Interview with Noémie Goudal
Glacier du Rhône – October 2016
The Rhône Glacier is the largest glacier in the Uri mountain range, part of the Swiss Alps. It is the source of the river Rhône and one of the primary contributors to Lake Geneva. Noémie Goudal and a volunteer production team travelled there in mid October 2016 to produce an installation for Project Pressure, sponsored by Norse Projects. Noémie travelled to the glacier for a location recce then returned to build and photograph the installation that will form the final artwork.
Were there any moments that stood out as exciting or inspiring?
During the recce when I was on my own, discovering the landscape was the most inspiring moment. Being alone was important in this breathtaking environment. I have travelled a lot to many different places and I have never seen a landscape like it. The purity of the air and sky, the very blue lake and colour of the ice all coincide to create a new experience. It is out of this world and in turn influential in ideas and the concept.
The change in weather made us feel powerless, (an unexpected storm hit them) we were at its mercy but still everything went smoothly. I had a great team. Till Stoll, a volunteer on the production team, who runs an eco-hotel in nearby Andermatt, saw the importance of highlight climate change issues in his local area. He said the experience was incredibly enjoyable.
Describe your journey to the final piece/concept.
This project has been in the process for a long time, two years ago myself and Klaus Thymann from Project Pressure started a conversation about making an installation in the landscape. It took a long time to find a suitable location – the glacier has to be easily accessible due to equipment. This affected the proposed project since an idea based on landscape can’t be fully conceived without seeing the location first. We were very lucky to find such a stunning glacier only 10 minutes walk from the road.
What does the work represent?
The main area of my work is landscape, in particular that space between artificiality and natural. This artwork in particular is a photo of Glacier du Rhône in front of the icescape itself. It starts off that you cannot differentiate between the landscape and its copy. The photo is printed on biodegradable, ecologically-safe paper that disintegrates in water. As it dissolves you can see the artificial landscape against its natural form.
Parallels are drawn between the stratums of an image versus the landscape, with mountain landscapes of snow, rocks and ice melting to reveal a new layer, it provides a visual comparison. With ecological issues about sustainability already in mind this installation is the result of a challenge to find not only a concept that links glaciers, meltwater and environmental issues but also expands on all possibilities when looking at the natural landscape.
The installation questions how much you can use the landscape then expect it to remain the same. If you damage a layer can it remain the same, will it rebuild?
What were your thoughts and feelings on this location and how does it connect to the artwork?
The initial idea stemmed from work and ideas used and played around with in previous, unrelated artwork, in which I have used the dissolving paper before. (An integral part of this installation)
It is quite a high glacier for this area at approximately 2500m. The town nearby is high within the mountains so you don’t fully realise the altitude. The road leading there is gorgeous – you can see the road for 7km ahead of you as you drive along the mountains. From near the glacier you could still see the hotel we were staying in.
After the recce – the idea developed as the logistical possibilities opened up. The point of view changed as we realised the ease of access to and across the glacier. The first trip was my first visit to a glacier and it was very impressive. My thoughts expanded, as the landscape opened up. The glacier run off has made a lake that leads to an immense waterfall at the glacier mouth. For me the lake was very important; it depicted the transformation from solid to fluid that I had never seen it before.
When building the installation the noise of glacier cracking is quite loud. It can make you nervous, you can’t see the changes but you can hear it. It is a reminder that you’re working on a moving landscape. It is not a fixed installation and the work records the movement of a landscape that looks still but is actually moving.
Does this piece connect to climate change?
In this installation what is interesting is that the paper used disintegrates – it changes from being a normal sheet, a solid thing, to a white paste, with almost nothing left. As soon as there is contact with humidity it decomposes, which is strange for paper. (It was also important to use materials that don’t damage the landscape.)
This revealing of the authentic landscape reveals a timeline. Over a short period the paper falls off in layers, it not only links back to the earlier point of the stratum of the landscape but it also relates to a real timeline to do with climate change affects. In each photograph you will see a peeling of a stratus, this movement and change over time reflects that of a glacier. This motif repeats itself, a layer peels off, then a moment later a layer peels off, it heeds the gap between time and space.
How does it reflect on your experience in Switzerland?
It was a revelation to see the beauty of the landscape; it is such an isolated area. Once the local people realised that we were producing artwork to raise awareness of issues that are important to them – to do with the melting of glaciers – they became interested in the project.
What were conditions like – e.g. weather?
During the recce it was great, beautifully sunny with no wind but on the actual shoot it became cloudy, and a storm rolled in. From the glacier you overlook the Furka Pass, from here we witnessed a massive cloud running through valley – and with it a strong wind. The cloud was like a snake going through the valley, a dense, thick fog – similar to the famous Maloja snake clouds that run through the valleys in Graubünden canton. As it was not forecast, it forced the production to finish really quickly.
Did you achieve everything you set out to?
It’s a bit early to tell, I was frustrated by the wind, as we had to rush it. Hopefully the images will reflect the spectacular landscape and the materiality of the paper. This artwork is about the small details, when the final piece is produced and viewed as a large format print, or series of photographs, I want the viewer to look at the imperfections of the paper, wires and installation compared to the natural landscape. There is an aspect of unknowing due to the storm.