Looming large: Conrad Shawcross on his great summer of immersive installations

Looming large: Conrad Shawcross on his great summer of immersive installations

The work of young British sculptor Conrad Shawcross is looming large and small in London this summer, as part of multiple gallery shows and as permanent fixtures as he emerges as a public art A-lister. His large-scale immersive installation The Dappled Light of the Sun has just been plugged into the Annenberg Courtyard of the Royal Academy on London’s Piccadilly as part of it’s annual Summer Exhibition (Shawcross it the Academy’s youngest member).

The massive sculpture is five conjoined ’clouds,’ made up of thousands of tetrahedrons built in steel - all 30 tons and seven-and-half miles of it. Standing six metres tall, visitors to the RA can wander underneath Shawcross’ cloudscape and consider how chaos and beauty can be generated out of perfect order and geometry.

Opening on June 10 at the Victoria Miro gallery, North London branch, is an exhibition of smaller scale Shawcross works, mostly studies for Paradigm, his monumental sculpture to be installed outside the new Francis Crick Institute in Kings Cross. Paradigm is a 14 m-tall twisting stack of weathered steel tetrahedrons, which increase in scale as they push skywards. It is one metre wide at street level but five metres wide at its summit.

In April this year, Shawcross’ Three Perpetual Chords, a series of giant steel loops, landed in South London’s Dulwich Park, replacing Barbara Hepworth’s Two Forms Divided Circle, which was stolen in 2011. And further afield, the New Art Centre, Roche Court in Wiltshire is showing a series of Shawcross works, inside and out, until July 26.

We spoke to an understandably frayed Shawcross about his busy year...

Wallpaper*: You’re having an incredible year in London. Are you over the hump in terms of just getting everything done?
Conrad Shawcross: Yeah, pretty much. We have just finished the installation at the Royal Academy. We had to work at night using cranes.

W*: And how much was all this grand strategy and how much accident?
CS: Well, in the art world things get delayed and moved around, so you hedge your bets and line up as many things as you can. But suddenly all these things seem to have come at once so it’s been a perfect storm.

W*: How have you managed to get the Miro show together with everything else going on?
CS: Miro gallery is kind of a supporting show. It’s mostly a series of studies for Paradigm that will be installed in King’s Cross. And there are a couple of other works called Manifold, which are really studies of how music decays into silence.

W*: You use the tetrahedron as a literal and conceptual building block, an essential building block?
CS: Well, to be honest, it’s a very awkward building block. The Greeks thought of the tetrahedron as the essence of matter, indivisible matter. But if you build with them, they radiate out and bifurcate, like branches of a tree. It’s irrational. The closest example is something like neural pathways in the brain.

W*: Do you use computer modelling when devising these sculptures?
CS: Yes, they need to be closely engineered and I work with a company called Structure Workshop on the modelling.

W*: You’re not an artist who hands over the production side to other people. You don’t do it all yourself though?
CS: No, with the RA commission we could only do about 20 per cent of it in the studio.  And we worked out it would involve 12 and half years of welding work for one man so we needed help. It was an epic job.

W*: And you can’t really improvise as you are going along?
CS: Not really. A little bit, but the sculptures have to work structurally, the engineering has to be right and they have to be safe.

W*: What happens to The Dappled Light of the Sun after the RA Summer Show?
CS: It’s for sale, so hopefully someone will buy it. It’s designed to last for ever. It’s a shelter; efficient, interactive.

W*: You now have permanent installations in public spaces. The works in Dulwich Park for instance, do you think about them differently to the gallery pieces?
CS: The pieces in Dulwich Park are huge but approachable and tactile. Children can play inside them, lovers can sit on them. It’s very moving to watch people using them actually. And they will look different from season to season because they polish in the summer as they are used and rust over in the winter.

W*: And the work outside the Francis Crick Institute is a really huge work. It will become part of the cityscape.
CS: Yeah, that is a different kind of thing. It’s monumental, 14-metres tall, and will become a real part of the city. It’s called Paradigm because it’s about how new paradigms are built on old ones until the whole thing collapses. And the sculpture is engineered to be as tall as it can be before toppling over.

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