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Adam Dant: Journey to the Heart of East London

On the back of Dazed's 'Is East London Dead?' issue, we spoke to Dant about juxtaposting the area's history with what it looks like today

Adam Dant's artwork takes the history of the East End and juxtaposes it against the reality of what it is today, creating hand drawn maps that are part fantasy, part reality. For his recent collaboration with the Museum of London, the artist was set the question “where is the East End today?”, and recruited a number of 'scouts' to take a journey from the outskirts of the city to the heart of the East End, all guided by the people they met along the way.

The result is a vision of the area that shows how people feel about it, as opposed to how it is laid out. Placing a waste bin at Stratford's Westfield shopping centre at its 'heart', the resulting map is a seemingly honest representation of how the public percieve the East End. Having recently launched our own map project, A Secret History of East London, featuring experiences and memories from both our contributors and readers of the UK's cultural hub, we spoke to the artist and cartographer, who has been making his own map of the area every year since arriving from Rome back in 1993.

Dazed Digital: What was it about the question “Where is the East End today?” that interested you?
Adam Dant:
I’d been producing a different, unusual map of my immediate locale, Shoreditch, every year since I relocated there. The question interested me as it affirmed a parity of opinion, whether an individual's connection with ‘east London' was days or decades old. I was interested in comparing the sensation of viewing a place for the first time with the experience of culturally specific histories and agendas.

DD: What was your creative process behind the concept for the map?
Adam Dant:
 The process of making the map was determined by the desire to meet as many random individuals in east London as possible. I asked several ‘scouts' to walk from the edge of London towards the 'heart' of east London, asking individuals for directions en route. I had in mind the spiral system of Paris' arrondissements as a model for imposing a type of central planning on east London.

DD: Your work almost entirely surrounds maps and the creation of inspired and creative cartography.
Adam Dant: 
I'm interested in maps as they represent the imposition of an artificial order onto a seemingly random landscape in my drawings, as is often determined by ‘literalist’ or ‘ridiculous’ schemes. It is supposed to act as a parody of this and hopefully exposes the stupidity of the attempts by various groups in history, christians, muslims, cyclists et al, to organise and explain the universe according to their own agendas.

DD: Having lived in Shoreditch for almost two decades, what keeps you there?
Adam Dant:
 I have lived in Shoreditch since 1993 and known east London since 1994. I’ve found the people in my neighbourhood to be loyal, public spirited, hard working and very good fun. 

DD: Have you seen changes in that time?
Adam Dant:
 I worry about the local council and private landlords capitalising on the popularity of the part of east London where I live. I also hope that the ongoing problem of high levels of child poverty, culturally backward attitudes relating to equal opportunities of women and the general casual acceptance disregard of petty street crime might be seen as ‘problems’ rather than ‘local colour’.

Get involved with Dazed Digital's 'Secret History of East London' HERE - post your memories of the area on our time line!