CB1 – the new city quarter for Cambridge


28 August 2018

Meet the artist behind 'The Metaphysical Cyclist' map, Adam Dant

We talk to the acclaimed artist behind the map for 'The Metaphysical Cyclist', Gavin Turk's cycling art project that brought colour to the streets of Cambridge this summer.

Adam, tell us a bit about yourself and your connection to Cambridge?

I was born in Cambridge, well, on the meridian which cuts through a village called Swavesey. I grew up on the Fens – flat, boggy, windy - and went to school in Cambridge. Family rumour has it that we’re the children of Cukoo Dant the hibernating ferryman at Jesus Green!

You worked with fellow artist, Gavin Turk, on the Metaphysical Cyclist project this summer. How did the collaboration come about and how did you decide which artworks to visit?

I’ve known Gavin for years: we met as students at the Royal College of Art. I’ve since become known as an artist for doing maps and Gavin needed a map, so it was an easy decision. He didn’t realise that I was from Cambridge, though.

We wanted to choose public art that could parallel metaphysical aesthetics, meaning when you apply the language of contemporary art to the works, they come alive in the people looking at them.

The Metaphysical Cyclist is really the warm up act to Gavin’s commission for Station Square, which will be a fantastic addition to CB1 and the city when it is unveiled.

What was your inspiration for the map?

The starting point for my map was Gavin’s idea that the railway way station is straight out of a Giorgio de Chirico painting. So I took this sense of perspective as the template for the rest of the map, and then all the sculptures on the tour are connected by this rope, like Ariadne’s thread that guided Theseus through the labyrinth. From my childhood home, we had a view to Ely cathedral, so I drew it into the horizon of the map, along with the American cemetery at Madingley and Castle Hill. For me, growing up in Cambridge was like a fairy tale, so in the map we wanted to reflect that.

Your drawings are very distinctive – how would you describe your style?

It’s intuitive. It’s a bit nostalgic too: I use watercolour, sepia, other muted colours, and I used to use antique papers too. I like the idea of creating ‘mockuments’. English Heritage once mistook a wall painting I did as Jacobean. Cambridge is all about innovation and the future, but it inhabits an historic city of timeless architecture.

What’s the connection between cycling and Cambridge for you?

Cycling is how I got to school, and a little later in life, you do all your courting on bicycles. Cambridge’s cycle culture is more like Amsterdam than London - there’s a lot less lycra here luckily! The idea of the bicycle tour was to capitalise on Cambridge being such a bicycle-friendly place. The fleet of bicycles becomes a work of art in itself – the riders animate the bikes. It’s a brilliant spectacle. Like a map, riding a bike is more than a means of getting from A to B.

Both you and Gavin are leaving your mark on the city through your art. Would you like to see this tradition continue to shape the city?

There definitely seems to be a lot more public artworks in Cambridge than in other cities. Some come and go, like the Henry Moore outside the Fitzwilliam which is on loan, and others stay for good - one hopes! The Metaphysical Cyclist is really the warm up act to Gavin’s commission for Station Square, which will be a fantastic addition to CB1 and the city when it is unveiled.

Your map is quite a work of art. How can we get hold of it?

Well I’ll be releasing a limited edition print soon. There’s so much detail in my maps, so they’re best seen at full scale, on the wall. But the PDF is available on the CB1 website so that anyone can download it and follow the Metaphysical Cyclist route – art is your guide, and you become art in doing it!

Click here to download the map.


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