Friday, 18 September 2009

Marcus Munnelly’s 'In the Scene'

Originally published in Hotshoe, August 2009.

The idea of undertaking a degree that allows for the possibility of studying imagery of the ‘everyday’, the shy aesthetics of ‘deadpan’ or ‘antitheatricality’ is indeed a strange one. It is not as paradoxical as it seems, however, because if one were to carry out a degree in photography this would be rightly encouraged. Since the late 1970s the appearance of large format art-photography on our gallery walls has increased, and with it a form of photographic discourse that embodies a variety of important questions about what constitutes, amongst other things, pictorialism and its appearance within the photographic image. Current art-photography essentially requires what could be called the study of a ‘negative aesthetics’, or, as Jaques Ranciere has rightly specified, a birthing of art-photography not in reference to the conventions of pictorialism found in historical examples of the fine arts but, instead, inscribed within the most banal or trivial of photographic imagery:

“Photography did not become an art by imitating the mannerisms of art. Benjamin accurately demonstrated this regarding David Octavius Hill: it is with the little anonymous fishwife from New Haven, not with his grand pictorial compositions, that he brought photography into the world of art. Likewise, it is not the ethereal subject matter and soft focus of pictorialism that secured the status of photographic art, it is rather the appropriation of the commonplace…” 1

Somewhat conversely, Michael Fried has asserted that art-photography’s inheriting of earlier pictorial issues - prevalent in 18th century French painting for example – is the true reference point for its emergence in the 1970s. Whichever position one takes on the matter, the birthing of photography as an art form proper represents just the beginning of its larger quandary as a subject. Photography also necessarily takes on many of the predicaments associated with late-modern visual art discourses (abstraction, concept-art, minimalism), coupled with the lumber of a Bejaminian notion of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, and many of the abhorrent impasses of postmodernism. Therefore to properly undertake a degree in photography is to attempt to view and understand numerous examples of the practice itself conceptually rooted within a plethora of other subjects including aesthetics (and its politics), art history, non art-photography, new media and both analogue and digital technologies.

Because of this challenge to budding young photography students, every year we award an undergraduate photographer from the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, a prize in the form of a feature in Hotshoe. This year, we chose Marcus Munnelly, because he has produced a body of work that is intriguing, coherent and professional (his dissertation on framing the land as landscape is also intelligently put together and serves to underpin many of the issues he explored when photographing In the Scene).

Many of Stephen Shore’s, Jean-Marc Bustamante’s or Thomas Struth’s photographs possess a flat, almost accidental quality, as if printed from a film still; a slice of a once moving image that now merely serves as a seemingly inconsequential abstraction from the sense of reality its moving counterpart might provide. When, for example, considering the most vapid of Bustamante’s Cibachromes – Tablea no. 17 (1979) - something of this lack becomes apparent. There is something absent in this image, namely, an immediate and approachable sense of the classically pictorial. Such photographs require the onlooker to do the work; to consider exactly what it is we are not seeing as a means to our eventual understanding of what we are seeing…

Marcus Munnelly describes his triptych In the Scene in the following way: “This series of photographs are motivated by the mimetic nature of the theatrical within constructed environments. The chosen theatre set depicted in the work is an artificial construction of reality. I am fascinated by the state of functionality of objects and props within a set as the original, intended function has been removed.” 2

Munnelly searched through London’s cultural events magazine Time Out, looking for suitable West-end theatre sets that he could arrange to photograph. He eventually settled with Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind (partly inspired by Oliver Sachs’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat), a play that first came to the stage in 1985.

The resulting image is staged, artificial, plastic-like and somewhat illusory. Munnelly is interested in how the various elements of the set converge to create this deception of reality; how theatre sets generate this false sense of reality that actors can then perform upon.

In the Scene, in its triptych form, is fundamentally a landscape image. Like Sarah Pickering, Munnelly is interested in the space itself as opposed to simply just its intended function. When there are no actors or seated spectators present the space becomes functionless, it can only be considered on the level of what it succeeds to be: a redundant landscape, brought back into view by being framed and photographed.

