Broken Dance (Beatboxed)
23rd August – 21st October 2012
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Shaun Gladwell is renowned for his mesmerising studies of the body in motion, set against the backdrop of gritty urban environments or remote landscapes. The dual-channel video installation Broken Dance (Beatboxed) continues his engagement with the nexus between embodied expression and urban subcultures. One channel of the video depicts the vocal percussions of a beatboxer; the other focuses on gesture, tracing the ‘freestyle’ motions of dancers who merge the genres of breakdancing, krumping and whacking.
Although the performances occurred at different times and locations, Gladwell’s synchronising of the two video channels constructs a dialogue between them, as though the sound in one is catalysing the movement in the other. While this aspect of Broken Dance (Beatboxed) highlights the artifice of video installation, the action unusually plays out in ‘real-time’. In contrast to many of Gladwell’s earlier videos, which are slowed to distort the effects of speed and gravity, here the emphasis is on the unmediated virtuosity of the performers and the powerful unconscious effect of sound on the body.
The contexts for the performances are also significant. The dancers execute their moves against the backdrop of graffiti covered urban spaces, invoking the notion of subcultural activity as a mode of resistance and reclamation within public zones where behaviour is now obsessively surveyed and over-prescribed. On the other hand, the vocalists are situated in a studio context, perhaps a signal toward how such cultures of resistance are eventually commodified and ‘mainstreamed’ by the relentless thrust of consumerism.