Under The Influence

Noémie Goudal, The Whole is Greater than The Sum of The Parts

By Ellie Greig


Noémie Goudal’s practice offers a space in which fictional narrative and metaphor becomes a bedfellow for wider debates on polemical environmental issues and feminist discourse. Through a performative process that results in sculptural arrangements framed by the medium of photography, Goudal highlights subtle tensions between the spaces she manipulates. Here the French born, London based artist discusses her most recent series, Islands, Les Amants and Haven Her Body Was with London based curator, Ellie Greig.

Ellie Greig : I’ve always felt that your work evokes a space in constant transience. You choose to work in the context of a set series, a cyclical arrangement that I see as almost Gestaltian. The series are often realised through the journeys that you embark upon and reflect stories and narratives that gestate over time. Through the medium of photography you represent a single moment taken form these journeys, inviting us to read these movements with you like a series of short stories, or chapters in a novella, that can only offer an essence or shape of a complete experience. In this sense your practice aims to question the ‘truth claim’ of the photographic medium and offers a space for speculation and reinterpretation. How important is photography to your overall practice ?
Noémie Goudal : In the last series both Les Amants and Haven Her Body Was, I have adopted a system to work within; where each scene I manipulate in the various places that I have travelled to, is captured and then reproduced through the medium of photography. I am interested in creating a fluid translation from one work to the other - a fragmented narrative that develops into a whole series. So, I don’t want to only show the outcome of a single moment of the process, rather, I want to invite the viewer to map the journey of an on going process; where one can create their own alternative readings, or mis-readings. I like the idea that the viewer becomes an actor in the scene and can fill the gaps with their own imagination.
In that sense, I think that the element of speculation is very subjective to each viewer and this is exactly what I am trying to create in each image: giving enough clues for the viewer to identify what is it that they are looking at, but leaving enough space for them to reconstruct the missing elements. The installations I construct are not intended to be exhibited or experienced as three-dimensional objects in a space. The photographic apparatus is vital to my process because I want these spaces to be represented in a considered way; where composition, light, perspective etc. is controlled, inviting one to approach a three-dimensional space through the two-dimensional image. I also think that through the photographic image, through this flat surface, the eye is confronted with both elements of the real and illusionary, creating a tension between the two. Opening up numerous interpretations of these liminal and layered spaces.

EG: You have described your practice as ‘volumique conceptions’ - sculptures and installations that are carefully connected to specific environments, set up in front of the camera, completing the process by capturing it. For example, the series, ‘Island’, contemplates and distorts the utopian view of the island, commenting of the somewhat romantic realm of ‘Islomania’, (a condition affiliated with island obsession) whilst reflecting on the complex relationship humans have with the ecosystem. Your series, ‘Les Amants’ (‘The Lovers’), adopts duality as a system to work for. ‘The Lovers’ become both the focus for the continuous narrative, as well as a metaphor that embodies the objects ans spaces you photograph. Nature and humanity become intertwined in a dysfunctional and tenuous relationship. Self-conscious to the relationship’s own eventual demise, the lover’s own destruction becomes a metaphor for environmental destruction and ecological succession as consequence of human action.
NG: Yes, that is an interesting analogy. In both Islands and Les Amants what I am trying to do is to create a multiple readings inside the image and within its context of a set series. The series Les Amants had many possible readings; through the marriage between the man-made and the organic and through the environmental issues that the images raise.

EG: Your most recent and yet to be unfinished series, ‘Haven Her Body Was’, extends an exploration of dialectic imagery through an on-going inquiry into the oppositional relationship between organic and man-made elements. Dislocated from our immediate environment, spaces such as grottos and caves become the foundation of a series that raises questions concerning our perception of reality and as such, evokes a new sense of a historical space. With this in mind I am interested in how ‘Haven Her Body Was’ reflects your physical movements across the globe. You cross borders and enters new zones, documenting and manipulating the environments you find. Once these compositions are captured, you then introduce them physically into a foreign space; relating two spaces that seemingly have no familiar characteristics to one another. We discussed this process in terms of how Caribbean rainforest with Soviet architecture in a location in Poland. Here, two worlds collide together to form a new narrative entirely unique to your own experience. Do you feel that this process could be seen as transference from one state of mind to another ?
NG: What fascinates me about caves and grottos is that they are geographically located in layered, inward facing space. This idea of digging inwards can be linked to the human condition to escape inwards, into ones imagination. I am interested in the cave; again, as a metaphor, for heterotopias, a place with no geospatial fixed information, but rather located into the map of the human’s imagination. They then become space that have the potential to become remote. Travel within pshycological space, and travel through a temporal, historic or fictional space.

EG: You mentioned that the title, ‘Haven Her Body Was’, takes its influence from your recent visit to the Dominican Republic. I understand that you have reinterpreted the translation of ‘Waitikubuli’, “tall is her body”, derived from the name of an island in the Carribean?
NG: Yes, when I started yo research about this island, I was struck by the invention of its name. I like the idea of and identity or an image of identity personifying a space. Through my adaptation of this name to the title, Haven her Body Was, I wanted to transfer a human behavior to a given geographic space. As none of the pieces show the presence of human figures, only nameless human intervention, I thought it would be interesting to incorporate the human element through text. The title supports the narrative and hopefully opens up alternative readings og the works as individual pieces and as a whole series.

EG: Yes, I think it does. I find it interesting that geographical space has a history of being associated with the female gender. This is notable in colonial terms, such as ‘virgin lands’, for example. Here, you manipulate this translation to reflect your own narrative, transgressing from the remote space of the island to the inward space of the cave. The metaphor of the cave in relation to ‘her haven’ can also be related representation of the female form. I think you deal with these issues subtly through the formal, compositional and performative aspects of your work, would you agree ?
NG: Yes I think you are correct to relate this series to the female form, the earth being a ‘she’, La Terre in french, and the cave being a representation of the womb. As this series takes its title from a manipulation of an existing name of a place, I directly play with this geographical space you talk about. I must admit, however, that I have not explored these ideas fully at this stage, so I cannot really expand on this. As you know, it is still a work in progress and there will be more to come!

EG: Yes, of course. Well, we look forward to seeing the series as a whole. When will this be?
NG: The series will be shown for the first time at Edel Assanti Gallery in September 2012, then, in November, I will be showing the series in Milan at Project B gallery.