumpsuit and hardhat climbs backwards down ladders into the dark depths of a huge industrial tanker. Other climbers join him. The slightly sinister nature of their climb into the bowels of the unknown is undercut by the humorous effect of their movements, almost like the trick of sending a group of actors round and round a stage to give the impression of a much greater number of people.
Goudal’s work, despite its overarching themes of science and beauty, gently emphasises the fact that all photographs (and films) are constructed and all have a certain theatricality. The exhibition is also an investigation into looking: into the specific mechanisms of the eye and the multiplicity of seeing; about perspective, scale, illusion, and a search for the truth of vision, if any such thing exists.
The Geometrical Determination of the Sunrise: Noémie Goudal
New Art Gallery Walsall
10 July – 14 September
Commissioned and published by Photomonitor, 25.08.14