Paul Noble's time-consuming scatalogical madhatter-urban-planner distopias at the Whitechapel (10 Sep - 14 Nov 2004) are excellent, and seem to work like a machine for generating metaphors: Justin McGuirk in Icon Magazine was unimpressed, saying it
makes you think of planners like big kids playing with Lego or lost in a game of Sim City. Noble’s creation is even more infantile, and, although he has spent eight years rendering it in obsessive-compulsive detail, he hasn’t bothered dignifying it with human citizens. Instead, Nobson is inhabited by little turd-people – as if to say the more anal the planner, the more excremental the resulting society.
Although there is no small amount of sex, death and horror in Noble's drawings, and probably even more turds than in the whole of Sade, Nobson Newtown has been built over familiar territory. The city is, apart from anything else, a great metaphor. Order and disorder, and Eliot's memory and desire, exist on every level. Noble is at once the architect and town planner, archaeologist, map-maker, social historian, archivist, creator and destroyer. The entire project might be seen as itself a metaphor for the creative process.
Noble's vast drawing Ye Olde Ruin - which fills an end wall of the main upper gallery - is very nearly a dream of Arcadia, with parks enclosed in arabesque, ornamental railings, follies and a fake mountain, acres of slender trees, the entire dream-like scene tailing off into a pale, nuanced emptiness, like the reverie of a mind afloat. The atmosphere is a lot like Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, but the party is definitely winding down. Someone's dumped a busted telly in the foreground, breaking the spell.
Elsewhere: BBC DNA Collective (with audio and pictures): "depictions of a crazy Babylonian society, with a touch of Brueghel’s Tower Of Babel and Robert Crumb’s rounded comic strips" .... or the broken teeth of a city ...
So here are the connections that came to us when in front of the work:
Beautiful drawing and screen (of tapestry and marquetry), crass video
The Wasteland ("unreal city")
Superstudio's 12 Cautionary Tales
letters as structures
John Soane/Joseph Gandy (ruins)
Tower of Babel (Brueghel)
some sheets added at the top halfway through (Ye Olde Ruin)
Freud's mystic writing pad (and memory)
Yogic farter on a plain (plane/pane/pain) of broken glass (The Large Glass)
"spacing" in the images somehow like Peter Doig/Nigel Cooke.
- Noble Dystopia (2000)
Nobson Newton arose from Noble's invention of a cityscape whose buildings double as an orthogonally projected typeface. The result is a semi-legible architext. The rows of structures spell out the name of the town, which is the title of the work. The overall result is like Swiftian parodies of municipal planning done by a sadistic autocracy. "Town planning as self-portraiture" is how the artist explains the total lack of inhabitants; he being the only citizen.
Another drawing titled Nobson Central looks like a cross between Chechnya, Kosovo and other bombed out cities we see on CNN. Nobson Central is actually a giant unreadable Wallace Stevens quote; each word made from a partially destroyed building. Every concrete shard, broken window, cracked wall and bomb crater is industriously limned. The effect is as if R. Crumb rendered one of Joseph Kosuth's deleted texts.
- The British Art Show 5 (2000-1)
- Acumulus Noblitatus, from the Tate's Days Like These show (2003?)