What do spacetime, angular momentum, and art have in common with luxury Scotch whisky? As it turns out, much more than you might imagine. These are just a few of the high-minded concepts that converge in , a new artwork created by the British artist who explores science and the metaphysical world in his ambitious constructs.
“For over 30 years I’ve been preoccupied with interrogating what time means,” Shawcross says. “It seemed very fitting to adapt this into the Royal Salute project.”
Part retro-futuristic spacecraft and part kinetic sculpture, features an oblong decanter merged with a dominating, sapphire blue hand-spun glass disc. It will be released in an extremely limited quantity of 21 editions and is one component of Shawcross’s lofty project for Royal Salute. The artist examined links between time in the realms of fine art and luxury whisky, and the sculpture represents time’s many dimensions. Each decanter holds a bespoke 53-year-old blend of Royal Salute whisky—an age that alludes to 1953, the year Queen Elizabeth II was crowned and Royal Salute was born as a gift to the new monarch.
The second edition of the whisky maker’s Art of Wonder platform will be unveiled this week at Frieze Art Fair in London (running October 11–15), with exhibited within the Royal Salute Gallery Bar. There, audiences will witness displayed in conversation with Shawcross’s , a dynamic light installation with three articulated robotic arms. The two pieces will unite in a sensorial experience, immersing guests in an enchanting world that perfectly marries the respective art of both Royal Salute and Conrad Shawcross.
Shawcross has built his three-decade practice around works which blur the boundaries between art and science. He is known for delving into theories and phenomena that shape our perceptions, creating ambitious sculptures and installations which ask audiences to contemplate their understanding of the world around them.
For Royal Salute, Shawcross was inspired by the sheer duration of time that each whisky takes to mature. He devised a sculpture that reflects “how time is both a measure of duration and a force of change,” he explains. Though we typically understand time as a linear construct, cumulatively, time can also transform matter. With enough time, even galaxies and solar systems take shape.
Those ideas come to life in the artwork’s main features. “Each spun piece of glass is akin to the galaxy itself,” Shawcross says. Piercing the glass disc, like an arrow through a target, is a sort of two-part spike nodding to time’s dual functions. “I wanted to have this vector of time,” Shawcross explains, a physical entity “that implies both this strong directionality and this movement of the sun through our galaxy, hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds.” One half is a turned oak spindle, which pays tribute to the casks that age Royal Salute’s ultra-prestige blend contained within the other half: the long-necked decanter, crafted by Dartington Crystal.
This kind of cross-disciplinary world-building began last year, when Royal Salute launched their Art of Wonder platform celebrating cutting-edge creativity through partnerships with today’s most visionary artists. In the inaugural collaboration, the sculptor Kate MccGwire wielded feathers to shape undulating organic forms that explored nature’s forces. Shawcross is illuminating more abstract powers governing our universe.
For this new piece, Shawcross’s journey began with a visit to the legendary home of Royal Salute, the ancient Strathisla Distillery in Speyside, Scotland. “I was struck by the sheer amount of time contained in the age of the whisky,” Shawcross says. “I wanted to capture this in multiple elements of the art piece.”
As he began conceptualizing these components, Shawcross remembered an astronomer he met in the Maldives. “We got to talking to about how, over time, galaxies, black holes, and solar systems all tend towards flatness due to the properties of angular momentum,” he explains.
Something similar happens with blown glass, he discovered, when the material is pulled from the mouth of a high-powered 1600°C furnace. “There’s this wonderful simplicity to the effect,” Shawcross says, “where gravity and centrifugal and centripetal forces create these discs with ripples in the surface.” The effect beautifully captured the sense of time he was trying to express. “The discs reflect the endless star systems in the night sky,” Shawcross says, each individually and arbitrarily shaped by time.
It’s here where Shawcross’s ideas beautifully meld with Royal Salute. As time advances in the whisky-making process, barley is converted first into a young spirit and then a mature liquid, one that becomes more nuanced and complex the longer it ages. Starting where others end, every expression in Royal Salute’s portfolio is aged for a minimum of 21 years. At 53 years old, the opulent blend contained within is among the highest-aged expressions ever released by Royal Salute.
“Time is a crucial element in the making of whisky,” says Sandy Hyslop, Royal Salute’s Master Blender. “You can’t rush the slow maturation of these exceptional liquids over decades and generations. Only by allowing the progression of time to take its effect on a whisky are we able to experience the extraordinary richness and depth of character of flavors that develop through time alone.”
At its core, Shawcross’s artwork is meant to help us shift our perspectives around time. Instead of perceiving it as just an intangible phenomenon dictating our daily lives or representing entire eras, we should understand that time also shapes our physical universe.
As a final nod to this notion, the piece is also designed as a work of kinetic art. With the spike serving as an axle, can roll on its disc, spinning around a central axis. “Using glass to distort lights created a beautiful way for me to explore narratives around time and the perception of time,” he says. “You get these incredible shadows when light passes through the work. There’s something so simple about the way the disc is formed that creates this really striking optical effect.”
Royal Salute Time Chamber by Conrad Shawcross