Conrad Shawcross

Conrad Shawcross makes whirring, clunking, mesmerising art.

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Conrad Shawcross makes whirring, clunking, mesmerising art. His sculptures look like the invention of a man obsessed with carpentry, physics, and Meccano. You get the impression that a small amount of luck is written into the construction, that while everything seems to be working fine, something could, just possibly, go wrong.

Shawcross came to the attention of the art world in 2003. Just one year after graduating The Slade, Charles Saatchi famously bought one his works, a mammoth, motorised oak and rope sculpture entitled 'The Nervous Systems'. The purchase firmly placed him into a select group of London's artists and propelled his career accordingly.

In the last 18 months, Shawcross has had a series of European group and solo shows, installed various ambitiously elaborate site specific projects, worked on a Raf Simons catwalk show, and personally re-built his own studio and living space. This is not a man who does things by halves.

DD: The last 18 months have been really busy for you, most recently with the installation at Sudeley Castle, and 'Space Trumpet' the huge piece built for the opening of the new Unilever Building. How did that project come about?

Conrad Shawcross: The Unilever building has just been completely refurbished; it's only really the fascia from the original structure that's left. It's a series of offices with a large open space in the centre; 'Space Trumpet' is installed in that space and will be there for at least 20 years as pretty much the sole installation. I was interested in the commission, and was chosen from the shortlist; in a way, I think they saw me as value for money. It was a big project; I think I made the most of the budget compared to the other artist's proposals. I get the feeling they chose me because it was so ambitious.

DD: Are you pleased with how it looks?

CS: Yes, definitely. The space is very white and clinical, and I like the way the wood of 'Space Trumpet' with contrasts that. It's built for that space – a series of tulip shapes that rotate a certain amount throughout the day – and it's on a constant cycle. You get a constantly changing view that takes two months to repeat; by that time hopefully you will have forgotten how it looked at the start. I wanted to do something that was for the people working in the building. I wanted it to be almost like looking out of a window, like the effect the weather has.

DD: How did your piece Binary Star come to be used in the Raf Simons catwalk show?

CS: Raf had seen my work a few years ago and was keen to use it. We met up, discussed the show and went from there. We installed the piece in the day and then took it down half an hour after the show. 'Binary Star' is quite a difficult piece as well; its movement is a little uncontrollable. It has two rotating arms with lights on the end that swing close to each other, and at points touch. I had visions of having to run on stage mid-show in a Raf outfit to change a smashed bulb!

DD: Did you feel a sense of affinity between his work and yours?

CS: There is a similarity in the way we both show how things are made. With Raf, the workings are visible, in the structure and the pattern. That's very much how I like to work as well. The process with both of us is to show that side of construction.

DD: How did you feel about seeing your work in the context of that sort of show, combined with the lighting and the music?

CS: It's difficult. 'Binary Star' added to the spectacle of the show as a whole, which meant the audience weren't looking at it in the same way as they would in a gallery. To be honest, at the time I was more stressed about it breaking down than thinking about how the audience was reacting to it.

DD: In 2003, your piece 'The Nervous Systems' was picked up Charles Saatchi, just two years after graduating from The Slade. How do you think that has affected your career?

CS: It was great. I am so grateful to him. At the time, I was at quite a cross-roads, and it meant that I could do what I do and get paid.

When 'The Nervous Systems' was exhibited, it was like my first proper show, so it felt like it was the right time for me. While I had really wanted it before that point, I probably wasn't ready.

DD: The fact that your first big sale was to someone as high profile as Saatchi launched your career onto a steep trajectory. Has that affected the way you work?

CS: Well, previously, everything was done in-house, now I work with various other specialists in different areas. I used to do everything, all the carpentry etc, and you end up having to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. After doing that for ten years and having the stress of things breaking, it's nice to not be the sole person the gallery calls if something goes wrong. It also means that I can work on a larger scale – projects like ‘Space Trumpet', which is 9x9x9 metres, would just not have been possible.

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