At the climax of Peter Weir’s 1998 film, ‘The Truman Show’, the eponymous protagonist ascends a staircase coloured by the expanse of a painted sky; he moves towards a door marked ‘EXIT’, bows to his audience and steps through it into the real world. This act of breaking through the simulacrum and the entropic collapse that it engenders is related to a consistent potentiality that is orchestrated throughout the film: between the constructed ‘real’ and the real ‘real’.
On the back wall of Noémie Goudal’s exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery, ‘Southern Light Stations’, we find a reminiscent image: a wall-to-wall photographic print that depicts a vast and gradient sky. The digital perfection that is ostensibly visible on entering the space is, however, quickly revealed as an illusion. From a close-up position the print’s materiality emerges: creases, folds, as well as the collage-effect created by a circular representation that overlays the landscape. As denoted by the partial staircase in the image’s foreground, Goudal provides a potential ‘EXIT’ from the image’s fictional reality.
The circle becomes a consistent motif throughout the exhibition. Its form holds the fullness of a single colour, the materiality of a planet-like surface or the blackness of a celestial shadow, but it also represents an emptiness; a Gordon Matta Clark-esque excision within the photograph that is presented. Goudal is conscious to maintain this provisionality of vision, which is expertly activated at various points throughout the exhibition.
Positioned within an enclosed circular alcove in the middle of the space are a series of viewfinders. The expansive sky on the back wall is inverted via these optical devices, which frame and contain the natural world within each individual lens. Here within this strange observatory-cum-folly Goudal shifts our perspective once again; these works are one of many staging devices that we employ in order to make sense of the world and universe around us.
The sense of theatre that is embedded within each of these elements suggests the underlying futility of such human endeavours. The confrontation with the circle that we encounter in Goudal’s work is a confrontation with this universe; it is only on closer inspection that the ropes, scaffolding and smoke start to emerge – evidence of the images’ artificiality. Goudal does not push her viewer into one particular reality, but allows our perception to teeter at the edge of the ‘EXIT’ door.