Shaun Gladwell

This text is an extract of a class discussion on inferences drawn around the semantics of a catalog essay by Robin McKenzie and was first uploaded to the original REWIRED site as a review of key points in a particular lesson.

In itself; it is not, and does not, represent a critique of Gladwell’s work but exists as evidence of what a certain line of reasoning might uncover as interpretation.

In 2001 Gladwell was one of the 10 recipients of the Samstag Scholarship. Below is the catalog essay by Robin McKenzie.

“Using an absurdist logic that joins together things belonging to different categories, the project of Shaun Gladwell is loose canon anarchic. Historical cultural material, contemporary technologies, and the urban landscape are boiled up together in his pot. The result, in Gladwell’s own words: ‘John Glover would have made excellent skateboards in his spare time.’

(Interestingly John Glover could not have made skateboards in his spare time, for reasons that are fairly obvious, unless Gladwell is projecting Glover’s persona, which we know little about, into a present day context. Either way, Gladwell is forcing an association with an already existing iconic figure. Gladwell makes a similar type of association based on atmospherics between his Storm Sequence and Turner’s paintings).

“Gladwell is interested in the creative distortions resulting from the transmission of images and ideas between different cultural zones and historical periods. In Warped Wood, he juxtaposes a Glover painting (an image that has been digitally copied and compressed along the horizontal axis and then repainted) with two custom-made skateboards. Building on the superficial connection between the curved lines of a typical Glover tree, and a skateboard’s bent plywood deck, Gladwell sees a parallel between the two cultural activities. The distortion of natural form in Glover’s paintings is mirrored in the way in which the skateboarder recodes the urban landscape, reassigning or distorting the use-value of urban architecture: ‘the hand-rail becomes a slippery dip.’

A champion ‘freestyle’ skateboarder, in the video Kickflipping flaneur, Gladwell draws a connection between the activity of the skateboarder in the contemporary urban city and the Modernist hero of the nineteenth century city, Baudelaire’s flaneur, ‘strolling/rolling incognito through the city’. The compelling, yet curious, works resulting from these wide-ball associations make a convincing argument for the ‘wrong science’ school of art.”

Robyn McKenzie

From her Samstag catalog essay
Art and Research

Kickflipping Flâneur 2000
digital video still
(camera: Michael Shiavello)
© the artist
Warped Wood 2000
oil on canvas, plywood decks, steel brackets
80 x 240 cm, decks 62 x 28 cm each
(produced with the financial support of Peter Fay)
© the artist

images sourced @

Read some text on the notion of the flaneur here and see if it agrees with McKenzie’s isolated assertion or interpretation of the connection between Baudelaire’s flaneur and Gladwell’s skateboarder.

At the Rewired site some content was loaded with the express purpose of initiating discussion centered around the work of Shaun Gladwell and his inclusion in the Venice Biennale’s of 2007 and 2009.
There are a number of possible viewpoints; (which will of course include your own) and each of these, as ways of reading, can be seen as supporting specific agenda’s. Essentially what I want to demonstrate to you here is that the same information can be taken and have a different ‘spin’ put on it depending on how you orient things to support your viewpoint. Lets take some text from Dr Blair French (Executive Director of ‘Artspace’ Sydney).

“MADDESTMAXIMVS marks a shift from Gladwell’s earlier focus upon urban environments and engages instead in a performative, personal exploration of the boundaries and possibilities of a human relationship to the Australian hinterland. At the same time, MADDESTMAXIMVS also looks at differing experiences of time and being, in particular through the relationship of the human body to its immediate environment.”

It is arguable that MADDESTMAXIMVS marks a shift from Gladwell’s earlier focus upon urban environments. Was Gladwell’s work focused on urban environments or were they simply the contexts (read locations) for filming at the time, and retrospectively contextualized into a conceptual locus for the creation of work? Or is this just a spin to validate and authenticate a change of scene and hence justify the observations inclusion in this Biennale forward.
Remember that the target audience for this text is most likely to be other curators and critics, this is not the language of the everyday.

Take the next part of the line in this quote……and engages instead in a performative, personal exploration of the boundaries and possibilities of a human relationship to the Australian hinterland.
Footage (below) of a figure by the side of the road, at one point holding a
white/blank square held on the diagonal (to mimic a road sign?)
flanked by paint tins and spray cans. (a motif used in a previous series)

Footage (below) of a figure carrying roadkill

Image source.  Australia Venice 09  Artists Booklet
Footage (below) of a figure leaning out of the window of a slow moving car

Footage (below) of a figure standing on the roof of a moving vehicle

Images sourced @  Australia Venice 09  Artists Booklet
(examination of the footage, slowed by 40%, suggests that the vehicle could have not been traveling faster than 20-30 kph), and to my memory you never see Gladwell actually mount the roof of the car. The footage is edited to make it appear so).

Read this in relation to;

“A helmeted figure in black emerges from inside the moving car through the side window, slowly mounts the roof of the vehicle and stands upright. Every nuance of his movement is emphasized in slow-motion, transforming a potentially dangerous act into a formal study in physical virtuosity as the body embraces and balances the elemental forces of velocity and gravity that draw it deeper into the Australian hinterland.”

Do these images collectively represent a ‘personal exploration of the boundaries and possibilities of a human relationship to the Australian hinterland.?’It’s a bit hard to see how traveling down a dirt road on the roof of a car for an ‘editable distance’ or leaning out the passenger window for the same effect, constitute a “personal exploration of the boundaries and possibilities of a human relationship to the Australian hinterland.? “Perhaps Gladwell did not intend this, and French is caught up in the mythology of the outback and romanticizing Gladwell’s projected experience.

The problem with the use of the wordsthe boundaries and possibilities’  is that by default it implies all the boundaries and possibilities, because the phrase is not constrained or qualified except in relation to ‘human experience’. Had the text said some of the boundaries and possibilities it would be hard to argue the validity of the statement, but by deifying the act and the artist under an all embracing umbrella that appears to include all the boundaries and possibilities, French weakens the viability of the statement (from my point of view).

Check out the following in relation to this post.

Fragments | Susan Norrie

The Raft | Bill Viola

Rose Hobart | Joseph Cornell

Maya Deren | Joseph Cornell

Quintet of Remembrance | Bill Viola

to be continued….

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