Chord, Conrad Shawcross

Kingsway Tram Subway, Holborn, London.
October – November 2009

In 2006 Measure began exploring the possible use of the Kingsway Tram Subway in Holborn for a new commission. Several site visits later we introduced Conrad to the space in 2007 and we all began 18months of work to bring the project to fruition.

Conrad Shawcross  constructed a giant, site specific, mechanical installation in the Kingsway Tram Subway, Holborn in October 2009. This vast underground tunnel is a remarkable and fascinating survivor of London’s tramway heritage which has been closed for public use since 1952.

Chord was Conrad’s most ambitious and complex work to date. Conceived specifically for the long subway, the artist built two identical rope machines that made a thick hawser from 324 spools of coloured string. These vast machines began back to back in the centre of the space and then gradually moved away from each other slowly down the subway following the old tram tracks. Like two huge spiders, they slowly weave the rope behind them as they travelled through the space over the course of the exhibition.

Returning to the themes of previous rope production works The Nervous Systems, (2003 – Saatchi collection) and Yarn (2001) Chord is concerned with the human perception of time, as both a linear and cyclical notion. The rope becomes a strong structural metaphor, as it is a clear linear entity made up and formed by a cyclical process.

Introduction from the Chord exhibition publication.

London is full of memories. Embossed onto buildings and drifting like vapour down streets, you can sense them if you stop for long enough. Some old buildings are quiet and empty, blank dusty windows facing the street. The people who once inhabited them have moved on and they’ve been boarded up, suspended in time. Measure’s exhibitions have always existed in these hidden, but not quite forgotten spaces.

The Kingsway Tram Subway is a unique early 20th century relic of London’s transport heritage, a visionary time when the trams and the tube networks were expanding and enabling London to grow into the metropolis it is today.

Its potential as a venue for a Measure show was obvious from the first site visit. A steep incline down the cobbled ramp leads to a deserted tram station and on into the darkness of the tunnel. The atmosphere exudes expectation of finding something extraordinary in
the gloom.

Conrad Shawcross is a consistently imaginative artist, and his reaction to the subway was to take on this dramatic space with an equally ambitious and challenging artwork. Shawcross’ machines re-inhabit the subway, their slow linear journey echoing those made years earlier. A space that was once filled by the sounds of trams and people is now peaceful but brooding, its sense of purpose lost. A subway built for machines now has them again.

Simon Day and Jon Scott


The Chord publication is avaliable to buy at £5 +p&p. Email to place your order.