Shaun Gladwell: Control at The Lockup

Australian Shaun Gladwell, probably best known for Storm Sequence, dating from 2000 and so nearly two decades old, has a one man show on at The Lockup. This consists almost entirely of video works, including an immersive work viewed on an Oculus Rift headset.

There seem to be two main streams to Gladwell's video work in general - one is the use of urban landscapes in contrary ways by he and other inhabitants, and the other relating to military themes and personnel. Both of these are represented in this exhibition. In the former is Tangara, from 2003, where Gladwell hangs upside down for the duration of a commuter train ride from western Sydney, while the immmersive video is of an American combat veteran field-stripping a weapon in a garage, presumably some time after he served in the military. the exhibition is curated by Warwick Heywood, Curator of Art at the Australian War Museum.

Tangara, Shaun Gladwell, 2003 (still) (

Gladwell is an artist whose ideas about his own work often seem to me to be somehow less interesting than his work itself. He talks about his works with skateboarding, breakdancing and interior train-surfing as users of an environment taking control of it in a way different to that intended by the designer, himself being the former urban rebel testing his own strength and endurance against the limits of his environment.

This doesn't seem to touch on the meditative and mesmerising quality of a lot of this work, shown as it is quite often in slow motion. Actions that we might ignore or devalue becomes something quite different when it is slowed down for examination; Gladwell almost always shows a figure in motion against a static or distant backdrop, forcing us to look at the motion itself.

At the same time, the exhibition notes have Gladwell interested in the idea of social control and control of self, often through examination of soldiers, as well as ideas of the outlaw. Again, somehow this does not really touch on the absorbing qualities of watching soldier perform routine, rehearsed tasks, breaking down deadly weapons and then putting them back together again.

His comment in relation to the American ex-soldier performing blindfolded, that "people become the war" and this has helped his conceptualisation of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in interesting, but from my point of view as a psychologist I think his immersive video communicates the idea of the automaticity of such internalisations much more effectively again. The crucial aspect here is that PTSD is an involuntary reliving of situations such as combat, assault and abandonment.

Field Strip, Shaun Gladwell, 2010 (Australian War Museum)

Gladwell uses his technique to effect in Field Strip, two soldiers doing similar things but - presumably - in quite different environments. Are they robotic? What is the real meaning of what they are doing? Sitting to watch his work makes us think all sorts of questions about what we are seeing.

Hoowever you see Gladwell's work, and whether or not you agree with him in terms of what it's about - and that is one of the beauties of art: there can be more than one answer or question - Control is a show worth seeing.

On at The Lockup until 12th March 2017.

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