Sebastien Montabonel and Emma Lewis
Suspended Disbelief: The Photography of Noémie Goudal
Catalogue, Edel Assanti, 2012
Sebastien Montabonel and Emma Lewis
Demand, for example, builds life-size models of interiors that we are often familiar with due to their depiction in mass-media imagery. Though intricately constructed, his decision to work with everyday, throwaway materials such as cardboard and paper emphasizes that they are not intended to be reconstructions but representations, thus articulating the associative processes at work as we interpret the image. Taking a similar approach, Goudal creates a deliberate lack of reconciliation between the photograph and the environment it is inserted into, not only symbolically but also in their differing material qualities. Folded and creased, the tape affixing the backdrops still evident, the sense of labour and low-fi production ascribes it an object-value that holds particular appeal. In the age of the digitally-circulated image, it seems there is a certain currency to a tangible photograph that can claim authenticity from its existence in real time. By then taking the decision to photograph this construct, Goudal engineers an all-over quality and very contemporary mode of objectivity that asks us to step-back and examine exactly what is at work in our reading of the image. Functioning like the easel-legs in Rene Magritte’s trompe-l’œil The Human Condition, the tensions between time and space act as signposts in the simulacra, allowing us to map out the process of viewing by signaling where one illusion ends, and another begins.
These cues, the schisms between truth and fiction, are akin to gaps in a story or inconsistencies in a film in that it is not only their presence but how we negotiate them that bear significance. Enacting Demand’s belief that the image is “always only showing what’s necessary for a thought, and not the thought itself”, Goudal’s dialectical propositions function through an awakening of memory and association, addressing the internal processes at work in what we accept as real, what we assign as make-believe, and what we are willing to leave blurry in the interest of a good story. (7) As visual cues slowly and deliberately unravel the allegory that she has so carefully constructed, we are simultaneously transported by the image and hyper-conscious of the act and effects of looking. Suggesting a journey akin to that of the crowds who populate Thomas Struth’s Museum series, at once transported and curiously detached, our flow of entry into a different sphere of space and time is interrupted, resulting in a viewing experience that oscillates between the poles of theatricality and absorption. (8)
Weaving throughout is Goudal’s interest in storytelling, engaging with the viewers’ desire to escape and concomitant will to suspend belief. Aligned with contemporary photographers Florian Maier-Aichen and Michael Reisch, who have experimented with digitally amalgamating existing landscapes in order to depict stunning (and convincingly natural) vistas, Goudal seeks to demonstrate that when we are absorbed into another place, whether visually or through the verbal act of telling a story, its actual existence at that moment is secondary: more important is its ability to transport us elsewhere. From the aforementioned sets to elaborately constructed rafts, nest-like sculptures, and collaged photographs of islands that are reminiscent of early landscape photography, these secluded, isolated spaces suggest nurture, shelter, and nourishment. They are places that we want to be transported to, and thus images that we want to spend time in.
For this reason, though the scenes are captured without people they are not without human presence. Quite the contrary, they are spaces that are couched in a sense of exploration and discovery and therefore spaces that we occupy entirely, for “we have a strange and hungry tendency to fill up empty spaces with ourselves, even if those spaces are our own yesterdays.” (9) Presented with a landscape that is other to what is known, our memories – a patchwork of remembered fictions – invoke a psychological separation that distances us from our everyday, allowing hopes, dreams and imagination to come to the fore. Such is our tendency, it would seem, to “make islands into metaphors of romantic individualism” (10) in the Deleuzian sense of breaking away, beginning anew, and all that this represents. (11) And yet Haven Her Body Was is an acknowledgement that for all the ideological possibilities that these spaces connote, if the debate about utopia is disappearing (a suggestion that Thomas Struth has engaged with in his Paradise series) then perhaps escape can only truly be achieved in moments where reality provides an opportunity for psychological and emotional separation from the space-time continuum: sites that Michel Foucault has termed heterotopias. Suspended in our minds between imagination and reality, the areas of Goudal’s focus, such as the curious, sublime ‘iceberg’, or the disorienting interior of a ship (a site Foucault calls “the heterotopia par excellence”, for “in civilizations without boats, dreams dry up”), are anchored in truth but sufficiently distinct from the ebb and flow of daily life to enact a mental ‘freeing up’. (12) Building a stage on which our imaginations can play out, a narrative in which we are protagonists, Goudal’s images brings us, as viewers, back to ourselves. Memory and truth appear before us like flotsam, and reality is brought into sharp resolve.