“The main reason behind the triptych was that to photograph the stage just seemed to simply represent it, but I wanted to make it my own, to break it up, so the parts could be individually scrutinised. People have asked me if it is my garden. I wanted the background to be as dark as possible; I wanted to specifically focus on the set itself. I chose the lighting myself; I sat there and instructed the lighting guy in the theatre, almost like a director. We had agreed this before-hand.” 3

In the Scene takes as its subject the birthplace of theatricality itself, but seems to represent something more deadpan and antitheatrical than one might assume would be the case. To use Ranciere’s term, it represents the ‘commonplace’ of the theatre. Like Tableau no. 17, Munnelly’s image is a frozen moment in anticipation of forthcoming action; a snapshot of the stage as the curtain first opens; or comparable to Bustamante’s photograph, a single image abstracted from the context of the time-based narrative of Woman in Mind.

Although embodying elements of deadpan photography, Munnelly successfully aestheticises In the Scene in a way that differentiates it from Tableau no. 17. Where as Bustamante’s image could be photographed off-the-cuff, so to speak, Munnelly’s does not offer up this illusion, it is openly considered, staged and lit as if in a photographic studio. Indeed, a theatre set contains all the usual objects of a photographic studio, but there is something about the potential presence of an audience in the theatre - a component that you wouldn’t find in a studio photograph. As soon as one knows what exactly is being photographed here, it is the potential presence of an audience that allows this image a certain tension: a tension that seems to attach a slight sense of theatricality to an otherwise deadpan photograph. In the Scene occupies a space next to deadpan; an impassive space, one with little but enough emotion to render it subtly and justifiably aesthetic.

1. Ranciere, 2004 33.

2. Artist’s press release, LCC undergraduate photography show, 2009.

3. Interview with the artist, June 2009.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Jim O'Rourke's 'The Visitor' - No Rancour Here.

"What's certain is that you can't buy a download of The Visitor. Its meticulously layered mix turns to utter shit when reduced to an MP3 - believe me I've checked. It's a welcome blow struck for quality that also establishes O'Rourke as a fighter against the times.

The record's dedication to Derek Bailey likewise does more than acknowledge a late idol's passing. Bailey was notoriously unconcerned about who he pissed off, but the way he burned his bridges was the key to his ongoing relevance as his most celebrated alliances. Like Bailey, O'Rourke has punctuated his career with broken connections that have pushed him onto dangerous but fertile ground, and his anticipation that The Visitor will earn rancour suggests that that's what he's looking for. Perhaps he wants us to know that he, like Roeg and Bailey, doesn't need to be liked; he just needs to do what he's doing." - Bill Meyer, The Wire, September 2009.

I'm not entirely sure about some of Meyer's statements of cross-purpose in this article - like the last sentence cited above - but what is indubitably clear is that Jim O'Rourke has, once again, composed a quite brilliant record; riff-laden, rested in all the right places, gloriously understated and, well, perfectly put together (purportedly there were over 200 tracks of audio recorded before he was happy wiv is mix).

Monday, 31 August 2009

'On Land' - Erich Gruber, David M Price and Francesca Owen at Fulham Palace Gallery

My new exhibition (mine in a curatorial sense) of paintings and etchings launches next week at Fulham Palace Gallery. Contemplations on Land, death, religion, the pending apocalypse and a rather good text by Vince Stephen on John Ruskin (see the bottom of this post).

All Welcome, 6:30-9:30pm, Thursday 10th September, Fulham Palace, Bishops Avenue, London, SW6 6EA.

Bengel, Erich Gruber, 2008.

Black Sun, David M Price, 2009.

Contemplations on Land, Francesca Owen, 2009.

To John Ruskin

The vital principle is not the love of knowledge, but the love of change.

Up here above Coniston Water we walk your floors and play your piano. Children play raindrops on the white keys. We are surrounded by constructions of memories.

You came here to rest they tell me, to convalesce, when it seemed the country would never accept a different style of progress. When you took on too much and burnt yourself, you came here to build a garden and for quiet and for the view. You withdrew. For the light and the water. We follow you.

Dissidents they tell me passed through your dining room, with content for pamphlets - with front-line reports, out here far from Manchester, a slow revolution.

If we pretend to have reached either perfection or satisfaction, we have degraded ourselves and our work.

