Take an impossible machine design by Rube Goldberg, a contraption built by Heath Robinson, and cross it with a junk sculpture by Jean Tinguely, and you might get something a bit like Conrad Shawcross’s The Nervous System. Ridiculously mammoth, and perilously rickety, Shawcross’s monstrous structure is a testament to Luddite technology.
Handcrafted from oak timber, pieced together like a giant Meccano™ set, The Nervous System is a serious feat of amateur engineering. Mesmerising in its simplistic complexity, Shawcross’s sculpture offers a certain mysticism through making: beyond experiencing this sculpture as an object (with all its creaking noise and grinding movement), it is also a working spinning machine.
His improbable system of cogs and pulleys constantly churn out a perfectly woven rope. Beyond being an installation in itself, The Nervous System is also an artwork that makes art: the colourful cord pours out of the machine like paint, piling on the floor like an ever-expanding abstract sculpture.