The Imagined Architectural Observatories of Noemie Goudal

Toeing the line between the real and the fantastic, French artist Noemie Goudal’s photographs depict imagined structures and ghostly landscapes that are devoid of human life but replete with a feeling of something hidden. In her newest exhibition “In Search of the First Line,” at Edel Assanti Gallery, which follows fast on the heels of her first UK solo exhibition, “The Geometrical Determination of the Sunrise,” Goudal presents a new series of monochrome photographs depicting abandoned buildings— her own paper constructions—in barren landscapes, marking a departure from earlier works, which looked out from interiors toward colorful nature bursting in.

The work on at view at Edel Assanti is primarily from the series “Observatoires,” and utilizes methods that blend traditional photographic technique with physical manipulation to create portraits of imagined architecture. The observatories, standing alone in barren landscapes, were actually constructed from paper and cardstock by the artist herself, before being photographed in the tradition of artists like Thomas Demand—who similarly creates an illusion of reality that is, in fact, a facsimile. Against the backdrop of spare landscapes, the structures appear like geomorphic forms, responding to the space around them. 

However utopian and futuristic these buildings may seem, the “Observatoires” are in fact strongly influenced by a historical site—that of the observatories of Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. This site, which still exists and is believed to have been built in 1724, is comprised of 13 architectural astronomy instruments, which were used for functions such as marking the positions of stars and determining the functioning of the solar calendar, as well as for use as sundials. Goudal’s new “observatories” have a similar feeling to their referent, evoking abandoned civilizations in alternate, science fictional realities, albeit ones that have similar historical and architectural precedents as our own.

Goudal’s “Observatoires” series evokes the work of other photographers who have photographed monolithic structures that represent ideas of history and power, such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose solemn black-and-white images of industrial buildings created a new understanding of portraiture; or Paul Virilio, whose 1974 “Bunker Archaeology” depicted the great hulking structures of World War II bunkers, left abandoned along the barren shores of France. 

—K. Sundberg

Noemie Goudal: In Search of the First Line” is on view at Edel Assanti, London, Sept. 25th–Nov. 15th, 2014.

Discover more artists at Edel Assanti.

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