Shaun Glad­well
Rid­ing with Death: Redux

28th October – 17th December 2011
Anna Schwartz Gallery Carriageworks

The Artist as an Alle­go­ry of Death

This exhi­bi­tion, Rid­ing with Death: Redux’, takes its title from Shaun Gladwell’s first video work, Rid­ing with Death, 1999, a work nev­er pre­vi­ous­ly shown. [i] The works in Rid­ing with Death: Redux’ repeat some key themes that have per­co­lat­ed below the sur­face of Gladwell’s works since. Overt­ly, the oeu­vre over the last 12 years seems pre­dom­i­nant­ly to deal with spa­tial pol­i­tics, move­ment and ges­ture; [ii] how­ev­er there are more obscure themes res­o­nant from that very ear­ly work, of death, era­sure … infin­i­ty. These themes are per­haps less appar­ent but almost always present in some form. The theme of death in Gladwell’s work has been acknowl­edged pre­vi­ous­ly, often by the artist him­self, [iii] and we see it repeat­ed­ly at an icono­graph­ic lev­el with the recur­ring skull motif. Death is also often present at an alle­gor­i­cal lev­el; the artist him­self some­times appear­ing as an alle­go­ry of death. Look again at Tan­gara, 2003, Apol­o­gy to Road­kill, 2007, Inter­cep­tor Surf Sequence, 2007 or POV: Mir­ror Sequence Tarin Kowt, 2009 – 2010, and oth­er works where the artist is the cen­tral performer.

Shaun Glad­well stud­ied paint­ing before devel­op­ing his video instal­la­tion prac­tice, and the ori­gin of his Rid­ing with Death, 1999, is actu­al­ly a paint­ing by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Rid­ing with Death is the title of one of the last paint­ings Basquiat cre­at­ed before his death in 1988. [iv] In his paint­ing, a human fig­ure rides a skele­ton, which is most­ly sug­gest­ed, by five or six bones and a stylised anthro­poid skull. These fig­ures are in turn tak­en direct­ly from an alle­gor­i­cal draw­ing by Leonar­do da Vin­ci, in which an alle­go­ry of Envy rides a horse. [v] Basquiat’s ver­sion becomes a prophet­ic self-por­trait, rid­ing an alle­go­ry of death. When Glad­well pro­duced his own Rid­ing with Death in 1999 he con­scious­ly adopt­ed Basquiat’s under­ly­ing theme of mor­tal­i­ty: “[Basquiat’s paint­ing] oper­ates as a con­cep­tu­al ambi­gram in a way, like it could be the horse actu­al­ly being some­one and the fig­ure being actu­al­ly not human at all.”[vi] Gladwell’s rework­ing of Basquiat’s paint­ing adopts, in a mutat­ed way, Basquiat’s iconog­ra­phy of the skele­ton and the self, and in its muta­tion the rid­ing’ becomes about rid­ing a skate­board, marked with the infin­i­ty sym­bol (∞), on the right side of the screen, echoed in the trol­ley stand of the skele­ton on the left side.

Gladwell’s 1999 rework­ing of Basquiat’s Rid­ing with Death, with its inter­change­abil­i­ty of death and the artist, is strong­ly echoed through these most recent works in Rid­ing with Death: Redux’. He is still rid­ing with death. Con­sid­er the work I Also Live at One Infi­nite Loop, 2011. The infi­nite is both lit­er­al and vir­tu­al in the fed-back viewfind­er at the cen­tre of the screen. The artist sits in a mil­i­tary jet fight­er as it tears through the clouds above the Hunter Val­ley. As in his MAD­DEST­MAX­IMVS works, he wears the pros­thet­ic skull” of the death rider.[vii] His body is pushed into 6G cen­trifu­gal forces as the plane loops and turns. The infi­nite loop of the video feed­back twists and dis­torts as Glad­well strug­gles against the phys­i­cal forces of these move­ments. The result­ing image is the syn­the­sis of the machine (both jet fight­er and cam­era) and the lim­its of the body of the artist. Against these forces, that body seems fee­ble and vul­ner­a­ble. As the artist, again here an alle­go­ry of death, twists his head we catch a momen­tary glance of a skull on the side of his helmet.

Inter­est­ing­ly, One Infi­nite Loop is the street address of the Apple head­quar­ters in Cal­i­for­nia, and some­what prophet­i­cal­ly this work was pro­duced and named before the recent death of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs. Jobs famous­ly said that Death is very like­ly the sin­gle best inven­tion of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” [viii] For Jobs, his own brush with death in the mid-1990s was life-affirm­ing; we only tru­ly live when we’re aware that death is always present. All of us, always, are rid­ing with death.

Dr Kit Messham-Muir


[i] I hadn’t even left the paint­ing depart­ment… instead of the painter just get­ting out there and hit­ting the streets with a video cam­era, I was using video cam­eras in a stu­dio at that stage, so that was very ear­ly days.” Shaun Glad­well, inter­view with Kit Messham-Muir, Hyde Park, Lon­don, 30 Sep­tem­ber 2010 (tran­scribed by Susan Cairns)

[ii] Nicholas Crog­gan and Charles Green, Shaun Glad­well: Cri­tique, Ges­ture, and Skate­board­ing’, Aus­tralian and New Zealand Jour­nal of Art, Vol. 112011

[iii] Tania Doropou­los, Shaun Glad­well — Artist’s State­ment, 2009 Venice Bien­nale; Shaun Glad­well, quot­ed in Ihor Hol­u­bizky with Shaun Glad­well, Inten­tion­al­i­ty and Inter­pre­ta­tion’, Blair French, Shaun Glad­well: Vide­owork, (Syd­ney: Art­space Visu­al Arts Cen­tre, 2007), 44

[iv] Shaun Glad­well, inter­view, 30 Sep­tem­ber 2010

[v] Leon­hard Emmer­ling, Basquiat, (Cologne: Taschen, 2003), 79

[vi] Shaun Glad­well, inter­view, 30 Sep­tem­ber 2010

[vii] Lisa Slade, The Thrall of the Skull’, Neo Goth: Black is Back, (Bris­bane: Uni­ver­si­ty of Queens­land Art Muse­um 2008), 25 – 26

[viii] Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty News, You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says, http://​news​.stan​ford​.edu/​news/… (accessed 15 Octo­ber 2011, 10:20am)


Pho­tog­ra­phy: Jamie North

Images

Shaun Glad­well

Rid­ing with Death: Redux, 2011
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Jamie North

Shaun Glad­well

Rid­ing with Death: Redux, 2011
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Jamie North

Shaun Glad­well

Rid­ing with Death, 1999
VHS
4 min­utes 57 seconds
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Jamie North

Shaun Glad­well

Rid­ing with Death, 1999
VHS
4 min­utes 57 seconds

Shaun Glad­well

MV + HRC Pärt Organ (after Fred­er­ick Seidel’s Men and Woman 1979), 2011
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Jamie North

Shaun Glad­well

Erased Hirst, 2011
Skate­board deck, acrylic, mirror
1304750 cm
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Jamie North

Shaun Glad­well

I Also Live at One Infi­nite Loop, 2011
(still) HD video, 16:9, colour, silent
20 min­utes 11 seconds
Edi­tion of 3

Shaun Glad­well

Mid­night Traceur, 2011
(still) HD video, 16:9, colour, silent
23 min­utes 53 seconds

Shaun Glad­well

Rid­ing with Death: Redux, 2011
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Pho­to: Jamie North

Shaun Glad­well

Cook Invert, 2011
inkjet print on paper
177.5134 cm
Edi­tion of 2

Shaun Glad­well

Shake­speare Invert, 2011