Time is of the essence

Throughout August, Camden’s Roundhouse will become not just a venue, but a huge timepiece – a clock where the viewer can stand still as time literally moves silently round them.

Conrad Shawcross, Timepiece

Source: Photographer Stephen White

Conrad Shawcross, Timepiece

In the clever, Roundhouse-specific tradition that started with David Byrne’s installation Playing The Building, and took in Ron Arad’s Curtain Call, the workings of Timepiece are formed from the building’s imposing architecture.

The prodigious work is faithful to its title, creating a huge, immersive clock from the space. The 24 columns around the Roundhouse proved perfect for such a piece, creating a neat, symmetrical series of reference points for the shadow clock ‘hands’ to follow.

Shawcross says, ‘Once I realised there were 24 columns I started to look into the history of timekeeping, the origin of the house and hence the Mayans, the Egyptians, and the Greeks.

He adds, ‘All the incredible elements of the space – its circularity, its scale, its ability to control the light levels – gave me such a  beautiful set of parameters within which to create this work.’

Measuring 8m wide, Shawcross’ device has something of a crackpot Renaissance invention about it – not to mention a touch of sci-fi – all limb-like metallic movements, choreographed in a perfect time-telling dance around the ceiling.

 Conrad Shawcross in his studio with a fragment of Timepiece (2013)

Source: Copyright: Stuart Leech

Conrad Shawcross in his studio with a fragment of Timepiece (2013)

Timepiece is formed of three main arms suspended from the Main Space of the Roundhouse, which each rotate with secondary, articulated pieces that delineate seconds, minutes and hours. Bulbs on the tip of each piece cast light through the piece, creating the shadows that cast the time across the building to form a sundial-like pattern.

At midday and midnight, the alignment of the arms in the colossal machine will mean that a single shadow is crested.

The conflation of the apparently random shadow-play and the meticulously constructed time patterns is quietly mesmerising – at once calming and slightly sinister.

Conrad Shawcross, Timepiece

Source: Photographer Stephen White

Conrad Shawcross, Timepiece

Owing as much to science as to art (though where, really do you draw the line), the piece isn’t easily pigeonholed into ‘kinetic’ or ‘installation’ art. It’s geometric and mechanincal, yet very much humanised – there’s an engulfing performative element, enveloping the viewer so they become central to the workings of the praying mantis-like piece.

Marcus Davey, Roundhouse chief executive and artistic director, says,  ‘It’s such a great pleasure in a world where we increasingly find ourselves living at incredible speed to be given the opportunity to step back for a second and to reflect on the very nature of time, the system that governs all our lives but one which we have little time or reason to contemplate’,

A series of events and performances will be running throughout Timepiece’s tenure a- for more information on these visit www.roundhouse.org.uk/timepiece Timepiece is open from 1 – 25 August at The Roundhoue, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1

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