Friday 9 August 2013

Review of Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece at the Roundhouse

Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece
1 - 25 August 2013

Enter the Roundhouse this month, and you will find it pitch black, apart from three starry lights, moving about in the hemispherical dome, casting eerie shadows through the rafters and down across the floor. These lights are actually bulbs, attached to the furthest extended points of three long metallic limbs – arms, each with two joints, moving slowly and steadily, unfurling as they rotate about a central axis, further punctuated by the pinnacle of a tall spike, rising from the floor, part and parcel of this astronomical construct, conceived specifically for the architecture of the venue, by artist Conrad Shawcross (born 1977).

Interested in the crossovers between geometry and philosophy, physics and metaphysics, Shawcross, upon being commissioned to create a site-specific piece for the Chalk Farm location, was struck by the building’s iconic roundness, as well as by the 24 columns circumscribing the round. Relating these to how humankind has come to index the day, breaking it down into 24 hours, Shawcross began his research into the history of clocks – timepieces –  and beyond, into the history of time. The three arms – or, more accurately, hands – are precisely constructed so as to accurately mark the passing hours, minutes, and seconds, and the four-metre spike is intended to act as a gnomon, the shadow-casting element of the old-fashioned timepiece, a sundial.

Standing or sitting down below, gazing upwards, listening to the gentle click-clicking of the mechanism, it is like watching a strange and oversized insect perform a curious and metallic yoga sequence. You cannot help but be simultaneously struck both by humanity’s enormity in its scientific progress and prowess, and by its humbling insignificance in the grander scheme of things. Looking upwards is like gazing out into the night sky, watching the celestial orbits of the stars. Time, although perfectly matched, nevertheless seems to slow down. You are invited to reflect and to be calm, listening to and watching, if not fully comprehending, this reliable constancy of the universe.

Shawcross, who says he wanted, with this work, to make the familiar [the clock] peculiar again, also confesses to finding it more interesting to create problems for the viewer than to answer questions. This is not surprising coming from an artist whose work borders on that of a scientist and philosopher – studying the universe is bound to open those larger questions upon which we, in our mere mortality, can only ponder, filled with deserving awe.


Conrad Shawcross

© Stephen White

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