For music, birdsong. For still-life, feathers. For landscape a circular turret connected to the edge of your bedroom. It collects light and it allows contemplation. Below my wife traces aimless circles with a mobile phone pressed to her ear. And somehow I know she is speaking her language.

I don’t know if you died alone, but they say the storm clouds which loitered above convinced you in your last days that the battle against evil, against the horrors of industry and uncaring capital, had gone somehow biblical, was taking place in the elements now, a skybound struggle for the soul of the Island. I don’t know if you died alone, but they’ve placed your walking stick on your tiny single bed. Somehow this arrangement of objects suggests so.

We buy our liveries, and gild our prayer-books, with pilfered pence out of children’s and sick men’s wages, and thus ingeniously dispose a given quantity of Theft, so that it may produce the largest possible measure of delicately-distributed suffering.

Vince Stephen, 2009.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Jacob Kirkegaard’s ‘Labyrinthitis’: Object Enters Subject

Originally published in my research thesis Innate Response Vs. Socioaural Nostalgia: Towards a Post-Cagean Analysis of Sound Art, Royal College of Art, May 2009.

Labyrinthitis is, in essence, a relational artwork. However, it does not require active participation. One only need let the ear perform its function to hear the complete composition.

"In June 2007, Jacob Kirkegaard had a range of DPOAEs [a distortion effect in the cochlea of the inner-ear that produces a ‘ghost tone’ when prompted by two other corresponding tones fed into the cochlea simultaneously] recorded in a sound proof booth at the Centre for Applied Hearing Research in Copenhagen, Denmark. Different tones of various frequencies were sent into his ears through subminiature speakers. As the basilar membrane in the cochlea was stimulated, his ears started to generate tones. These tones, and the very process that generated them, serve as the basis of Labyrinthitis: an interactive composition that involves the ears of the audience in a multi-layered cannon." (Kirkegaard, 2008)

These recorded tones are ordered into an abstract composition that lasts thirty-eight minutes and ten seconds. The composition was released in 2008 by the London based label Touch. During an email interview conducted in November 2008, Jacob Kirkegaard responded to the following question: in terms of existence, objecthood and ontology, how would you describe Labyrinthitis?

"Your question makes me want to ask, “what is hearing?” Of course, perception is a main part of listening; and of seeing etc. - but then there is the mechanics of hearing. That is perhaps where the “objecthood” comes into question? As for Labyrinthitis (and for hearing in general) there is actually a physical vibration taking place. The hair cells move and generate air pressure waves that we “perceive” as sound but I would say that the objecthood is what happens inside our very ear, namely the trembling of our hair cells - or just the hair cells themselves; the hair cells as objects, sound objects, like a speaker which is also a sound object.

After Labyrinthitis performances, people from the audience have come up to me and told me interesting things about what they experienced. Some people felt that their skull literally vibrated. So when sound becomes physical the skull is almost a sound object. Or at least, if sound shakes the object, it “inhabits” the object." (Kirkegaard, 2008)

One of the original and intriguing aspects of the work is this idea that it is being ‘finished’ by the listener in an act of innate or physiological participation. With well-functioning ears, our cochlea generates additional sounds; in a sense, subjectivity becomes inferior to the physiology of the ear. The very act of hearing (as opposed to listening) adds content to the artwork. Despite the space inside our heads being very private, we may nonetheless consider this work to be participatory or relational to some extent, on the basis that we as hearing subjects complete it.

"Yes, this work is indeed interactive but in a way that you don’t decide for yourself. Normally an interactive work is about you being able to decide “within” the work, but here your ear responds by itself. The very fact that it responds makes it interactive because if your ear didn’t interact, you would be deaf, and therefore unable to experience the piece.

Listening to this piece also offers a way to understand hearing in a new way, that the ear is not just a black hole but an active organ, the hair cells are like piano strings under water… This idea could be applied to all kinds of actions in life, that we need to interact with our world in order to understand it: that things always function in two ways.

