22 February 2022 Upon entering, a visitor to Noémie Goudal’s exhibition Post Atlentica is faced with a large, seemingly impenetrable wall of foliage. Gleaming white walls of the gallery starkly framing a natural barrier, which has something of the glitch about it, a repeating or overlapping structure.
Untitled (Giant Phoenix), 2022, Inkjet print on aluminium and steel, 345 x 390 x 353 cm, 135 7/8 x 153 1/2 x 139 in.
Walking deeper into the space that structure, which Goudal has called Untitled (Giant Phoenix), becomes more visible, the ceiling-high images in fact made of tall flat panels at varying depths into the room, held up by a rigid metal framework. From behind, the romance is gone, the photo-sculpture more akin to the rear of a motorway direction sign than the alluring, exotic planting of the front.
In the adjoining room, beyond the sliced trees, three large photographs of mountains. But, looking again, something isn’t right – these are manufactured landscapes, each mountain seemingly cut out of a concrete block, sharp vertical sides turning geology into a kind of pre-packaged, transportable souvenir of place, at an indistinguishable scale, maybe 1:1. The mountains are in fact photographs from the French region of Morbihan, the peaks arriving to their current situation after a 300,000 year slow journey.
The gallery this uncanny, flattened foliage and archaeological slices sit within is a new space for Edel Assanti, designed by London architects Sanchez Benton. It’s a simple, traditionally white-walled space which is broken into three distinct public rooms – two on the ground floor, each with frontages onto parallel streets, and a basement.
It’s from that lower space that a grumbling, scratching, awkward noise rises. It’s an invitation deeper, but one that also questions if you really want to descend. Once there, the visitor is confronted by a looping film, clearly of the same visual language as the upstairs framework-sculpture. The grating and mechanical sounds are jarring against the natural scene. But what is the nature presented? Flat elevations of trees, planting, and growths are slowly shifted into place from unseen cranes, as if elements of scenery over a theatrical interval, preparing for Act 2.
The elements being montaged into place might even be 1:1 photographic reproductions of the nature within the wider frame we are looking at, perhaps a simulacrum of place slowly dropping in front of the place itself. Nature is hoisted lower until it touches and semi-submerges into a watery bog. More drop into place, the wetness concealed by these representations of a nature. When a flat stops moving, and sits motionless against the stillness of its landscape, it appears to gradually absorb into the setting – the edge between real and reproduced softens to the eye. Just when it feels that the scene is fixed, and our new sense of place is formed, the images start to shift again – this time dropping deeper into the water, submerging and returning the landscape back to its marshy, de-humaned state.
The film is Inhale, Exhale (2022). It speaks to the changing nature of landscapes – natural, to man-affected, then to reclamation into primordial state. Goudal’s work draws from the Arctic 18,000 years ago, when over the ice-age humans crossed into the American continent. The Baring Sea froze, and connection was made long enough for animals – including humans – to cross, before it returned again to water.
The noises which leaked upstairs seem to form a sonic amalgamation of theatrical machinery and tectonic noises of geological and atmospheric shifts. The nature of the changing scene seems to connect to the upstairs work through a sense of landscape performativity, inviting us to ask what is nature, as well as what is product and what is artifice. Place is nearly always an amalgamation of all three, and loading much more in besides. Goudal is interested in a deep-time, reflecting on an archaeological reading of landscape and time, with the more recent human intervention, reforming, and recreating of nature but a blip in their story, but one perhaps forming the only lens we can imagine them through.