Arts: The meaning of life

Adam Dant, artist and curator of the Institute of Coincidence, offers us some ideas.

Adam Dant is much more normal than I expected, but then I was ready for almost anything. He is, after all, an "artist on the street" who has created an alternative universe populated by a man named Donald Parsnips, who has put out a (real) daily newspaper since 1995. Now he (and Donald) have created the Institute of Coincidence at the Hayward Gallery, which is all about "the interconnectedness of everything in the universe".

But in other ways Adam Dant is not surreal at all. I meet him the day after his stag night. Memories are hazy as to the events themselves but certainly there was a lap-dancing club, and then everyone got stuck in a canal tunnel. "It was disgusting. Rats were everywhere! And bats!" he says, whacking the air with his hands.

We are sitting on the ground floor of his terraced home in Shoreditch in east London. He is short, with a quiff. The room is tiny. The door is left open, so we have to shout over the traffic. "It's a bus route," shouts Adam, as if this were wonderful news. On the windowsill there is a bunch of yellow freesias and a lot of twittering from two parakeets who clearly adore each other. Before long we are joined by Adam's fiancee, Melissa Brady, who is Texan.

Sometimes this room is called The Gallerette, and there are shows here. The last one featured illuminated matchbox houses. But Adam Dant says it has to be a workroom at the moment because he is so busy. He has shows in Lyons and New York. Then there is the Institute of Coincidence, of course. And there is the Daily Journal, which takes 10-45 minutes to create every weekday. Then he photocopies it 50 to 100 times, folds it and hands it out to passers-by. Some people may call him a conceptual artist, but he prefers "17th-century pamphleteer".

The Journal is distributed wherever Adam Dant, artist, is appearing. So there are Donald Parsnips newsstands in Lyons, New York and, now, at the Institute of Coincidence. Distribution is a bit dicey at the moment because Adam Dant is in Texas for the wedding. Every day he has to fax the journal to France, New York and London. He says Donald is pretty versatile. He was born, fully formed and wearing a bizarre Amish-type hat, in Paris in 1991 and so is a natural French speaker. The Journal has appeared in French, Italian and, of course, English. So I ask the obvious question.

Me: Is Donald becoming Texan?

Adam: Yes, but he's been a Texan before.

Melissa: He is not Texan!

Adam: No, certainly not.

Melissa: Even if you are born in Oklahoma and move to Texas in the first week of being alive, you are not really a Texan, you know. I don't think Donald is famous, anyway.

Adam: Well, he's been on the streets of New York and Paris.

Melissa: Did he tell you about the dream? We were in a bar and this guy was buying us drinks. We asked who it was and the bartender looked down the end and we saw the hat. It was Donald!

Well, that is a coincidence, which brings me to the Institute. It began as just a drawing in the Daily Journal. "So it was just a matter of taking that page and making it into something real. Of course, it can't exist. Not a place called the Institute of Coincidence!" Well, it does, and it is a great place to meet, if nothing else. There is something satisfying about even saying the words: "I'll see you at the Institute of Coincidence." And so I go to the place that cannot exist. There, I find the "research site" that tells me what to do. There are huge billboards with interlinked speech bubbles on them. Pens dangle on indestructible wires. The idea is that people will write their experiences into these spaces, and link them up in the process. There is a chance that the finished work will represent the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. There is also a chance that it will be full of swear words and sexual acts.

Or both, as it turns out. When I stop by there are five boxes filled with the word "sex" and lots more less exciting drivel. But I like "Don't put Toblerone in the washing machine". One box is filled with a rather lyrical examination of the tides and there is love, too, as in: "I just had the best plate of fish and chips ever with the best man in the world. Tomorrow it could all be different but today could last for ever." There is also a weird discussion of suicide and lampshades, and an exultant "Whoopee!! I've just got my passport and I'm off to Paris."

So does Adam Dant believe in coincidence? He will not answer this question. Instead he talks about the way people use the idea of coincidence to make sense of their own lives. "It's the way people fashion an understanding of their lives. They exclude some things and take on others. They are building up a script, a narrative, of their existence in their heads," he says. People are always going on about destiny and the grand plan. In fact, he says, it could be just a lot of interconnected boxes.

I say that it would be nice if he would connect a few boxes for me so I could get a grip on his film script. He looks startled, and becomes businesslike. He is 31. His father, who has recently died, was a heating engineer. His mother was a secretary. He grew up in the Fens and all he ever wanted to be was an artist. He studied graphic design at Liverpool School of Art and fell in love with print-making while studying at university in Baroda, India. He got an MA in print-making at the Royal College of Art.

He likes art that becomes part of a city - like the Daily Journal - and he likes words, too. He is excited, for instance, by the idea of presenting news stories in rhyme. Evidently this has been done occasionally and he thinks it is fantastic. "It's, like, irrefutable if it's in rhyme. You cannot change the facts!" He shows me a dictionary he has had printed, with 1,000 French words that he made up, complete with meanings. Then, by a variety of means, he and others attempted to infiltrate them into the language itself. Interesting but not exactly lucrative. He says that he never planned to be rich, and sells enough drawings to make a living.

The interview ends with a tune. This is one of 1,000 that he has written and sung as part of the Donald Parsnips exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyons. Each is unique, and can be purchased for 50 francs. He plays me one. It is called "A Delight in Torture" and in it he really does sound like a tortured troubadour. It's about how children torture things in gardens, punishing snails, standing on ants and cutting up worms. It ends: "Children who delight in torture usually grow up the same, except when they are adults they direct their frustration at you and I from a government office."

I now ask the question that must be asked.

Me: Do people think you're mad?

Adam: No. Not clinically mad. It's just my take on things. It's just my own expression. That's not mad, is it?

Me: I don't think so.

Adam: I think it's just easy to say, this is mad. It's just an expression. The pub round the corner is opening up again and there is a sign in the window that says: `We are looking for bar staff. Must be mad!' But what kind of mad do they mean?

The Institute of Coincidence is outside the Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London SE1 until 19 July. The Institute can also be found at www.hayward- gallery. org.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform