URBAN KICK: Shaun Gladwell

shaun gladwell storm sequence art

Last week I spoke about one of my favourite works held in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection, so this week I figured I’d set my sights on one of my favourites of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s collection, with that work being SHAUN GLADWELL’s 2000 work ‘Storm Sequence’.

Disrupting architectural and social spaces are particular interests of Australian artist Shaun Gladwell’s video-art projects. Gladwell’s body of work is one keenly interested with the individual and the navigation of the everyday. As an artist he often explores the body in both urban and rural spaces, and the way these spaces can be re-contextualised by movement. And it is through the negotiation of bodies in motion that the experience of space has been so strongly studied by the artist.

In the 2000 work ‘Storm Sequence’, Gladwell focuses his gaze onto the body in space. A pivotal work within his canon, and to the practice of the moving image within the Australian art scene (as underline by Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia), Gladwell marries action and place, highlighting the subtleties of movement. What is presented in ‘Storm Sequence’ is a skateboarder (Gladwell himself) freestyle skating on a concrete ledge overlooking Bondi Beach as a storm brews. The video work features minimal cuts and is slowed down to forty percent of the actual speed, focusing on the figure until he becomes too overwhelmed by the storm to continue. With the speed that the video is presented at, the gestures of the skater are emphasised. What would generally appear as swift, manic or disjointed motions becomes a pirouette, an action more akin to dance and beauty than to the urban youth culture of skating. Gladwell’s figure spins and twists his limbs as he manoeuvres the board. The body acts onto the object and reacts in relation to it; presenting a constant play, in accordance with ones own actions. The nuances of such behaviour become the focus of the work. A notion emphasised in the storm and crashing waves beyond the skater’s ledge. Neither violent nor menacing, the waves are captured as tranquil and smooth gesticulating toward a lyrical sense of motion. In examining motion and space through an arbitrated sense of time Gladwell reconfigures an audiences sense toward the experience and function of space.

Within Australian’s institution of Art, ‘Storm Sequence’ has come to signify an important moment with video art as a suitable practise to reflect the Australian condition. No greater example exists of such an attitude than with the works placement in the newly renovated Museum of Contemporary Art. The work is positioned as a key piece of the Museum’s permanent collection as indicated by it being housed in Volume One: MCA Collection. The collection aims to express to audiences visiting the collection, both locally and from abroad, that the displayed works explore a range of voices and visions of the countries culture. The displays range in medium and perspectives, but all are presented together as a unit to put forth the diversity of expressions existing within an Australian context. ‘Storm Sequence’ thus is presented as one shaping an audiences understanding of local spaces, and reflective of a uniquely Australian condition.

By first examining ‘Storm Sequence’ one becomes familiarised with the themes of Gladwell’s work, and its acceptance by the institution as a unique and distinctly Australian perspective. Gladwell’s later body of work continues interests in relation to time, space and function within the experience of space, with his video-works being the medium where these themes are most strongly realised.

So next time you are at the MCA make sure you check out this really wonderful work.

Words by Luke Letourneau