Conrad Shawcross, The Roundhouse, Greenwich, time, The Warp…

I admire all things Shawcross (William, his works, wives and offspring) and I went to see his son Conrad Shawcross’s new time piece at the Roundhouse full of hope. With 24 iron pillars in a circular brick masterpiece, what could go wrong when a talented sculptor applied himself to making a clock in that splendid gloom?

The Roundhouse is a special place. I saw Hot Tuna there in 1976 (fresh from their outing at Knebworth with the Rolling Stones) and I thought and felt that I had never heard such brilliant rock music played in such an intense and glorious space. I think it was after that that I saw Stomu Yumasta there, and that was pretty moody too. I slightly wish I had seen Ken Campbell’s production Neil Oram’s The Warp in its Roundhouse run, but having seen the premier 24-hour marathon at the ICA, earlier that year, 1979, at the time I felt entitled to forego so mixed a pleasure.

Besides, the Roundhouse is in Kentish Town, where in the late 1960s I worked as a van driver out of the elegant courtyards which are now an Autograph depot, and where in maybe 1969 I helped organise the purchase of a house which became the home of Bill Chambers and the late and lamented Bernardine Bishop, the novelist and therapist. I mended bikes round the corner for years, living a street away from the home of the Shawcrosses, whom I used to see from my window, and rather envy. So this end of the 24 bus route is ripe in memories and makes a ride on the new Heatherwicks quite an experience.

Well, the present show is not interesting as a quick-impact light show, and would probably not seriously reward prolonged inspection or meditation either. I thought the whole thing under-whelming, and that amounts to a sense of having been frauded. After all, Shawcross’s Continuum had graced – had energetically responded to and enhanced – one of the other great London spaces, the hall of The Queen’s House in Greenwich.

Actually, the next day the Maritime Museum’s show of astronomical photography really did present a knock-out visual effect, and rather more than it was comfortable to reflect on too, in the way of infinity and existence and time and distance and what-not. All the same, the NMM didn’t really bring a lot to the curatorial or visual party: my jaded retina wants more than simple static reproductions or a boring video panorama from such an outing.

Back in Queen Anne’s heavenly house – Alice Kettle’s embroidery piece (rather oddly entitled The Garden of England) would have been worth the schlepp out from central London all by itself. It is a very rich riffing on the colour and texture of the gaudily and yet somehow severe court clothing of the 16th and 17th Centuries in the house’s marvellous collection of paintings. At any time, and for many reasons, I would say that this house is the match of the Courtauld Institute.

It’s a small but exciting thing to be able to note that river travel has now seemed to really benefit from the Boris effect. The Thames Clipper service Greenwich is cheap, fast, civilised – and thrilling. Much as I like the Heatherwick buses, these boats have the merit – the design advantage – of not having anything retro about them.  (Besides, when I saw Thomas H being interviewed by Alan Yentob I thought he was just one bit too triumphalist as he differentiated his bus design from the rather splendid one it superseded. And whilst I’m at it, the Heatherwick bus colourway is really no advance on the sort of scheme someone might rather ordinarily propose for a Buckingham Palace shopping mall.)

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Publication date

11 August 2013


Mind & body; On art