In 2005 Australian artist Shaun Gladwell participated in a group exhibition called, C-town Bling at the Campbelltown Arts Centre. His contribution to the collection was a video of the Leumeah skate park, and it offered a window into local youth culture. This year Gladwell revisited that same park to create works that relate back to C-town Bling.
The List is a collection of artworks that investigate and document contemporary youth culture in Campbelltown. In the exhibition, Gladwell’s work is exhibited alongside that of some rising art stars including Tom Polo, Kate Blackmore, Michaela Gleave and Zanny Begg. Works for The List were made after a six-month study by each artist into the local area and its young people.
Gladwell is probably best recognised for his meditative, rain-soaked skate reel, Storm Sequence. The video piece is currently part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. It features the artist as an isolated, khaki clad figure performing choreographed kick flips in slow motion against the backdrop of a stormy Bondi Beach. Considered a masterpiece, the video sold for a record price at auction, making it one of the first broadly recognised moving-image artworks by an Australian artist.
“It’s nice to return after so many years,” says Gladwell of the Leumeah skate spot. He has developed two separate works from his time at the park to feature in the show.
The first piece involved a host of dancers and performers, dressed in army fatigues, descending upon the park. “We asked the skaters if they wanted to swap their skate-board wheels for some new sets of wheels,” says Gladwell. “So, very basically, it was all about [the performers] meeting these young skate boarders, and then exchanging wheels with them.”
Gladwell documented the swap and created a video piece called, Mentoring and reconstruction taskforce. He says the process of making it was entirely experimental. “It was like a strange take on anthropology,” he says. “Like the exchange that might take place between researchers and their field subjects. The kids were cool, but there’s always that question of, ‘why is this happening? Who do you work for? Why are you guys doing this?’”
Gladwell then used the cast-off wheels to build a conceptual portrait of the individuals he encountered, one of which is called, He was fucking his shoes up so I gave him mine (D.C’s)
Though Gladwell grew up in Sydney’s western suburbs, he says, “It’s not like I’m a local. I’ve spent a bit of time out there, but I’m not validated in that way. “It was interesting to see what relationship outsiders have to that very interesting community – turning up to a local skate park every weekend. We were very much outsiders.”
Just like painter Ben Quilty, Gladwell was commissioned as an official wartime artist and spent a fortnight in Afghanistan in 2009. There he created a series of point-of-view pieces that incorporated video and photography. Gladwell was the first artist to work with video in the history of the official war-art scheme. The wheel trade, gift-giving experiment for The List is was inspired by, “counter-insurgency strategies” and military tactics Gladwell saw in the Middle East. “I saw [the army] engage in reconstruction and mentoring work within communities, and it was always a difficult and strange scenario.” Soldiers attempted to win locals over by providing a service or giving them gifts before moving on.
Also showing as part of The List is a second video piece by Gladwell called, Attempt to maintain stillness and balance (Campbelltown version). It consists of photographic-like shots of the artist balancing on a mountain bike against suburban backdrop. “I am interested in relational aesthetics, but I’m also interested in where it can go a bit wrong,” he says. “What’s awkward about reaching out of the studio and reaching into the fabric of society itself, and where it can start to get really clunky.”
The List is at Campbelltown Arts Centre until October 12. Campbelltown Arts Centre, 1 Art Gallery Road, Campbelltown