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Homo Suburbiensis | Shaun Gladwell & Su Baker

Art + Australia editor, Su Baker caught up with Shaun Gladwell in 2021 to see how lockdown restrictions had impacted on his work and processes during and after his Anna Schwartz exhibition Homo Suburbienses. 

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SB: How is the Covid-19 pandemic and the attendant restrictions been treating you?

SG: Despite hurdles, this continues to be a highly productive period. I’ve also managed to see several inspiring projects by various artists between lockdowns such as Reko Rennie's video triptych, INITIATION OA_RR and Joanna Murray-Smith’s play, Berlin.  I’ve also explored many online platforms. The Melbourne International Film Festival’s Extended Reality program was largely unaffected by the pandemic. A significant achievement!

SB: Tell me about the last 18 months? You had a great show at Anna Schwartz Gallery that was in the middle of the second wave lockdown! I am glad I got to see it. Can you tell me about that experience?

SG: Parts of this exhibition were produced under restrictions, and this did present many new logistical challenges. It was also an opportunity to examine these conditions throughout the process. Inspiration was firstly taken from a history of filmmakers working within and against limitations. Panahi and Mirtahmasb’s This is Not a Film (2011) was made under house arrest and famously smuggled out of Iran in a cake. I also revisited the self-imposed restrictions of Lars von Trier’s Five Obstructions (2003).  

When contact with one other local family was permitted, I lived and worked with cinematographer Sky Davies and her husband Dan Mitton, a grips specialist. We planned ways to record everyday activity from the viewpoint of a pseudo-scientific documentary. Outdoor activities were translated into domestic interiors, often with absurd results. Remarkably, the exhibition was able to open for much of its run last year. The gallery adapted its programming to three-month exhibition periods thus allowing the space to be used as a movement laboratory of sorts. 

 + Homo Suburbiensis Shaun Gladwell, 2020. Video still. High Definition video (4K), colour, sound. 13 minutes 5 seconds.

SB: Has anything changed in your practice of making art, and showing the work? Have you made any changes to the way you work?

SG: Some aspects of my practice haven’t changed. Digital post-production has been decentralised for decades. Painting continues. Performance within public space has significantly shifted for me. The close spatial and temporal control of community movement is political subject matter. Several performances within Homo Suburbiensis1 involved profuse crying and sweating in public and this was literally framed by social distancing. It became necessary to scale abjection down to subtle modifications of the body. For example, running with a nasal dilator opens up the sinuses and works in direct opposition to a face mask. The nasal dilator could now be considered a risk. 

SB: Do you have any broad comments/observations about the impact of Covid on art and artists?

SG: Along with many others, I’m asking myself, how much of our cultural lives can be dematerialised?  Human presence and touch can be powerfully simulated and augmented in virtual space, but not replaced. Amara’s law suggests we tend to overestimate the short-term effects and underestimate long-term effects of technology. I’m now considering the current capabilities of online education through to expansive utopian schemes such as ‘the Metaverse’ with this idea in mind.

SB: Is there anything else that you have been thinking about during this period?

SG: The present is founded on the ancient! Greek philosopher Diogenes practiced cosmopolitanism without leaving his home 2,300 years ago. Diogenes’ abode was extremely cramped, yet his vision was unencumbered and global.

The skateboard continues to be an important measuring stick when assessing institutional power and individual freedom. This year has been significant for skateboarders, who can now represent their nations at the Olympics.  At this very same moment, the wellbeing of many Afghan skateboarders associated with Skateistan, an organisation in Kabul, is of great concern.


Notes

1. See, Discussion: Shaun Gladwell and Sean Lowry (Friday 16th April 2021), for further discussion of Shaun Gladwell’s exhibition ‘Homo Suburbiensis’ at Anna Schwartz Gallery, https://annaschwartzgallery.com/publication/discussion-shaun-gladwell-and-sean-lowry.

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