King’s Cross sculpture salutes scientific progress

Sculptor Conrad Shawcross with his Paradigm sculpture outside the new build Francis Crick Institute

Sculptor Conrad Shawcross with his Paradigm sculpture outside the new build Francis Crick Institute building in Kings Cross, London. For the Wellcome Trust. photograph by David Sandison +44 7710 576 445 +44 208 979 6745 - Credit: � photograph by David Sandison

Conrad Shawcross is a local boy made good – very good. He grew up in Kentish Town, went to Eleanor Palmer Primary School and, at 38, is the youngest living member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Last year he won the major courtyard commission for its Summer Exhibition and now his massive sculpture, the 26-tonne 14 metre-high Paradigm, is installed outside the Francis Crick Institute for biomedical research, next to St Pancras.

Shawcross specialises in mechanical sculpture based on philosophical ideas – though thankfully Paradigm is static.

The title refers to the belief of American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn that progress in scientific knowledge is not linear but the result of paradigm shifts – periods of revolutionary science when the discovery of anomalies leads to new paradigms, with new questions asked.

Shawcross aims to translate this idea into sculpture by stacking tetrahedral blocks made of weathered steel.

Starting from a base of less than a metre wide, each subsequent form grows steadily in volume until the ultimate tetroid is five metres wide.

The result is an angular, twisted column he describes as a bold totem: “It is a beacon for progress and endeavour but contains fallibility and should serve as a constant reminder of the precariousness of knowledge.”

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Shawcross has said he first thought of being an artist when he spent time in the studio of his stepfather, the painter Johnny Dewe Matthews, which appealed far more than the offices of his writer parents, William Shawcross and Marina Warner.

Dewe Matthews taught him to draw and they went to pottery classes together at Camden Arts Centre.

He studied fine art in Oxford and London and cites the Science Museum’s maths gallery as an important influence.