The Interstellar Art of Noémie Goudal

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Noémie Goudal Station V, 2015 © Noémie Goudal

The young French artist stokes our fascination with the cosmos with her manmade lunar landscapes

A mysterious, circular moon hangs against a deserted landscape in Southern Light Stations, Noémie Goudal's new exhibition at London's Photographers' Gallery, arresting the visitor's gaze. On second glance, however, the subject of the photograph reveals itself not to be a moon at all, but rather a man-made construction set against a natural envinroment. Thus disconcerting yet tranquil, French photographer Noémie Goudal’s show Southern Light Stations at The Photographers’ Gallery marks her arrival into the London art scene.

Working between Paris and London since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2010, Goudal first drew attention with Observatoires (2013-14), a series of domes and derelict towers that revealed themselves to be constructed entirely from paper. In Southern Light Stations, Goudal continues to play with our perceptions of the photographic image. Suspending planet-like spheres above stark, black-and-white landscapes, the artist explores mankind’s age-old fascination with the heavens.

On the process behind creation…
"Every single series has a different story; these were inspired by stories I came across during my research into the history of the cosmos. Stories on the astronomy studies of the Arabs and the Persians during Antiquity, for instance, or how people observed the sky during the Middle Ages with no equipment. To then explore how I could compose the images, I began testing and experimenting with photomontage. From there, spheres and circular patterns became my focus."

On the relationship between the viewer and the artwork…
"I believe half of the image is built by the interpretation of the viewers themselves. What I try to do is give some hints on what it could be without being explicit about the source or era; these images are a mix of influences. They remind me of the ‘heterotopias’ Michel Foucault spoke of in the 1960’s: they are real places, yet they need the human imagination to fully exist."

On the absence of humans in her images...
"I allow the viewer to be the protagonist. Over time I have realised my work is about sculpture and sculpted space; the presence of a character narrows the narrative, leaving no space for the viewer to enter."

On her shoots, set-ups and crew…
"On some pieces I really needed to capture a certain kind of depth, so that one could almost but not quite believe these spheres really were suspended in the sky. Those were the shoots I enjoyed the most, the ones that felt like a film set – in fact, I did work with film and theatre crews, who I find always bring a certain skill and resourcefulness to the team. Then some, such as the three towers, were very simple to shoot; I built them in the studio out of paper, mounted them on cardboard, then a friend and I shot them on a beach in France."

On her first solo show in London…
"I lived in London for ten years before moving back to Paris, so it has been great to revisit old relationships, as well as an honour to have been invited to open during Frieze week. Coming back to exhibit in the city of my art education felt like the dream of my student days realised."

Noémie Goudal’s Southern Light Stations is on at The Photographers’ Gallery until January 10 2016. The artist will be in conversation with Clare Grafik on 19 Nov at the space.