Shaun Gladwell: Video Art, Skateboarding, Opera and So much More

Posted by Mia Nielsen, May 26, 2017

A number of years ago, I was lucky enough to get to Venice for the Biennale and was blown away by the Australian pavilion. A show comprised of film and installation that was part Mad Max with dramatic shots of the desert, part abstract expressionism in aresol paintings. My fave piece saw a masked motorcycle rider cradle a kangaroo, found dead on the side of the road – like an impossibly tender borg. Thus began my fascination with the work of Shaun Gladwell. A year later, I was still thinking about that work and when TIFF asked me to contribute to a program of moving image art, I reached out to Gladwell and we put together a program spanning 10 years of his work, lyrical films of breakdancers, skateboarders and BMX riders. When he sent over a rough cut of Skateboarders vs Minimalism a year later, I was fascinated by it’s lyrical, dance-like quality and immediately started wondering what it would look like as a live performance.

A few months ago, I sat down with Shaun for beers to plan the event and our conversation took us from New Zealand to opera to skateboarding and back. Here’s an excerpt:

Your most recent works incorporate iconic sculpture with skateboarding. Tell us about that desire to bring those works into performance. How does it expand the reading of those works and foster your own creative growth. What do skaters/riders think about it?

I've always wanted to make a very clear match between my favourite minimal sculptures and my favourite minimal skateboarders. In an interview in 2007 I described the fact that a Carl Andre would make a great manual pad and a Donald Judd would make a fantastic grinder box. It was clear to me that these minimal sculptures were perfectly formed for skateboarding. The understanding of minimalism was always that it was breaking with the tradition of western art history. The American minimalist movement was consciously exchanging marble and oil paint for industrial materials. But in doing so these sculptors opened their artworks up to the possibility of skateboarding and other creative misuses.

Where did your love of Opera come from and how could that relate to surfing?

I've always been interested in Opera as a kind of early medium that offers a full scale assault on the senses. As an artist interested in installation, I was particularly interested in Richard Wagner's concept for Opera as a full immersive experience. After being involved in the program of my home cities Opera, which just happens to be the very famous Sydney Opera House designed by visionary Danish architect Utzon. I then started to explore Opera in the great European centres for this medium, specifically in Vienna. I did not prioritise between French, Italian and German Opera but it was in 2011 that I was commissioned by the Rotterdam philharmonic orchestra to produce a video for the concept of presentation of Richard Wagner's 'The flying Dutchman'. The first thing I did was take the libretto of the Opera and I systematically exchanged every reference Wagner made to sailing for references to Australian surfing. The connection between sailing and surfing seemed an obvious one to me and perfectly matched the drama of the opera.

What do we have to learn from New Zealand?
New Zealand as a nation state has been incredibly rigorous in not only accepting their indigenous heritage but actively incorporating Māori culture into everything from public signage at the level of Māori signage, to the naming of major civil institutions. Māori identity and associated cultural rituals form a major export for New Zealand as a nation and has been seamlessly incorporated in this countries international image management and presentation. And for this reason New Zealand is a great example for countries still at odds with not only their indigenous heritage but the genocidal programs they instituted in order to erase that history.

What's inspiring about Rodney Mullen?
By any classical definition of genius, Rodney fits that bill. It is impossibly to articulate the impact this man has had, both on the sport of skateboarding and for me as an artist, he has not only excelled as a practitioner of the sport and one of its key innovators but now Rodney Mullen is one of the most outspoken and well articulated public spokesperson for this sport.


Who are the most inspiring skateboarders and why?
Please refer to the three biography's presented within the skateboarders vs minimalism presentation. Jesus Estaban, Rodney Mullen and Hilary Thompson without peers in the sport of skateboarding for different reasons. Those reasons are fully described in the document.

How are artists and skateboarders similar?
Within my practice I've never made a distinction between athletes and artists. This includes dancers and soldiers. Within a classical definition of aesthetics in Greek culture the idea formed around the gymnasium and physical beauty and capabilities. So in many ways my practice honours the etymological definition of aesthetics.

Grab your ticket for an evening in conversation with video artist Shaun Gladwell and pro-skater Rodney Mullen (a.k.a. the godfather of skateboarding, a.k.a. inventor of the ollie), exploring minimalist sculpture, kickflips, and how they’re a match made in heaven.

See all the deets on Skateboarders VS Minimalism at Drake Commissary here.

Posted in: Art

Tags: art  drake art  luminato  shaun gladwell  video art