So with Labyrinthitis, you don’t even have the entire piece of music on the CD, like you have on all the other CD’s. Here some of the tones that are part of the composition do not exist on the CD. They only appear and are only heard when the CD is being listened to." (Ibid)

Kirkegaard’s notion of object is not sound itself; on the contrary, it is the material entity that produces sound (the hair cell, or skull, or loudspeaker). Sound finds materiality via a relationship with its producing (hair cell, loudspeaker) or resonating (skull) object. Kirkegaard talks of the sound as inhabiting the object; what produces is material (hair cells), but what is produced is immaterial (sound). Labyrinthitis lies on the boundary between the material and the immaterial, simultaneously creating two kinds of object: a dialectic between them. I asked Jacob Kirkegaard: as some of the tones in Labyrinthitis are literally generated by our ear, does it therefore complicate or divide the notion of sonic object into two halves – those sounds that exist on the recording and those which are generated by our ears?

"Yes, if we consider that the sound-object is the source of the sound (the loudspeakers or the hair cells) then we in this case have two sources, the speakers and the hair cells. In Anthony Moore’s text (on the packaging accompanying the CD) he even describes a membrane in between the listener and the sound…"(Ibid)

Anthony Moore writes about:

"Lectures I gave in the late 90s, for example “Acoustic Cells and Membranes”, which later mutated into the rather science-fiction like “Membranes in Space and the Transmitting Ear.” This came out of research in the field of active perception. One hardly need look, or rather hear any further than the phenomenon of Oto-Acoustic Emissions (OAEs, measurable sounds emerging from the ear), to grasp that unless some action takes place on the part of the receiver, then incoming signals may remain unperceived. Due to the active, mechanical components that make up the physiology of the ear, it is possible to construct a model where certain physical aspects of hearing actually take place outside the body, at the entrance to the ear." (Moore, 2008)

As Labyrinthitis is on CD, it is incomplete. As listeners we must allow our ear’s mechanical processes to complete the artwork. Kirkegaard’s work here is somewhat anaesthetic; the body is numbed into submission, entering a womb-like, cathartic sense of place. Our bodies are emptied of emotion, experiencing something purer and more subversive than common aesthetic experience precisely because it has lost its active musicality in replacement for a form of pure anesthetising sound.

Labyrinthitis is implanted in the subject; we are forced into engagement with the work by the very functionality of our own ears. Its object enters us via the ear, blurring the line between subject and object, perceiver and perceived. When listening, one inhabits a space where it is not clear whether the sound exists inside or outside our heads – in this case we host sound, as material beings: we become a vessel or carrier for sound through time. Like Jem Finer’s Longplayer, Labyrinthitis, although existing through time, has a kind of timelessness to it; it creates a space seemingly devoid of time; Labyrinthitis is a context. To engage fully with it as an experience in listening is to be unconscious and unaware of the passing of time, and rather, to immerse oneself in a pure sense of space and place. This is its paradox: although time is passing, it seems to freeze the listener, forcing an awareness of time through timelessness itself.

There is also a second level to be observed where the perception of Labyrinthitis is concerned. This level is emphasised by Zizek’s notion of the ‘parallax view’ (MIT Press, 2006). A parallax view is defined as a phenomenon in which one thinks one has perceived a change in an object, but has in fact just unwittingly changed one’s position on viewing said object; the change then, is not in the object itself, but rather in one’s subjective position. This is precisely the case with Labyrinthitis.

The process by which the human auditory system completes Labyrinthitis as an artwork via the production of OAEs (Tartini tones – after Giuseppe Tartini, the 18th century Italian composer and violinist) emphasises the gap between the sciences and the arts: specifically scientifically proven physiological phenomena (OAEs) and philosophies of perception (theories of subjectivity). Labyrinthitis is an artwork created under the influence of science. This artwork creates an aesthetic experience using science as a tool or informant to its process. Such processes of art making can be read as attempts to bridge the gap between nature and culture (be they conscious or unconscious attempts). Zizek elaborates on the gap between nature and culture as follows:

“Bridging the gap” – namely, the gap between nature and culture, between “blind” biological (chemical, neuronal…) processes and the experience of awareness and sense – what, however, if this is the wrong task? What if the actual problem is not to bridge the gap but, rather, to formulate it as such, to conceive it properly? Here, more than anywhere else, the proper formulation of the gap is the solution to the problem." (Zizek, 2006: 214)

