Paperdoll exhibit evokes thoughts of 1890s and 1980s


By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

A crowd of almost 700 turned out for the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Arts’ Thursday Night Thing on Aug. 8, which featured “Margaret Noble: 44th and Landis,” a new exhibit that revisits the artist’s childhood neighborhood of City Heights.

A mix of the neighborhood’s Victorian roots and the 1980s urban pop that formed the background for Noble’s upbringing, the installation is made up of hundreds of paperdoll-like cutouts representing Victorian styles and childhood icons. They are hung in rows that suggest city blocks, and visitors are encouraged to stroll through them, navigating the neighborhood created by the artist’s blend of memory and fantasy the way they would navigate an actual city.

“44th and Landis” was made possible by a San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst grant which Noble received last summer, and she and a crew of eight have been working on it ever since.

“Every paperdoll has a story,” she said. “The show is heavy on content.”

Jill Dawsey, who curated the exhibit and led an informal talk with the artist at TNT, explained, “what’s special about Margaret is her historical insight. Many people have a sort of historical amnesia, but she really thinks about how the past comes into the present, and that makes the exhibit so much more meaningful.”

Noble, who has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UCSD and an MFA in Sound Art from the Art Institute of Chicago, was a DJ for years before moving on to art, dance and theater collaborations. She is now teaching project-based digital art and sound at High Tech High, a charter school in Point Loma, and several of her students helped with the preparation of “44th and Landis.”

“When I left for Chicago, I swore I’d never come back to San Diego, but I keep coming back,” Noble said. “It’s really nice to be warm, and now I’m committed to my teaching, and entrenched in my neighborhood here.”

This fall, she will be giving two solo electronic music and voice performances at MCASD, and in February, she’ll be part of “The Collector,” a performance including film, music, and puppet theater that will be coming to The Loft at UCSD.

There’s an “experiential soundscape,” emanating from handmade paper speakers, that accompanies “Margaret Noble: 44th and Landis,” but at the TNT event, the sounds were barely audible, to me at least. I plan to return for one of her performances to see what I can hear.