Adam Dant: The People Who Live on the Plank

In association with The Drawing Room, London

Sat 28 Sep – Sat 6 Dec 2003

Adam Dant is a young British artist, living and working in London. This is his first UK touring exhibition which has been organised by The Drawing Room, a new gallery in London which focuses on aspects of contemporary drawing practice.

Looking round the Mead Gallery, these drawings resemble large comic books. Every day for five years, Adam Dant wrote, drew and published Donald Parsnips’ Journal, a postcard sized comic book that he distributed free to passers-by, wherever he happened to be. It combined odd cartoons with slogans like “Beware, wild horses will try and keep you away from things you don’t want to go to” and lists like “Why you shouldn’t paint” : 3. It involves the use of paint and 4. People will only buy the results. This led to a regular column in the Sunday Independent where the minute idiosyncracies of everyday life take on immense signficance.

Looking round the Mead Gallery you will see sequences of smaller drawings in which the roundels gradually increase in size. The first two concentrate on a series of events located in Dant’s neighbourhood in East London. The Romance of the Square and The Cult of the Corner and The People Who Live on The Plank present series of events, small in themselves, but all with catastrophic dimensions. Where We Go When We Die looks at the possibilities for an after-life for members of different religious groups. The two big drawings, Wall Street English and Five Economic Systems again propose a series of domino-linked events, small in themselves, that build into chains of events that evoke a sense of catastrophe. Dant has described his work as akin to soap-operas and there is certainly an equivalent sense of the way that tiny events, like not telling someone the truth, can build into big dramatic storylines.

The narrative constructions are immediately apparent through the formal structure of these intricate drawings. However the narrative structure is actually complicated by its matrix form. The viewer determines the course of the narrative and they nod backwards and forwards and around the work; pursuing a non-linear course in an ostensibly linear work.

Each roundel is also rich in narrative detail. Dant has tried to make them as dense as possible without resorting to language. Facial expressions, actions and situations are the vehicles for the stories. The drawings all have the same sense of depth. There are no long shots, no sense of landscape. In this, they are theatrical rather than filmic although it could be argued that the same focus on character and event is found in the television soaps where the wider urban area is only seen in the opening sequence of Coronation Street or the city of London is viewed, as if from space, again only in the opening sequence of East Enders.

Adam Dant’s work has been described as Hogarthian or Swiftian in its use of satire. However, here there is no sense of condemnation. He has taken the extremes of daily life as presented in our mass culture and gently re-presents them to us in a way that questions our acceptance of televisual realities as much as it makes us laugh.

This exhibition was funded by The Moose Foundation for the Arts and The Elephant Trust