It is precisely a formulation of this gap that Kirkegaard brings to light in creating Labyrinthitis. In doing so, he reveals Zizek’s parallax view or gap between subject and object: the subject as the listener of Labyrinthitis, completing the artwork via one’s OAEs, and the object as the artwork itself – the artwork being the totality of the sounds on the CD combined with the OAEs the subject’s ear generates. When listening to Labyrinthitis one thinks one is hearing a change in the sound coming from the speakers (and thus the CD), but in fact the change in our subjective position (the fact that we as subjects have generated sound in our ears) is the real change; the view onto the perceptual act that is listening to Labyrinthtis is fundamentally a parallax one.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Butterfly - Catrin Morgan and Rachel Pedder-Smith

My newest curatorial endeavor is now available for a view if you find yourself in Fulham (again, woe betide - I apologise for the location of the gallery but beggars can't be choosers, can they?). There will be a full-blown website to accompany my new painting show in September (and document all the past exhibitions) - until then the blogosphere will have to suffice.

Here is a couple of photos courtesy of my tight designer Francisco Laranjo, his glorious ouvré and accompanying design criticism can be found here. Additionally, here is the 'introductory text' for the exhibition I wrote for the A4 FOH handout a month or so ago and the two artist's statements.


What we have come to understand as botanical illustration, and additionally collections of texts or objects that illustrate a specific literary or scientific theme, can be found rooted in the medieval Latin ‘florilegium’ (singular) or ‘florilegia’ (plural). This translates to modern English as ‘a gathering of flowers’. While the term was originally used to describe the way specific passages of scholarly and classical texts were selected and compiled to illustrate a specific theme, after the medieval period the word was used to refer to any collection or compilation of objects, in both scientific and literary contexts.

This exhibition brings the history of florilegia into the context of the art gallery, presenting two contemporary florilegium: on the one hand, a collection of watercolour illustrations of insect specimens (a form of botanic study rooted in art practice), and on the other hand, a collection of deconstructed texts with their pages meticulously cut into and fanned-out like the wings of a butterfly. This exhibition seeks to update the definition of florilegia, asking the visitor to consider the idea of collecting, or collections, both as scientific pursuits necessary for the accurate documentation of our natural world, and as a form of contemporary art practice that intends to give a sense of visual beauty to the inexpressive rigour and systematisation normally associated with purely scientific study. This exhibition both respects and questions botanical science, but above all adds something arguably necessary to it; something it might otherwise lack - a sense of consideration, elegance and craft through artistry.

Presentation and Further Information:

The placement of the artworks reflects the flight of a group of butterflies. The objects climb the gallery walls, fluttering around before settling on an available surface. The two artists’ works are mixed; blended to avoid the formality of hanging in set and separated groups. Additionally, the title of the exhibition, displayed on the wall in vinyl lettering, suggests the form and shape of a butterfly’s wings. In this respect, an element of the design process, normally restricted to the catalogue, is incorporated directly into the display of the artworks.

Many of the insects in Rachel Pedder-Smith’s paintings can be found in the gardens of Fulham Palace. Her work in this exhibition features both original watercolour works and photographic reproductions.

We wish to give special thanks to Daunt Bookshop for supplying the books.

Artist's Statement/Catrin Morgan

“I set myself problems and then create sets of rules determining the means by which I am allowed to solve them. In the case of the Butterfly Library, the problem was that I wanted to find a way of illustrating the shared moment that three particular works of fiction (The Satanic Verses, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Everything is Illuminated) entered when they all used the word butterfly. I had the idea that the word could act as a doorway between the texts. I thought of the problem in 2005, but didn't begin to come up with a solution until two years later whilst studying at the RCA. After I had decided that the solution would definitely involve pins, other rules began to emerge. I now have a framework of rules inside which the work is growing. Although I do use rules and systems to help me create work, I'm not dogmatic; sometimes rules must be broken or amended and in fact extending the project for this exhibition has led to the creation of new rules necessary to allow the project to continue.”

