Shaun Gladwell: Midnight traceur

Shaun Gladwell’s hypnotic video Midnight traceur, 2011, features parkour practitioner Ali Kadhim as he dexterously negotiates the urban landscape of Sydney. Parkour is a discipline that involves moving through the cityscape, attempting to travel from one location to another in the most efficient and quickest method possible, using only the body. A male parkour practitioner is usually called a ‘traceur’, and a female practitioner a ‘traceuse’. Performing manoeuvres such as running, jumping, climbing, scaling walls and vaulting over various obstacles that challenge their chosen path, parkour practitioners demonstrate physical strength, acrobatic ingenuity and lithe agility.

Filmed in slow motion – the distinctive methodology of Gladwell’s practice – Kadhim’s calculated movements are transformed into a finely nuanced, choreographed performance. While the city appears to decelerate around him as if it is about to grind to a halt, Kadhim’s graceful movements continue to activate the urban space; his body appears to defy gravity and time. The eerie silence of the work heightens the sense of tension and encourages intense concentration on the body of the performer. Every now and then a cinematographer comes into view, with audiovisual apparatus expertly balanced on his or her body, capturing multiple viewpoints and perspectives. This anonymous, hooded figure appears from outside the frame, advancing and receding, enacting his or her own nuanced choreography in subtle synchronicity with Kadhim.

Although Gladwell’s practice encompasses a number of mediums, including photography, painting and sculpture, he is primarily known for video installations that depict staged and improvised performances of the body in motion. Recording the enduring modes of urban life and street culture, he portrays acts of physical endurance and virtuosity, including breakdancing, BMX riding and skateboarding. The artist’s acute awareness of spatiality and the body is evident in the way he employs slow-motion footage to transform fast-paced and frenetic acts of physical activity into expressive and poetic experiences akin to classical dance.

Gladwell  has long been interseted in the body in motion. He was born in Sydney in 1972 and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours and a Master of Fine Art (Research) at the Sydney College of the Arts, University of New South Wales, in 1996 and 2001 respectively. Gladwell  first came to prominence with the mesmerising video self-portrait Storm sequence, 2000, which depicts the artist skateboarding in slow motion as a surging storm rises over Bondi Beach. Following this, as a Samstag scholar, Gladwell was accepted as an associate research student at Goldsmiths College, University of London, from 2001 to 2002. The artist was represented in the 2006 biennales in Busan, South Korea, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and in 2009 represented Australia at the 53rd Venice Biennale with MADDESTMAXIMVS: planets and stars sequence, which brought together performative video, sculptural works and interventions within the Australian pavilion that explored the body situated within the vastness of the Australian desert. He has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, and is represented in numerous collections.

This is the first work by Gladwell to be acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria, and it greatly enriches the Gallery’s holdings of contemporary Australian video art.

Emma Mayall, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2013).