Friday, 16 August 2013




The Roundhouse
August 1st - 25th
Entry fee: 'whatever you like'

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.