Artist's Statement/Rachel Pedder-Smith

“My painting is as representative as possible. I use watercolour paints and very small brushes. For the butterfly paintings I looked at the surface through a magnifying glass in order to try and capture the full structure of the wings. Most of my paintings are produced at exactly life size and I measure as many dimensions of the object as possible. Before I start painting I produce a faint line drawing as a guide. I don’t produce any preparation studies. I use a style called ‘dry brush technique’, where not much water is mixed with the paint.”

Sunday, 5 July 2009


My mother and her partner are writing a rather good travel blog as they eat their away around Spain as cheaply and cheerfully as possible. If you ever find yourself in Swindon (woe betide), their modest seven table cafe-bar Los Gatos is about the only place worth visiting. I wasn't invited, but all the same, her is a link and a slice of their empanada to wet your taste buds - fnar fnar!:

"Arturo’s is an unprepossessing place from the outside – an aluminium door with a small sign on the wall outside leads in to a single room with a small bar to the right and a few fishing and bullfighting pictures adorning the otherwise plain yellow painted walls. There is no pretence at being anything other than a neighbourhood restaurant, there to feed people."

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Lubetkin's Sivill House

Oh, now I get why drinking in the Bird Cage is ok, we (Entschwindet und Vergeht and I) get to walk past this on the way... I'll (rather unsteadily) raise a drink to that.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Fragmented Narrative of a Remote Island - New Photographic work by Noemie Goudal

All images courtesy of the artist. Essay originally published in the June/July 09 edition of Hotshoe.

She Was 19 When She First Left the Island, 2009.

“Here was Pala, the forbidden island, the place no journalist had ever visited. And now must be the morning after the afternoon when he'd been fool enough to go sailing, alone, outside the harbor of Rendang-Lobo. He remembered it all - the white sail curved by the wind into the likeness of a huge magnolia petal, the water sizzling at the prow, the sparkle of diamonds on every wave crest, the troughs of wrinkled jade.” (Aldous Huxley, Island, 1962.)


In Aldous Huxley’s Island, a narrative is constructed to present a particularly utopian ontology: a space where occidental and oriental philosophies meet, predominantly through two characters - the landed Scottish medical doctor, and the local Buddhist Raja. These two characters represent part of a fictional community of islanders who attempt the development of an emancipatory form of living - an interest predominant in several of Huxley’s writings, and a vast fictional alternative to the 1950s post-war capitalist West (a time of great economic growth in Huxley’s then home America). On Pala monetary value is decentralized, spiritual enlightenment is welcomed, and talking parrots descant political slogans.

Islands are remote places; they are alone, autonomous, disconnected. Isolated from continental life, they are locations many writers and artists have turned to for inspiration (the term ‘islomania’ has been coined to describe one’s passion or craze for islands). Islands are secretive, often lonely spaces that have long associations with fantastical literature (Jules Verne, Herman Melville, or Robert Louis Stevenson). Islands are in this sense conducive to storytelling; they may be ideal spaces - through their separation from mainland reality - for the creation of secluded fictions, as well as spaces for productive meditation and work (George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four while living on the island of Jura, Scotland).


The Wind Blows, Ceaselessly, Rasping Upon the Nerves, 2009.

Noemie Goudal’s practice uses the photographic image to interpret stories told to her during her time visiting the island of Orkney, Scotland. The central question of her project is this: How can a story which occurred over time, be represented via the stasis (or single moment) of the photographic image? Each image represents a chapter; these images come together to form a fragmented narrative that suggests more than an isolated moment in time - instead, they collectively reveal the passing of a sequence of events.

These images tell tales of nostalgic memory and a want to escape from island life. They are not stories that describe an island as a place for escaping to (as is the case with the aforementioned Huxleyan islomania), but rather of an island as a place that may be escaped from, made clear by the presence of the boat, the empty longing bleakness of the yellow-lit harbor, and the flooding of the local church in these photographs. These images seem to represent the end of a period of time for the characters that appear within them – the photographs describe a youthful reminiscing of sorts, while the character’s expressions simultaneously reveal a calmed need for desertion, or an uneasy consolidating of past experience. These children have out-grown this limited space, no doubt witnessing others leave along the way.

