by Sharon Boothroyd
Station II, 2015 by Noémie Goudal
Noemie Goudal’s work has inspired me since I first saw it in 2010, shortly after she was propelled to prominence after her MA graduation from the Royal College of Art. Since then her practice has dealt with ideas of fantasy, myth and psychological projections in a myriad of fascinating ways. Often concerned with the restricted landscape and overspilling boundaries, her work exceeds the physical space and probes, in ontological fashion, the essence of being. In her recent work Southern Light Stations she turns from ‘landscapes’ to the sky as an extension of this research. We caught up on Skype and at Paris Photo where she is presenting some work with her French gallery Les Filles du Calvaire. Southern Light Stations is currently on display in the top floor of The Photographers’ Gallery until 10th January 2016.
What kick started your passion for photography?
I guess it started a long time ago but it didn’t have a fixed beginning. You know, every teenager has a camera, so I experimented in the dark room. It was like a hobby. Then I went to Central St. Martins and because I knew how to use it (the camera), it became a tool, but back then I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer, I just wanted to make images. I became more interested in it during my graphic design BA (at Central St. Martins). Then I did my MA at the Royal College and that’s really when my work started in a more conceptual way.
Looking back, what did the RCA offer you that stays with you now?
So much! Pretty much everything! It was such a fantastic time. The first works we did there were really about going back to the beginning and rediscovering photography. Then through a lot of theories, discussions and interventions from a lot of people we slowly built the works that we are still doing now. (I speak about us because I feel it is the same for my classmates.)
Station III, 2015
What drives you conceptually, to keep you working within photography?
There is still so much to do with photography. With all the constructions that I do I still have a lot of things to explore. The reason I use photography is because I like to work with landscapes; in different places, with different materials and weather. Without photography I wouldn’t have that. What interests me about it is offering a new landscape, a new perspective on an image that already exists. So I wouldn’t know how to do it otherwise.
I have made videos as well, which you can see on my website. I also did another piece called Study in Perspective where I have taken an image and cut it into four pieces. It’s all image based of course but it’s about stretching it as much as possible in an unusual way.
Study on Perspective, 2014, from two different viewpoints.
© Christian van der Kooy
© Jonathan Shaw
Can you describe Southern Light Stations for us? How did you arrive at this point in your work and where is it taking you?
Southern Light Stations is a work I started last year after I worked from the observatoires in previous years. I became more interested in the relationship that we cultivate with the sky. It made me want to look at the sky a bit more. All the places that I photographed exist in geographical locations but they also need the human imagination to fully view it. In my previous series I worked with caves and islands, they are also places that exist in real geography but the way I was thinking about them was more about the idea of a cave and an island than about a specific cave or an island. So the sky was the same, it was a continuation of this research. Obviously the sky really exists but it has been the place of projections for so many years. So I started to research how we look at the sky and how we interpret the sky. I thought it would be interesting to do a project that looks at how we viewed the sky before we really knew what was going on. I took the date of the invention of the telescope (the beginning of the 17th Century), the sky was a place for so many stories and myths so I was actually interested in those. If nobody had told us that the sky was infinite we would still think that it had an end. For humanity it is very difficult to acknowledge the idea of infinity. That was the starting point of the series for me…. how can I relate this perspective of the sky into my images? I offer landscapes but of course they stop at some point. It stops with a piece of paper. I kind of delineate this landscape.
Can you tell us a little about how you practically constructed the installations?
I built the spheres, which were about 2.5m high, from paper. The one with the cloud and the sea is a mirror (image III, above) and the rest are paper. We made scaffolding to hold the sphere up. There was a team of about 4-5 people for each one. When they were hung we lit it at night. I usually tried to use very simple materials, artificial materials like paper, rope.
I like the delicacy of them.
Yes, it’s true that you can see that. If I used something really fancy or well-made then it wouldn’t have the same fragility. That is important because it shows this fragility and the core of it being ephemeral. Why are we so attracted to things, ruins for example, and things that are slowly fading? We are naturally attracted to that and I’m still searching to find out why. It’s when something is about to disappear or something that is so fragile we have this desire to grasp it before it disappears completely.
Station V, 2015
The concepts of myths and stories and fantasies stretch far back in your work, in earlier works involving portraiture too. You are working very differently now.
It was a very different problematic, but now I am interested in offering a broader narrative where people can fill in with their own things, with their own memories, with their own knowledge.
You give the viewer a place to exist within the artwork.
Yes, exactly, that is very important to me. It’s interesting because this builds the work itself. Interpretation is a key factor for the building of the work.
Station IV, 2015
You experienced a high degree of success in the early stages in your career when Saatchi picked up your work at your RCA degree show. How did you deal with that and continue to develop your practice?
Obviously it was great! Sometimes you have a dream and then in real life it happens ten times greater than you could have dreamed of! It was the first time anything like that had happened to me in my life. It was really amazing. At the same time, my practice is very grounded. I’m building things with my hands. I’m taking pictures with my hands, and eye! I need to read and think. I need to stay grounded. There are moments that are fun during shoots with other people of course but a lot of moments are still quite lonely. I need to put myself into this mode of reflection.
How did you learn? Did you have advisers? It seems like you have come through it in a way which has enabled you to continue and develop your practice.
I have two galleries – Edel Assanti in London and Les Filles du Calvaires in Paris. I feel that everything is organised well now, I work with my assistant Cécile who arranges the shoots and administration and shows. So I feel like now it is a little team, everyone has their role so I can focus on making work and doing research, although I touch in a little bit on everything of course.
You are also doing some commercial work?
I have done a few. I did an interesting one for the fashion brand Maison Margiela. For a new collection they did a very big launch in New York. They had a nine story building and asked four artists to do a show which responded to the fashion. I was lucky that they asked me to do it, my work was part of that show. I find Maison Margiela very interesting because they have a good relationship with art and artists, which is why I agreed to do this project. I worked with dancers who I photographed wearing the clothes and then as part of the show I presented them as stereographs so you could see them in an interesting way.
Noemie Goudal for Maison Margiela