Noémie Goudal’s Post Atlantica is the inaugural exhibition at Edel Assanti’s new Fitzrovia gallery. The French artist is internationally known for her spatial interventions that result in mysterious films, surreal photographic landscapes and monumental sculptural installations that play with the boundaries between real and constructed images.
Goudal has spent many years researching the work of palaeoclimatologists, who study the climates of the past to predict the Earth’s future. The title of the exhibition derives from the legendary ancient continent known as ‘Atlantica’, that formed about two billion years ago and then split into the present-day continents Africa and South America.
For Untitled (Mountain) III, 2022, displayed in the rear ground-floor gallery, Goudal created an illusionary cross-section of a mountainous landscape. Images of concrete mounted on cardboard and cut in a way to echo the real mountain range are positioned to fit the snow-covered landscape and then photographed. In each image Goudal leaves clues to the artifice of the scene and we realise when looking closely that the photographs are an optical illusion.
The video installation Untitled (Waves), 2022, is an elaborate seascape shot during a storm. Three photographic prints are animated by several layers of film footage, each overlaid at different speeds that at times freeze and then revive the images. The triptych invites us to reflect on how water slowly erodes the landscape – invisible to the human eye – and on the different time speeds in which humans and geological landscapes alter.
‘We apprehend the world as fixed – we have borders, and we have atlases that show the world as it is. But even the Alps are moving, three or four centimetres per year’ says Goudal.
For her series Les Méchaniques-Phoenix, 2021, the artist set up a studio on-site to print photographs of the environment. These are sectioned into strips and then rigged up to form a screen through which the real background emerges. The four-metre-high anamorphic sculptural installation, Giant Phoenix, 2022 appears to present a flat image of a jungle when seen from the front. In a play with optic perspectives however, it turns out to be a kaleidoscopic three-dimensional installation when we move around. The installation references a theory on the timescale of the existence of the missing continent known as Geological Atlantis, speculating on how a rare species of palm tree (called ‘Phoenix Atlantica’) came to exist exclusively in two locations on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The series of porcelain sculptures titled Terrella, 2021, is a visualisation of a range of scientific hypotheses about the Earth’s formation, ranging from antiquity to the present day. Each sculpture embodies one ‘hypothesis’, taking the name of the scientist or philosopher who proposed it, such as Restoro d’Arezzo who believed mountains rise until they meet the stars. Whilst some of these theories turned out to be true and others not, Goudal’s sculptures do not attest to their validity.
Noémie Goudal’s photographs, sculptures and films are the result of ambitious staging and temporary sets constructed on-site. Her mesmerising landscapes in Post-Atlantica are a deep exploration of philosophy and natural history, revealing how our earth moves and undergoes constant transformations. The resulting works exist in an ambiguous state between illusion and reality, posing fascinating questions about the limits of our perceptions and understanding of the world. Her trompe-d’oeils make us aware that the pace at which our planet is changing is beyond human comprehension.
Post Atlantica, which will also be on view at the Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival this summer, reflects Goudal’s deep research into paleoclimatology. It triggers questions about today’s environmental problems and make us think how we can plan ahead to prevent environmental disaster.
Senior Curator, Museum Acquisitions
Edel Assanti, 1 Little Tichfield Street, London W1W 7BU. Open Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm. Exhibition continues until 12 March 2022. www.edelassanti.com