It was at the start of December, 1998, just eight months after the Chisenhale show closed, that Paul Noble’s then dealer, Maureen Paley, opened a show of his latest work at her gallery in the East End.


At the time, Interim Art was located on Beck’s Road, Hackney, whereas most dealers were still in the West End around Cork Street. But why would Maureen Paley want to be associated with that staid and conservative lot? Quite right that she and the likes of Anthony Wilkinson (Anthony Wilkinson Gallery) and Jake Miller (The Approach) set up shop closer to the vibrant art scene itself, handy for culture vultures to combine visits to these new commercial spaces with visits to those consistently interesting publicly-funded galleries such as Matt’s, Chisenhale and the Whitechapel.

It was the timing of this show that gave me the opportunity to propose a feature to Keith Patrick at
contemporary visual arts. I couldn’t have proposed the feature at the beginning of the year, because my book Personal Delivery wasn’t published until September and so I had no platform. But after September, on the back of the popularity of the book in a few circles, I was given a column in which to write about art in The Independent on Sunday. Suddenly I did have a platform.

Here is the part of the feature for
cva that relates to the show at Interim Art, together with images that were supplied, courtesy of Maureen Paley/Interim Art. I’ll start with the double-page spread that opens the feature itself, since it is not otherwise available online:


And here’s the text:

‘At Interim Art, Nobson Newtown is represented by an installation: Welcome to Nobpark. The walls of the gallery have been covered floor-to-ceiling with Nobpark wallpaper. Mature trees, dappled sunshine, fallen leaves, purple haze, Disney-esque woodland animals standing on their back legs, wide-eyed and innocent. There is a single purple tent standing in a shady glade. It opens at the front and - because it’s an O in Nobson font - there would seem to be standing room at the back. The window’s curtain is half-shut, but I guess this tent is empty.

‘There’s a tent like it, packed away in a six-foot long thin holdall lying on the floor of the second gallery. I unzip it far enough to confirm the presence of a nylon top sheet. The heavy hard bits towards one end of the holdall will be the poles and pegs, but I don’t go to the trouble of checking this. Instead, I grasp the bag by its handles and try to raise it off the floor. Its a strain, but it does lift - drooping slightly, front and back. I imagine walking with it. The ends of the bag would no doubt come into contact with the ground every few steps, so I’d look a complete plonker. But it would be an option.’

‘There are two pencil drawings mounted on the wallpaper back in the main gallery. ‘WELCOME TO NOBPARK’, is along the foreground of the first:


‘The message is underlined by a cute mole, water rat, tortoise, dove, as well as hare and squirrel and placid-seeming ruminants. Peering closely, I see a tear dropping from the eye of the creatures, including those standing on the stumps of recently chopped trees. The cut logs are roped together, drawn in a parallell-lined mockery of true perspective, beside a four-piece 3-D TENT. There’s a trampoline and a blazing log fire beside the luxury camp.

‘The second drawing presents a bleaker scene:


‘It’s treeless and empty of wildlife. A tent similar to the one on offer has been blown away - the nobrocks that were weighing down the canvas edges have been strewn - to reveal a skeletal framework. Nobjobclub is in the background, on a plateau, a barren dome flanked by disturbing grids. I turn away from the desert. The big-eyed hare rearing up on hind legs intimidates me now, makes me feel guilty. Am I implicated in the destruction of the countryside just because I thought for a moment I might like to camp for a night in Nobpark? That seems a bit harsh.’
-contemporary visual arts, issue 23

That’s as far as I took my analysis at the time. What do I think now? Well, Paul Noble is very interested in the welfare of animals. The catalogue to his later Whitechapel show, in which he had the opportunity to draw attention to objects, images and texts that had been an influence on him, contains quotes and reproduces images from Peter Singer’s 1975 book, Animal Liberation. The emphasis, I suspect, being on disgust at the way the human animal treats members of other animal species.

What else? I suppose at the time I was disappointed that there were only two new drawings in the show. That was naive of me. First, the gallery was a small one and the decision had obviously been taken to explore a specific part of Nobson Newtown, having given an outline of the whole concept at Chisenhale. Second, the drawings must take a long time to complete, so bursting with detail are they. Looking at the dates of the early work, it looks as if the work was completed in this order:

Nobslum, Paul’s Palace. Carl’s Villa.
The Sea II
C.L.I.P.O.N., The Quarry (multiple parts amounting to one hell of a lot of drawing), Trev. Jem, Starr
Nobspital, Dump, Small Trev,
Nobpark (big tent), Nobpark O (not sure what that one’s called, actually).

Not only was Paul Noble working on the drawings in 1998, the wallpaper was being made then as well as the tent itself. However, the tent got its first gallery showing only recently. In fact it was transported all the way up to Dundee in March/April of 2011.


In a little booklet that was published for the show, the artist says:

‘I pitch my tent here. Made in 1999 and yet to be erected. I choose Cooper Gallery to be TENT’s first site. It is not a race.’

The press release states:
‘TENT is a critical work that marks a departure in Noble’s practice. Conceptually faithful to Nobson Newtown, this new body of work is a stage set for “a play without acts”. Placing the viewer directly inside Noble’s space of language, TENT is the physical and architectural realisation of Nobfont; Noble’s own invention for a place that makes stories.’


I couldn’t go to the opening. But I made it along on another day. I had the Cooper Gallery to myself. Rather, I had
TENT to myself. It felt strange to be standing on the edge of Nobson Newtown. Zips in the inner fabric meant that it was possible to pass from one section of the tent to another. I had no trouble imagining Nobjobclub beyond the blue tent wall at one end of the enclosure. I could almost smell the sea beyond the green tent wall at the other end.

Nobson Newtown. A place I’d associated with the East End of London in the late 90s, suddenly became omnipresent. Yes, maybe it was then, in spring of 2011, rather than last month upon walking into the Nobson room in Tate Britain, that Paul Noble’s visionary project took on the significance it has done in my mind.

TENT gallery installation images courtesy the artist and Cooper Gallery, DJCAD, Colour Photos: Ross Fraser McLean.
If any other copyright holder wants any image removed, or the rights information to be displayed more formally, they should please get in touch.