31 January 2022 French artist Noémie Goudal’s new show ‘Post Atlantica’ – which inaugurates Edel Assanti’s new Fitzrovia gallery – is a deep exploration of climate, philosophy and natural history.
There is no certainty in the work of Noémie Goudal. Landscapes are blended and perspectives constructed. Depth is illusory, time elastic; images are corrupted, others performed.
Like the territories through which she journeys, Goudal’s practice flows and erupts with knowledge, both ancient and modern. Theories emerge from the dusty leaves of natural history and through the probing of remnant geology. Prehistoric territories are figured in ways both primal and technological – from paper craft to optical engineering. It is a realm of theatrics and conjuring; but also of philosophy and discovery.
Whilst for the last decade Goudal’s work has scoured notions of time and geography, her current corpus, Post Atlantica, is attuned specifically towards paleoclimatology – the study of past climate; surveying deep expanses of the past, in a bid to steal a glimpse of the future. It is the precise melting point which ‘triggers the imagination’, she says.
The work’s latest iteration – produced in the last nine months – forms the inaugural show at Edel Asstanti’s new Fitzrovia gallery, on the site of former Ames House, the first YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) hostel, from 1904. Redesigned by London-based architects Sanchez Benton, the new space pays homage to its historic role in women’s emancipation in the late 19th century, whilst retaining the essence of its original Arts & Crafts style – awash with natural light and with a generosity of proportions across its ‘connected family of rooms’, as the Sanchez Benton team describe it.
Centre stage, a 4m-high jittering installation, Phoenix, rises into the rafters. A glitching matrix of tropical palms, it is in fact a photographic anamorphosis, formed from an already ‘decomposed’ image. ‘Everyone says an image is flat. I don’t think so at all,’ Goudal says. Phoenix is about the exhaustion of imagery, and of the limits of trust. The pace at which our planet is changing is beyond comprehension, and indeed it was within our own anthropocentric timeframe that we believed the world was flat.
Approaching the gallery from dual entrances on Little Titchfield Street and Mortimer Street, a triptych of spaces gives way to photographic triptychs (amongst sculptures and film). There are three snowy Pyrenean scarps (Plongée), inspired by the study of 300-million-year-old water droplets by naturalist Camille Dusséaux. Only on close inspection do they disclose Goudal’s signature staged interventions: cardboard and paper ‘literally cutting through the mountains’, as the artist describes, in conscious mimicry of Dusséaux’s geological ‘splicing’. A wall projection depicts three jagged shores from Collioure, on the southern French coast, Untitled (Waves) – black volcanic rocks are battered by a storm. ‘They are so expressive, those rocks,’ Goudal reflects; it is a landscape treasured by the artist since childhood.
With both series, Goudal’s three-act process – research, expedition and chance encounters – lends layers of intensity. Latterly she is learning more how to ‘go with the flow’ in finding inspiration. From the serendipity of spring melt waters in Cirque de Gavarnie (it was as if ‘the mountain was crying’ Goudal recounts) to confronting the full force of a coastal storm; she is poised to adapt.
‘Post Atlantica’ reveals the rising vitality of the performative in Goudal’s practice. Whilst her constructions may otherwise be enacted ‘in two seconds on Photoshop’, physical journeying and graft are processes she needs, ‘the experience of living something with people’. The photograph, meanwhile, is far from mere document. It is a canvas to talk about environmental issues, ‘the vestige of ‘a beautiful moment’, she says.
Noémie Goudal | Post Atlantica, installation view, Edel Assanti, London, UK, 2022.
The final work in Goudal’s London exhibition, Inhale, Exhale, is both a literal and figurative bridge spanning this tussle between idea and action. The film’s subject is the Bering Strait (which evidence suggests froze over during the last ice age allowing humans to cross the Arctic to reach the American continent), and it is instilled with the political and meteorological drama of this geography, yet through an altogether alternate, equatorial landscape. As the film breathes in, then out, a 3m-high backdrop rises and falls from a swamp, an homage to sails from ancient seas, and a nod to ‘land that is travelling’. We might temporarily alter our perspective, but there is no escaping the epic movements of the planet. Inhale, Exhale is about questioning ‘what belongs to the land…and how we shift our world’.
Kitsch, chimera and apparition are all central to Goudal’s probing gestures. ‘The illusion helps to question this image,’ she asserts. Like each of us, works are conceived, made, performed and extinguished. The past is slippery and the future more hazy still. But what Noémie Goudal manages to conjure with crystal, hallucinatory clarity, is the constant shifting of this ground.