Jonathan Openshaw, August 22, 2013
Entering its final week, Conrad Shawcross’ Timepiece is a must see for London based fans of technology, art or science. An abstract interpretation of the sundial, Shawcross’ work is a powerful meditation on the passing of time, and of our place in the world.
Time may appear to be an objective truth, an inexorable force that drags on all things, defined by adages such as ‘time waits for no man’. It is, in fact, a deeply social construct, and has been experienced very differently throughout human history depending on cultural background.
Reckoned to be one of the most important breakthroughs in the evolution of humanity, the ability to conceptualise time is found across all cultures – from the great stone henges of Europe to the complex calendar systems of the Mayans. What is far from universal however is seeing time as a linear thing that progresses from day to month to year – a very particular understanding rooted in the Western outlook that gave rise to the now globally dominant Gregorian calendar.
Compare this to other cultures however and you find radical differences. The Nuer tribes of Sudan traditionally measured out time according to ‘cattle clocks’, a biological flow dictated by the cows that formed their livelihood. Elsewhere, much has been written about the Dreamtime of Aboriginal Australia, a sacred and eternal connection to the landscape that doesn’t play by European rules.
It is this complex social history of time that Shawcross taps into with his current installation at the Camden Roundhouse. One of London’s most consistently interesting contemporary culture venues, this Victorian former steam engine plant provides a cavernous space that demands to be filled – with vaulted ceilings and towering iron girders. Directly reacting to the space for this commission, Shawcross was inspired by the 24 pillars that surround the central space, and settled on a light installation to create complex patterns that would play across this accidental clock face.
With the appearance of a large kinetic chandelier of an automated construction arm from a hi-tech manufacturing plant, Timepiece’s three limbs whirr on complex axes, painting the entire space with light and shadow. It really comes to life when complimented by human movement however, as it has been by several contemporary choreographers throughout its run. Wayne McGregor’s renowned Random Dance troop will show again before the installation closes on Sunday, and there are also performances from London Contemporary Orchestra and Siobhan Davies Dance.
Timepiece is on show at the Camden Roundhouse until 25 August 2013.