“Portrait of a man: alive and spinning/Dead as a skeleton dressed as a Mountie,” currently on view at Georgia Scherman Projects, is the first solo exhibition in Canada for Australian artist Shaun Gladwell.
On entering the darkened gallery, the viewer encounters two new video works. The title work for the exhibition documents Kevin Harris, a Canadian freestyle professional skateboarder, performing 360-degree spins. (This video is complemented by Composite Portrait as Boards, a display of skateboard decks leaning against the gallery wall.) In New York Underground Sequence, American artist Bill Shannon accomplishes elegant gymnastic feats atop a pair of customized crutches. Shannon was born with a degenerative hip condition; his crutches are necessary appendages that enable his everyday mobility as well as his extraordinary performance. Both videos are slowed to a mesmerizing, meditative pace.
Gladwell has long been interested in skateboarding, street sports and urban subcultures. He made his international debut at the Venice Biennale in 2007 with Storm Sequence, a slow-motion video of the artist performing freestyle skateboarding tricks on a concrete jetty against a stormy-sea backdrop. Gladwell’s fascination with alternative art forms, including graffiti and breakdance, is seemingly linked to their distinct blend of beauty, resolve, rebellion and survival.
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The artist’s ongoing suite, MADDESTMAXIMVS, which was shown at the 2009 Venice Biennale, is inspired by Mad Max, the 1979 Australian film about a cop pursing road bandits in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Despite a penchant for violent justice, the film’s protagonist is an admirable lone rider struggling to recover order in an anarchic world. Recent additions to this suite are on display at Georgia Scherman, including Interceptor Circuit. In this video, Mad Max’s iconic black car spins in slow circles and kicks up clouds of dust in a desert landscape. Gladwell makes a link to gaming culture by playing this video on a Sony PSP that is half-submerged in the gallery wall.
Together, Gladwell’s subjects spin and churn at slow speeds against extreme backdrops (the New York subway and the Australian outback). Harsh realities abound and unconventional heroes (Mad Max, Bill Shannon, Kevin Harris) revive belief in the indominatable human spirit.
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