Adam Dant

Dismantling Printing Presses at Paternoster Square


Not on display

Adam Dant born 1967
Watercolour, gold leaf and graphite on paper
Support: 1520 × 1220 mm
Purchased 2017


Dismantling Printing Presses at Paternoster Square 2014 is a large-scale ink drawing on board and is one of five works in Dant’s series Budge Row Bibliotheque, executed between 2014 and 2015 for the Bloomberg SPACE commission. The series demonstrates Dant’s characteristic preoccupation with fictional narratives played out in fantasy topographies, presenting fictional representations of two millennia of the everyday life and times of Budge Row, a lost street of the city of London. The events which take place in Dismantling Printing Presses at Paternoster Square unfold in the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral. However, the backdrop to Dant’s particular vision of the scene is an anachronistic medieval version of St. Paul’s Cathedral, rather than the building designed by Christopher Wren that stands today. In this suggested alternative history, it is possible that the earlier version of the church had survived the Great Fire of London, or perhaps, that the fire never took place. In reality, Paternoster Square is said to derive its name from early traders who sold prayer beads, known as paternosters, to worshippers outside the Cathedral. The area was central to the publishing trade, though it suffered from extensive bomb damage in the Second World War with millions of books being lost in the resulting fires. This led to a series of attempts to redesign and repopulate the area to varying degrees of success in the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s. In the centre of Dant’s reconstruction of Paternoster Square, a statue of the printing pioneer Robert Harrild is being taken down in the manner of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in 2003. At the foot of the column on which Harrild’s statue rests, printing machinery is being dismantled, scrapped and burned, and vehicles carrying parts of printing presses drive through Temple Bar gate on the right-hand side of the composition.

Dant has explained:

The events and places depicted in this series of ‘History Drawings’ have their origin in the numerous historical anecdotes, particular ‘histories’ and specific locations encountered, researched and examined in the process of my making more formal maps, charts and panoramas. Unlike the maps, however, these drawings represent a more complicated, confusing and peculiar engagement with narrative and place. Events and phenomena from different eras collide, lost buildings are reborn and general themes such as the development of printing, the division of Medieval and Neo Classical London, the history of ‘the mob’ etc. are presented in a quasi-allegorical manner. These attempts to visualise an experience of place, and the history of that place embody a more ethereal and less pragmatic engagement with the ‘material’. Viewed as a kind of parody of historical reconstruction and illustration, the pictures premise the supposedly ‘intuitive’ and ‘subjective’ processes of ‘the artist’ in an arena usually dominated by academic purpose.
(Adam Dant, unpublished notes provided by Hales Gallery, London 2016.)

Further reading
Tom Morton, ‘Networking – On Adam Dant’, frieze, issue 106, April 2007.
Morgan Quaintance, ‘Adam Dant – Middle of the Day’, frieze, November 2012.
Maev Kennedy, ‘Adam Dant’s “The Government Stable: The Storeroom that Contains an Election”’, The Guardian, 17 September 2015.

Aïcha Mehrez
January 2017

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