“British artist Conrad Shawcross has constructed a giant, site specific, mechanical installation in the Kingsway Tram Subway, Holborn. This vast underground tunnel is a remarkable and fascinating survivor of London’s tramway heritage which has been closed for public use since 1952.- from the Chord pamphlet
Chord is Conrad Shawcross’ most ambitious and complex work to date. Conceived specifically for the long subway, the artist has built two identical rope machines that weave a thick hawser from 324 spools of coloured string. These vast machines will begin back to back in the centre of the space and then gradually move away from each other slowly down the subway following the old tram tracks. Like two huge spiders, they slowly travel through the space over the course of the exhibition.”
I finally visited Conrad Shawcross’es brilliant installation in the Kingsway Tram Subway in Holborn yesterday. The location itself if wonderfully atmospheric - the subway has been out of commission since 1953, and obviously not accessible to the public since then, although it has been used as a location in films.
The exhibition is free, although one has to book in advance and arrive ten minutes before at a marshaling point - a guide then takes your group down the atmospheric tunnels to the artwork.
The huge weaving machines twist in the darkness, creating a multi-coloured hawser between them. Over the course of the exhibition, the rope grows longer as the spinning machines move down the tram tracks.
They make the most amazing sounds - mechanical but organic. Comparisons to huge spiders are powerfully evoked. Weaving and spinning are fundamental manufacturing processes which we tend to undervalue these days, but weaving and spinning for the ancient Greeks were symbols of destiny and fate. Las Hilanderas by Velázquez is a meditation on the myth of Minerva, goddess of Wisdom, turning Arachne into a spider for her pride in her weaving skills. Conrad Shawcross’es Chord is a very modern approach to human solutions to the inevitability of the passage of time.
Kingsway Tram Subway,
Southampton Row, Holborn,
London, WC1B 4AP
8 October - 8 November 2009
For tickets - www.measure.org
More photos of this installation and the subway are on my flickr stream.