Maths, Alchemy, Art: The Sculptural Practice of Conrad Shawcross
Conrad Shawcross is critically acclaimed for his sculptural practice which probes the intersections of art, science, maths and philosophy. In his early career, he became renowned for his vast mechanical works, often made in homage to great scientists but in recent years, he has 'matured' into the making of static works. Could stasis offer greater possibility for reflection and engagement than movement?
In this HENI Talk, Shawcross tells us about his recent inspiration: moiré. This dazzling mathematical phenomenon, also known as an interference pattern, is something that many creators -- from filmmakers to engineers -- seek to avoid. Yet Shawcross has harnessed and honed this beguiling phenomenon -- at once still and shifting -- into sculptures which make us doubt our visual experience. Indeed, Shawcross's art questions what we may take for granted, encouraging us to see beyond the everyday.
Imbued with an appearance of scientific rationality, Conrad Shawcross' sculptures explore subjects that lie on the borders of geometry and philosophy, physics and metaphysics. Inspired by different technologies, the artist's structures may retain in appearance the authority of machines -- yet, they remain enigmatic, filled with paradox and wonder. Some have an absurdist melancholy feel, while others tend to the sublime, substituting the purely functional for phenomenological experience.
Shawcross has paid tribute to some of the great scientific pioneers, analysts, and moments from the past. Paradigm (Ode to the Difference Engine), 2006 references the life of Charles Babbage; Space Trumpet, 2007 is inspired by the history of early acoustic mapping; while Slow Arc Inside a Cube, 2008 takes its inspiration from the scientist Dorothy Hodgkin's discovery of the structure of pig insulin. More recently, Shawcross has developed the scale of his practice, taking on architectural and public space with work that combines epic scope and poetic grace. Timepiece, 2013, *a major commission originally conceived for the Roundhouse in London, saw the artist transform the iconic main space of this historic London building into a vast timekeeping device. Made in homage to Ada Lovelace, *The Ada Project, is an ongoing series of musical commissions between Shawcross and leading contemporary composers, which was conceived for the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2013) and has since travelled to venues in Tasmania, London, Hong Kong and Denmark.
An evolution of Shawcross' practice has seen the development of static works that contain both an internal dynamic and an idea movement. Three Perpetual Chords, 2015, a series of knot-like permanent sculptures commissioned for Dulwich Park following a commission by Southwark Council advised by the Contemporary Art Society to replace works by Barbara Hepworth that were stolen in 2011, draws from the artist's ongoing study of harmonic ratios. *The Dappled Light of the Sun, *2015, first installed in the Annenberg Courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, is an immersive work comprising five branching cloud-like forms made up of thousands of tetrahedrons. Part of Shawcross' ongoing explorations of the four-sided tetrahedron as a tessellating form, *Paradigm, *2016, a permanent installation which marked the inauguration of The Francis Crick Institute in King's Cross, is currently one of the tallest public sculptures in central London.
Unveiled in Autumn 2016, The Optic Cloak, a major architectural intervention for the Greenwich Peninsula low carbon Energy Centre, is a synthesis of engineering and optical research that draws on subjects including maritime camouflage, Cubism and Op Art. In June 2017, the Royal Academy of Arts and St Pancras International unveiled the major site-specific installation, *The Interpretation of Movement (a 9:8 in blue). *Shawcross' most ambitious mechanical work to date, it stretches out to a 16m diameter as it turns above the station concourse. The 'optic sails', which expand and contract in an orbit from the centre, formed a complex and mesmerising pattern of interference.
Shawcross was born in 1977 in London, where he currently lives and works.
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