In Goudal’s work, stories from Orkney are staged or reinvestigated within the confines of the photographic studio. The landscapes in these images are imposed on an artificial space. The image hung as a backdrop is comprised of a multitude of photographic prints, linked together to evoke a concise sense of place. Like a theatrical production still in rehearsal, all scenographic elements are exposed: the set itself is laid bare, the contents of the backdrop feed directly onto the stage, and foreground objects such as lights and electrical cabling - usually obscured from view - are present for all to see.


Les Passeurs shows three siblings longing for escape from island life. The toy boat does not represent a real, seaworthy vessel, but instead an object that limns hopeful escape. The long, hilly lane symbolizes the end of a vast journey; a passing of time in which the characters have come to realize the limitations (both geographical and experiential) of isolated life.

On Charles Avery’s fictional island of Onomatopoeia, recently featured in the Tate Triennial in London, there sits a number of pyramids. In amongst these pyramids resides a beast called the ‘Noumenon.’ Linguistically (and in Kantian terms) a noumenon is an object that is fundamentally unexperiencable by thought - the simple opposite of a phenomenon (that which can be experienced by thought). Avery describes this beast as residing in the dark interior of his island, suggesting that the beast itself – the core of the island – is an unexperiencable noumenon. It is as if Goudal, like Avery, draws out the very insides of what it is to inhabit an island as somewhat baffling and unthinkable. It takes a story to make sense of this lonely existence; a narrative that attempts the tale of a utopian ideal, or a hopeful escape.

These images coherently feature spaces and an array of implicating objects that conjure a side of island life that, suggested by the expressions of the characters, must be absconded from. Empty fish baskets, disused rope and a deserted harbor – what are these objects representative of, if not an overwhelming sense of dejection or melancholia? Les Passeurs shows the playing-out of the children’s escape, while The Flood depicts the girl seemingly occupying herself with a story of another place, despite the rising water that surrounds her, hurrying forth the inevitable disrepair of the church (after the flood the church was temporarily set-up in a local house, the original religious building eventually being sold to a BBC journalist).

The meticulous setting-up of these studio environments embodies a passionate need to recreate the original stories Goudal had described to her on Orkney. The strength of these pictures lies in this attitude of commitment to recreating narrative space (she could have displayed the backdrop images as the finished works, or digitally imposed the characters and objects of the island onto the images foregrounds).

This intention to position the objects and consider the hierarchies and relationships between them comes from Goudal’s interest in painting composition, for example Piero della Francesca’s works from the early Renaissance. In the central panel of Francesca’s polyptych Madonna della Misericordia (Virgin of Mercy, which, incidentally, was referred to by Aldous Huxley as a most beautiful painting) the figure of the Virgin Mary is greatly enlarged, her cape shrouding her confraternity as they kneel at her feet. Francesca’s interest in perspective is important here - the enlarging of the Madonna within the composition increases the importance of her character, forming a hierarchy over other subjects. Additionally, in Francesca’s later masterpiece The History of the True Cross, an entire narrative is compressed into a sequence of Frescoes derived from a 13th century text on the lives of saints. This piece, like Goudal’s work, reduces time-based narrative into simple static representations. Certain subjects are brought to the foreground in order to emphasize importance, and objects are placed carefully within the staged scene so as to imply their greater significance.



The Flood, 2009.


These photographs do not just simply portray a set of stories, but additionally, and rather interestingly, the construction or insides of the narratives they examine. We can literally see the studio in the images, unashamedly revealed; staged not as the original stories once were, but instead as open and appropriatable space. The originally ‘found’ narratives have been reconfigured, not to the detriment of their accuracy through reinterpretation, but instead to the benefit of their revealing through representation (these stories would have otherwise remain isolated on the island they were born on). Goudal reinvents, not just simply the narrative itself, but the way in which one comes to view it; time is compressed into the singular space of the still image.

This body of work, ‘Fragmented Narrative of a Remote Island’, represents the beginnings of Noemie Goudal’s MA at London’s Royal College of Art. Her photographic work to date, predominantly focusing on fine art, has also seen her shooting for Artworld, Wallpaper, and The Telegraph Magazine, and recently selected as a finalist in ITS8 (she will make the trip to Trieste, Italy for the final in July of this year). Goudal is one of the founders of ‘Hal Silver’ – a collective of young photographers emerging from the RCA.