The relationship between art and patronage has historically been complex. Rare is the creative genius with total freedom; all too often, patrons want to have a say in how their dollar is being spent. For London born and bred Conrad Shawcross, being the youngest member of the Royal Academy of Art (RAA) is validation for his experimental work with robotics, music and installation. It’s hardly the type of thing he can do in a romantic garret; rather, Shawcross has a team of 10 working in his London studio. As he lives upstairs, it is sometimes difficult to draw boundaries between work and rest.

Conrad Shawcross

“It’s encouraging to have the support of RAA,” he said on the sidelines of the The ADA Project’s unveiling at The Peninsula Hong Kong’s lobby. “It’s great endorsement of what I’ve done and hopefully will make doing new work easier. There are long periods of execution for my art. I have about half a dozen projects on the go in my studio at the moment; some are in the early stages while others are well underway. Some are small, while others are big and labour intensive.”

Shawcross’ installation at The Peninsula Hong Kong lobby

The ADA Project was inspired by 19th century English mathematician Ada Lovelace, widely regarded as the first computer programmer who happens to be the daughter of poet Lord Byron. Lovelace foresaw that one day machines would be able to compose music from binary numbers. Shawcross’ installation is an industrial size, assembly line robot with customised sequences for movements that are highlighted by beams of light in space drawn by its arm. “I was interested in harnessing the machine to make it move in humanistic ways,” notes Shawcross. Four contemporary female composers were asked to create music in sync with the choreographed dance of light. In Hong Kong, local soprano Joyce Wong performs Mira Calix’ “if  then  while  for”, the lament of a woman asking for the machine to love her back.

Hang On A Minute Lads… I’ve Got A Great Idea” by Richard Wilson, RA, at The Peninsula Hong Kong in 2015

The ADA Project is the second project in a three year collaboration between RAA and The Peninsula Hong Kong. Part of the latter’s Love Art at The Peninsula initiative, Richard Wilson, RA, cantilevered a full size bus off the historic building’s roof in one of the city’s most challenging installations last year. Shawcross previously exhibited The ADA Project in London, Paris and Tasmania; his collaboration with Calix and Wong is the fourth piece of music written for the project. “The Peninsula is the most unusual venue for this project,” he says. “Its lobby is a classical space, and the installation catches people unaware as they are having tea. There is a guerrilla aspect to it. It’s an extraordinary exhibition. People expect to see this installation in industrial spaces, not in a beautiful room where music is subservient to a machine.”

Fittingly, as The Peninsula is celebrating its 88 anniversary this year, RAA is gearing up with expansion and redevelopment plans for its hallowed London premises to coincide with its 250 year celebrations in 2018. The ADA Project runs until 5 April.

Details of The ADA Project
Date: 22 March to 5 April, 2016
Venue: The Peninsula Hong Kong
More details:

Text by Rebecca Lo
Rebecca Lo is a Hong Kong based writer specialising in design, architecture and lifestyle

Photography courtesy The Peninsula Hong Kong | Royal Academy of Arts