The Art Angle Presents: Artist Conrad Shawcross and Simon de Pury on Perceptions of Time
The acclaimed sculptor and veteran auctioneer discuss Shawcross's new sculpture commission for Royal Salute presented at Frieze London 2023.
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Amid the frenzied fanfare of Frieze London’s 20th edition last week, an experiential presentation from an unexpected exhibitor had a resounding impact.
In one corner of the fair’s vast complex at Regent’s Park, the luxury Scotch whisky maker Royal Salute crafted a distinctive contemporary lounge called the Royal Salute Gallery Bar, where the brand unveiled the latest installment in its Art of Wonder series, Royal Salute Time Chamber by Conrad Shawcross, a sleek sculpture created by the British artist that looked like it could travel through both space and time. In fact, those are two of the themes the piece explores. “Royal Salute allowed me to make something quite ambitious, turning the lounge into an experience that really pushes the envelope,” Shawcross says. “It targets one’s senses on every level.”
Inside a private salon ringed with towering geometric sculptures from Shawcross’s multidisciplinary body of work, guests encountered Time Chamber—a retro-futuristic fusion of glass and crystal inspired by time and referencing the shape of galaxies—dramatically showcased at the center of an elliptical table inscribed with lines alluding to ancient star charts. Above the limited-edition piece hung another of Shawcross’s works, The Limit of Everything, a mesmerizing installation featuring three robotic arms tipped with orbs of light. Every five minutes the work would rotate overhead, its arms expanding and contracting, sending light spiraling through Time Chamber’s spun glass disc to create shadows that danced across the table.
“The room was really considered as a whole,” Shawcross says. “We put in a lot of attention to detail. The surrounding sculptures were chosen because they were structural and also created these triple shadows from the moving light. As The Limit of Everything opened and closed and the shadows all around lengthened and shortened, there was this sense of an acceleration and deceleration of time, where time was both slowing and speeding up simultaneously.”
Transforming this immersive experience into something truly sensorial was an otherworldly soundscape that musician and Artnet Executive Producer Sonia Manalili composed in collaboration with Shawcross. Drawing from gravitational waves, conditions in the early universe following the Big Bang, and mergers between black holes, the two imagined how sound would travel and exist in a spacetime continuum. “I loved the deep, visceral womb-like feel of the first bass sounds that fade in and out,” says Shawcross. “They give a fantastic sense of black hole ringdown and other observed noises from the cosmos.”
For more than 30 years, Shawcross has been preoccupied with the concept of time. Throughout a career defined by blurring the boundaries between art and science and devising ambitious constructs that ask audiences to contemplate the world around them, he has experimented with different perceptions of time, from its measure in relation to human lives and cosmic events to how it operates as a force of change.
Time Chamber, Shawcross’s latest exploration on the subject, began with an appreciation for the astounding expanse of time contained within an opulent 53-year-old Royal Salute whisky blend. His resulting sculpture merges a massive, sapphire blue glass disc with an oak spindle and oblong crystal decanter to represent how time functions on multiple levels.
The official celebration took place on October 12, when a VIP audience of fine art and whisky collectors and creative cognoscenti converged at the Royal Salute Gallery Bar to witness a conversation between Shawcross and veteran auctioneer and Artnet News contributor Simon de Pury.
During their discussion, which was recorded live for a special episode of The Art Angle podcast available above, Shawcross remarked on the aim of his work. “One of the things I’m trying to do as an artist is create extraordinary analog experiences in an increasingly digital world,” Shawcross said. “Time Chamber combines different pieces with a 53-year-old whisky to reflect on the paradoxes, indefinability, and illusion of time. It’s about decimating the idea of now, chiseling away at what we believe to be true to show that there is no such thing as now. It’s about questioning our reality.”
Visit royalsalute.com and follow @royalsalute on social media to find out more.
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