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Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece, Roundhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece, Roundhouse

Conrad Shawcross: Timepiece, Roundhouse

Order and logic take on poetic form in a thoughtful work inspired by time

Conrad Shawcross responds to the Victorian architecture of the RoundhousePhoto: Stephen White

Last time I encountered a work by Conrad Shawcross, it made me feel sick. His kinetic light sculpture, Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV, occupied a room the size of a broom cupboard at the Hayward Gallery’s Light Show. Inside a dense metal cage on spindly legs was a metal armature on which a high-wattage bulb was fixed. It looped the air at speed and the room, which was marked by lines that warped one’s sense of perspective, appeared to shrink and expand at a dizzying rate, or perhaps as if you yourself were growing and shrinking. It was hugely disorientating, but also – in between the waves of nausea – great fun.

Shawcross’s latest commission is a far more meditative affair. He has responded to the Victorian architecture of the main stage of the Roundhouse in Camden. The circular stage, with its 24 iron columns, has inspired Timepiece, and the work is just what it says it is in the title: three mechanical arms are attached to a motor which hangs from the centre of the ceiling and are the hands of a functioning clock. Each has a glaringly bright bulb attached to its end, and the arms, as they rotate, mark the hours, the minutes and the seconds. In real time.

If you stare at the articulated second hand, which makes a graceful folding motion as it moves, the glare makes your vision blur. Deep shadows are cast everywhere in this hushed, cathedral-like space, including the one cast by the four-metre high gnomon (the pointed needle of a sundial) positioned on the floor to signal the time. It’s an austerely elegant piece, but, as it clicks and whirrs and extends its probing points of light like some unseeing, nocturnal creature in the chiaroscuro gloom, there’s also something rather sinister about it. Its smooth, sinuous, mechanical motion suggests half creature, half machine – like Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill

The notion of observing time takes on a strange poetry. Here is the imposition of order and logic, flimsy and liable to break down, and we, its randomly moving observers.

Shawcross hopes Timepiece will find a permanent home at another venue when it finishes its run here later this month. But the work seems to have already become part of the fabric of this space.

Fisun Guner on Twitter

It extends its probing points of light like some unseeing, nocturnal creature in the chiaroscuro gloom

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