Sculptor strikes a chord at Dulwich Park

By James Renoux-Wood - Thu 16 April 2015, 1:33 pm

When Conrad Shawcross, the world-renowned sculptor and youngest living Royal Academician, first considered an art installation at Dulwich Park, he had a clear vision.

Conrad Shawcross's Three Perpetual Chords installation was unveiled today. Image by Trevor Moore

Commissioned by Southwark Council to create a sculpture to replace Barbara Hepworth’s Two Forms Divided Circle – stolen from the park by suspected scrap metal thieves in 2011 – Shawcross envisaged a warm summer’s day, groups of friends or family lounging on a series of spheroidal cast iron structures which would blend into the natural environment.

“As my first piece of work in a park, I wanted to create something that was very approachable, – very useable,” he says. “I wanted the sculptures to act as a sort of meeting place – one where you could meet a lover or just sit playing the guitar with a friend. I hoped to create something that would be as loved as Barbara Hepworth’s creation. 

“But the idea is to let people decide for themselves as to what sort of use they get out of the sculptures – it’s really up to individual interpretation.”

These differing perceptions are relevant on an artistic level too. The Three Perpetual Chords arts installation was unveiled at the park today (16 April), and is part of Shawcross’s ongoing study of light and harmonics. Conceptually, each sculpture is supposed to represent the numbers within three musical chords  – the octave, the fifth and the fourth. 

On Saturday (18 April), Southwark Council and the Contemporary Arts Society will host a musical event at Dulwich Park to officially launch the installation. The composer Mira Calix, a friend of Shawcross’s, has written a musical response piece to the work of art, which will be performed by the London Contemporary Arts Society. 

Shawcross’s first public realm commission was the Space Trumpet at the Unilever Building in London in 2007, which went on to win the Art & Work Award for a Work Commissioned for a Specific Site in a Working Environment the following year.

Since then the sculptor has been prolific, having presented work in London, Beijing, Paris and Luxembourg, exhibited in Tasmania, Berlin, London and Paris and holding the position as artist in residence at London’s Science Museum from 2009 to 2011.

The people who have an influence on Shawcross's work are not necessarily sculptors, he says, listing Claude Monet and the American contemporary minimalist artist Carl Andre as inspirations.

“When you have an understanding of a particular field, you approach it in a very methodical way that is not necessarily enjoyable on an aesthetic level,” he says. “I don’t understand paintings in the same way as sculpture, and I think it's that which makes them more pleasurable.”

For the Contemporary Arts Society, the process of selecting Shawcross for the commission involved a considerable amount of thought and after consultation with Southwark residents, the organisation is confident they made the right choice.

Fabienne Nicholas, head of consultancy at the society, says: “We had a very strong shortlist of artists and their ideas were put to a public consultation, in which over 400 people gave their views. What was universally loved about Conrad’s sculpture was the generosity of the three works with their magnitude and beauty, and his sympathy to Hepworth’s approach to form.”

The council is also proud of the installation. Councillor Barrie Hargrove greeted the assembled press who gathered to chat to Shawcross and admire the sculptures.

Hargrove says: “Public art of all kinds, but especially those in our parks and green open spaces, have and will always be such a valuable part of the local community. After the shocking and awful theft of the original Hepworth sculpture it was important for us to get the ball rolling, involving the local community, in the commissioning of new sculptures for the park.

“I am confident that residents from not only Dulwich but all over Southwark and the rest of London too, will embrace the stunning new sculptures in their new home.”

Image by Trevor Moore