Cascading Principles

Expansions within Geometry, Philosophy and Interference

The Mathematical Institute at Oxford University is hosting one of the UK’s largest exhibitions by the celebrated artist Conrad Shawcross, open to the public from Wednesday, 28 September.

The exhibition brings together almost 40 sculptures realised by the artist over the last 17 years.

Conrad Shawcross, who studied at Oxford University’s Ruskin School of Art, is the youngest current member of the Royal Academy of Arts and has a global reputation for specialising in mechanical sculptures based on philosophical and scientific ideas. Imbued with an appearance of scientific rationality, these explore subjects that lie on the borders of geometry and philosophy, physics, and metaphysics.
This new exhibition, Cascading Principles: Expansions within Geometry, Philosophy, and Interference, places a variety of Shawcross’s work across three floors of the Mathematical Institute, forming a web of relationships and correspondences which emerge as the viewer moves through the building.

Drawn to mathematics, physics, and philosophy from the early stages of his artistic career, Shawcross places a strong emphasis on the nature of matter, and on the relativity of gravity, entropy, and the nature of time itself. Like a scientist working in a laboratory, he conceives each work as an experiment. Modularity is key to his process and many works are built from a single essential unit or building block.

In arranging these works within the Mathematical Institute, Cascades places them in a dialogue with the intellectual work of its occupants and the ideas that originally inspired their creation.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Schisms: an artistic demonstration of the failure of tetrahedrons to tessellate. This brings twenty tetrahedrons together to form a sphere, which results in a deep crack and ruptures that permeate its surface. This failure of its geometry means that it cannot succeed as a scientific model, but it is this very failure that allows it to succeed as an art work.
  • The four Beacons, each composed of two coloured, perforated disks that move in counter rotation to one another, patterning sunlight through the non-repeating pattern of holes, and conveying a message using semaphoric language.
  • The Lattice Cubes, each formed of forty-eight irregular tetrahedrons. These tetroids come together to form a rational working system, composed of pieces that can theoretically expand into infinity. The work alludes to the theory of the universe expanding from a single radiant point.

The Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, is hosting a four-part lecture series as part of the solo exhibition by artist Conrad Shawcross, Cascading Principles, curated by Fatos Ustek. 

The lecture series, conceived by the artist and curator, brings together James Sparks, Professor of Mathematical Physics and Head of the Department of Mathematics in Oxford, Martin Bridson, Whitehead Professor of Pure Mathematics (Geometry) in Oxford and President of the Clay Mathematics Institute, Sir Roger Penrose, mathematician, physicist, and Nobel Laureate, Carlo Rovelli, the quantum physicist and award-winning author, Jon Keating, Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy in Oxford, artist Liliane Lijn, architect Farshid Moussavi, curator Emma Ridgway, and philosopher, editor, and publisher Robin Mackay. 

Each lecture will start at 5pm and end at 6.15pm in the Andrew Wiles Building, home to Oxford Mathematics, more details below. If you would like to attend, please email to register.

23.02.2023 – Cascading Principles: Expansions within Geometry, Philosophy, and Interference
Chaired by Fatos Ustek
Speakers: Martin Bridson, Conrad Shawcross, James Sparks

27.07.2023 – Envisioning Imagination
Chaired by Fatos Ustek
Speakers: Sir Roger Penrose, Carlo Rovelli, Conrad Shawcross
28.09.2023 – The Role of Patterns in Art and Science
Chaired by Conrad Shawcross
Speakers: Liliane Lijn, Farshid Moussavi, Fatos Ustek
05.10.2023 – Forming a Thought into Form
Chaired by Conrad Shawcross
Speakers: Jon Keating, Robin Mackay, Emma Ridgway

Notes for Editors

For further information and to request images of the sculptures, contact Dyrol Lumbard, External Relations Manager at the Mathematical Institute:

The exhibition will run until October 2023, with members of the public able to view the sculptures during the Institute’s normal opening hours: weekdays between 9:00 and 17:30. In addition, the exhibition will be accompanied by a four-part symposium, with tours and events taking place throughout the year. This will include talks that pair scholars and researchers from the Mathematical Institute with artists and philosophers to foster cross-fertilisation of thought and creativity. Please check the website for updates:

The artist’s career highlights to date include Artist in Residence at the Science Museum, London, from 2009 – 2011; winner of the 2009 Illy prize for best solo presentation at Art Brussels; and the 2014 Jack Goldhill Award for sculpture at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

The exhibition Cascading Principles, Expansions within Geometry, Philosophy, and Interference is curated by Fatoş Üstek, and is organised in collaboration with the Mathematical Institute in Oxford and supported by XTX Markets.

The symposium series is organised in partnership with Modern Art Oxford and Ruskin School of Art (TBC), evoking the collaborative ethos of Shawcross’s artistic practice.