Southern Light Stations is the first major London exhibition from Noémie Goudal (b.1984, France). Showcasing a new body of work it features an original installation of large-scale photographs, wallpapers and stereoscopes exploring a human fascination with the celestial. The exhibition continues Goudal’s interest in manmade interventions within the natural world and builds on her practice of photographing ambiguous geometric constructions specifically placed within a landscape.
Goudal first came to prominence with her series Observatoires (2013-14) inspired by 18th century observatories in India. This work signalled what would become an enduring interest for the artist in probing our historical, scientific and symbolic relationship with the skies. The black and white photographs depict sculptural constructions – stairways, domes, towers – improbably set within blank sea and desert landscapes, their purpose left to the imagination, or hinting at an intention half-fulfilled or long forgotten. Upon closer scrutiny we begin to notice the folds, creases, corners or marks revealing them as paper or wooden surfaces: twodimensional objects temporarily erected for the purpose of the photograph.
Southern Light Stations (2015) takes this practice and ideas further, specifically focusing on the importance of the southern star in ancient celestial navigation. The project intertwines research from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, referencing the theories of Copernicus, Galileo and inspired by pre-Enlightenment astronomy and ‘Aether’ or ‘fifth element’ philosophy.
A number of Goudal’s new images relate directly to Observatoires and show largescale towers or follies, reminiscent of telescopic structures, situated at the centre of vast, empty backdrops as if suspended between heaven and earth. Alongside these works, the artist has produced a series of images, shot on location, picturing large spherical forms that seemingly hover above mountainous and ocean landscapes or are positioned to create the illusion of an eclipse or an emerging sun. While the forms appear to be free-floating, closer inspection shows they are harnessed by guide ropes and wires – a reference to early astronomers’ planetary charts within a matrix.
A key feature of the exhibition is an immersive circular structure showing a number of stereoscopes of cloud studies with the apparatus and placement suggesting the highly constructed nature of perception.
Southern Light Stations aims to explore the intangible nature of celestial space - long considered a mirror of terrestrial turmoil as well as an expression of the sacred.