Contrasts of scale dominate the experience of this exhibition. It occupies just one small room, but is expansive in the range of concerns in Leach’s work and in the global space over which that work extends, alluded to in the title, Jurisdictions.
One wall holds a linear sequence of preliminary works for Leach’s ongoing project which will eventually comprise 196 tiny drawings of every capital city in the world. Small, but solidly three-dimensional, each one is drawn with pencil, scalpel and burnishing tools on the gessoed face of an oak block. Their modular construction builds a world in miniature, echoing the ways in which the cities depicted are also constructed entities, built up systematically over time. From Abu Dhabi to Zagreb, similarities appear greater than differences, reminding us of the extent to which global capital now pervades the nation state. The drawings derive not from ‘real-world’ observation but from images sourced from the internet, mirroring how specific locations are drawn together in the all-encompassing web of data exchange that eases the flow of information and capital.
The scale and viewpoint of these drawings determines that the highly-populated cities depicted are devoid of visible people, their very smallness ironically emphasising the immensity of both the architecture and the political structures of the metropolis, serving as a metaphor for the dehumanising aspects of the capitalist worldview. Human labour, fundamental in the building and life of these cities, is absent from the drawings, replaced in our perception by the time-consuming labour of the artist, making the optical and psychological impact of the miniaturisation considerable. Any artwork can either be glanced at or studied intensely depending on the propensities of the viewer, but here a mere glance would reveal nothing at all, so looking at this work demands an investment of serious attention. The close looking required prompts reflection on the conceptual and metaphorical aspects of the work as much as the technique and skill involved in its production.
The remainder of the exhibition comprises other drawings and small paintings continuing Leach’s consistent theme of drawing as a metaphor for the geo-political and spatial relationships that delineate our position in the world, defining the ‘jurisdictions’ of the exhibition’s title by means of conceptual lines, actualised here through Leach’s drawing process. They combine seductive aesthetic qualities with thought-provoking complexities, for example in two beautifully rendered landscapes of the Diomede Islands in the Bering Strait. Visible across the sea from each other, these topographically similar islands are divided by two imaginary lines of immense significance, the international date line and the US–Russian border. In another we see the naval ceremony, Crossing The Line, marking a sailor’s first crossing of the Equator, drawn from a 1938 photograph aboard HMS Norfolk, a ship on which Leach’s grandfather served in the Second World War, a significant dividing line in 20th century history.
Drawing is a tool for enquiry into the world around us, delineating its spaces and processing our ideas about it. In Leach’s work it is also a means to think about the impact of the invisible conceptual lines imposed on our world, dividing and defining us socially and politically, and perhaps to consider the possibility of their erasure.