LidoNob is a large pencil drawing on paper, measuring more than four metres across. It consists of four panels which abut or overlap one another to present a continuous image. It presents a view of the swimming pool of the fictitious town of Nobson Newtown. Built between the city slums and the Chemical and Light Industry Plant (C.L.I.P.O.N.), the lido is framed by a zigzagging wall of geometric protrusions resembling rock formations. In the centre of the image, a diving platform located above the swimming pool spells out the title of the work. To its left, another diving platform of differing heights resembles a thin scaffold construction with an impossible staircase of ascending and descending loops. On the right hand side, there is a series of modular rounded forms, and further to the right there is an underground station with the logo of Nobson’s transport company (Nobgo Travel) on each side. In LidoNob, the objects are arranged on a spatial plane using ‘cavalier’ or oblique projection, wherein the distance between fore, mid and background is abolished, and everything depicted is equally close to the viewer, cancelling out any sense of hierarchy between the different parts of the composition. The origins of this lie in military cartography, and it has the effect of inviting the viewer to take in the entire design at once. Noble’s use of cavalier projection flaunts the fictional reality of the town he depicts, which is further undermined by the conspicuous lack of any human presence.
LidoNob is one of nearly thirty drawings that form the series Nobson Newtown, begun in 1996. These intricate graphite drawings depict the buildings and locations that make up the geography, history and mythology of Noble’s imaginary city Nobson Newtown. The creation of this metropolis started with a hand-drawn map and a computer design font, Nobfont, based on the forms of modernist architecture. Noble has represented each section of the town in a separate drawing, reflecting its disjointed geography. Most of the buildings are black, white or grey block-like constructions formed from Nobfont letters that spell out their names or functions. In Nobson Newton, language becomes a material out of which a world can be made. Noble has explained, ‘the whole piece is a work made up of drawn words and words that you don’t read’ (quoted in Flash Art 2001, p.84).
Protected by the Nobhill Downs on three sides and by the sea on its fourth side, Nobson Newtown has more than twenty-five locations to date, including individual buildings and civic spaces such as the town centre (Nobson Centre), the Quarry, the hospital (Nobhospital), the cemetery (Nobsend), the Chemical and Light Industry Plant (C.L.I.P.O.N), the public toilet, the sewage system (Nobwaste), the underground system (Nobgo Travel), a slum area (Nobslum) and the job centre (nojobclub). Just out of town, are found Nobpark and Nobcamp, the archaeological site, the architect’s house (Paul’s Place, a print of which is in Tate’s collection, P78667), and various commemorative villas that recall diverse utopian follies such as the Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee, completed by Victor Pasmore in 1970.
The peculiar urban environment of Nobson Newtown and its unusual history are described in Noble’s book Introduction to Nobson (1998), a parody of various genres of tourist, museum and heritage guides. The book narrates how the entire city was rebuilt to its current form to reflect the unanimous desires of its citizens. As a result, the Nobson Newtown project stands as a witty comment on the utopian ideas behind functional design and the New Towns built in post-war England, with their emphasis on social reform and improvement of aesthetic appearance. Mocking structures of local level democracy, and its municipal processes involving planners, politicians, bureaucrats and apathetic citizens, the artist devised a way of reflecting on how developers and financers mould cities by, in his opinion, ignoring the needs of those who already live there. ‘In Nobson’, Noble has explained, ‘I am making a secure place that I can control in my studio to set against the madness of development. The market determines what kind of building and use will take place and if you are not part of that sanctioned economy, then you don’t get access to those spaces’ (Quoted in Flash Art 2001, p.84). However, the extreme democratic principles behind the designs that make up Nobson are precisely the cause of all the disfunctional aspects of the city. The artist has observed that this bleak, desolated and impoverished town ‘could be taken to suggest that despite youthful optimism in the goodness of mankind and that all change is for the better, the truth is that wherever man goes, destruction and sadness aren’t too far behind’ (Noble 1998, pp.29–30).
Paul Noble, Introduction to Nobson Newtown, Cologne 1998.
‘Paul Noble interviewed by John Slyce’, Flash Art, vol.34, no.217, March–April 2001, pp.84–5.
Judith Nesbitt and Jonathan Watkins (eds.), Days Like These: Tate Triennial Exhibition of Contemporary British Art 2003, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003, pp.116–21.