Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece

Art, Sculpture
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Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece
© Jeremy Timings
Conrad Shawcross, 'Timepiece', Digital rendering, 2013.

Very few young artists, fresh out of college, get picked up by a collector, so when Charles Saatchi bestowed his patronage on Conrad Shawcross ten years ago, it propelled the sculptor into the stratosphere – and he’s not looked down. The 36-year-old Londoner makes complicated sculptures that have the appearance of machines. But they perform puzzling acts – winding yarn or spinning light into abstract patterns. ‘Timepiece’, his latest commission for Camden’s iconic Roundhouse, looks set to be his most challenging and awe-inspiring piece to date. The eight-metre-diameter sculpture will be suspended above a gnomon (the spike of a sundial), turning the main space into a giant clock installation. The immersive work throws new light on our perception of time and will turn visitors into their very own gnomon.



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This site-specific installation consists of three metal sticks with very bright lights on the end slowly turning around. That’s really it. Oh, and a metal spike in the floor. In the blurb, Shawcross tells us it’s a clock inspired by its surroundings in Camden’s historic Roundhouse theatre. This is neither here nor there. Its three spinning sticks with lights on. And - spoiler alert - it doesn’t tell the time. In the interests of fairness: others in the party quite liked it. One may have used the terms ‘reflective’, ‘calming’ and even ‘quiet introspection’. But what do they know? Good for: people who wear sunglasses indoors. Bad for: the impatient. Allow: five minutes, max. To see more from me, check out | @CuratedLondon

TIMEPIECE, CONRAD SHAWCROSS Having never experienced work by Conrad Shawcross first hand I was unsure what to expect but walking into the Roundhouse hall, home to the instillation ‘Timepiece’, I was instantly captivated. The work is full of contradiction; a metallic object with a sizeable, heavy motor appears delicate, weightless and fluid with a slow pulsating motion whilst hovering in mid air. It is this complexity which makes Timepiece so enchanting and pleasurable to observe. It could therefore remain a curious piece on its own, however The Roundhouse lends even more to the work. We often see artwork displayed in galleries against a backdrop of brightly lit white walls but the interaction, which this mechanism holds with its context, enhances our enjoyment and understanding. The project started when the artistic director of The Roundhouse, Marcus Davey, offered Shawcross the chance to design a bespoke instillation specifically for the main hall. On visiting the room, Shawcross noted 24 columns marking the middle of a circular space and instantly made a connection with time and the clock-face. “I wanted to try to make the familiar peculiar again; to turn time and the clock back to the celestial, primeval experience that it once was for all of us.” - Conrad Shawcross Shawcross achieves this by a series or swirling lights which rotate proportional to the units of time, but in a more elaborate manner than simply ‘hands on a clock’. The three lights rotate and counter-rotate via separate spindles casting three separate shadows from each column. These then overlap and, if you follow carefully, map time. By de-familiarising the everyday clock into a mechanism which appears rational but, as Conrad himself admits, reveals nothing new, people are led to believe it has philosophical routes. The appearance of disassociation with meaning enables people to uniquely reinterpret this peaceful artefact and initiates enjoyment and intrigue. The artist is not imposing an answer concerning Timepiece’s origin but is encouraging debate. Similarly, Shawcross does not impose a fixed perspective to view the work from. Much like it was once believed that celestial objects orbit around us, we may orbit around this derived time keeper. My favourite part of the instillation was the degree of control the viewer had over their interaction with the work. Standing outside the ring of pilotis, felt considerably darker making me, the viewer, feel more anonymous and able to observe both the mechanism and the way others choose to enjoy the experience. Some were reserved at first in the shadows, others bounded straight into the middle and danced around the ‘sundial’ and one couple simply sat crossed legged in the light, motionlessly looking upwards in fascination. As I became familiar with the object and its environment I crossed the boundary into the centre and instantly felt engaged and in awe of this elegant being, smoothly encircling me. Its not often art can make you feel as much as Timepiece affected me. Its no coincidence either. The execution of an intelligent and rational concept responding directly to a particular environment, combined with extreme craftsmanship all contribute to a beautiful and poetic artwork, instilling a diverse range of feelings within us all.