Politics of Small Places
Paul Noble + Patrick Geddes
14 September – 6 October 2018
Preview & In-conversation
Thursday 13 September
5:30 – 7:30pm
Half the world’s population live and work in cities. Infused with the poetics of the mundane and the political, urban space is seemingly the single common experience that underscores how we relate ‘en masse’ to the world and each other. Offering paradoxical visions of the cornucopia of concrete, glass and steel that straddles the world, Politics of Small Places forges a unique dialogue between preeminent contemporary artist and Turner Prize nominee Paul Noble and pioneering Scottish urban planner Patrick Geddes (1854 –1932). Bringing together Noble’s unsettling encyclopaedic depictions of urban blight with Geddes’ principle to ‘think global act local’ that calls for global consciousnes and civic participation, the exhibition asks urgent questions on sustainability, social struggle, and collective effort.
Casting a stark light on the existential consequences of global urbanisation in the 21st century and drawing attention to the languages and metabolic processes that determine the modern city, Geddes and Noble offer contrasting imaginaries of urbanised space. For Geddes, with his famous valley section diagrams, which was based on the landscape and livelihoods of Dundee, city life is irrevocably tied to the landscape it sits within. In Noble’s drawings this symbiotic relationship between nature and the urban is revoked. Blending craft with carnivalesque, Noble’s urban depictions juxtapose social conscience with an acute humour to draw a world that is both austere and decadent.
The exhibition comprises Noble’s Nest (2004) and Eggface (2014) accompanied by a suite of drawings from which Nest is derived. Modelled on an East Asian folding screen with intricate embroidery and marquetry, Nest portrays a deserted urban environment of egg carton buildings, which resonates dissonantly with Le Corbusier’s ‘machines for living’, beside a dead tree. Eggface, a sculpture and film projection, reveals a woman giving birth to a large black plastic egg. Forming a recurring motif in Noble’s work, the egg indexes the artist’s philosophical take on the paradoxical cycles of birth, death and waste that stand as the genesis and foundation of all life and indeed of our society itself.
Alongside Noble’s works will be nine original diagrams selected from the Geddes Archive Collections at the University of Strathclyde. Part of Geddes’ ‘thinking machines’, an immense body of diagrams and notes drawn in red and blue crayons during his lectures, these works explicate how different environments figure in the formation of social groups and their collective consciousness. Today Geddes’ work provides the means to look again at the urban spaces in which we subsist, consume and struggle.
As part of Cooper Summer Residency 2018, Noble will engage in a four-week written correspondence with Lorens Holm, Director of Geddes Institute for Urban Research at the University of Dundee. This will culminate in a public event at the exhibition preview on 13 September. Featuring Noble, Holm and experts in human ecology and cultural geography, the event will explore current debates on urbanisation alongside ideas of social and environmental justice.