Streetwork by Shaun Gladwell and Craig Walsh

delightful imagery, street culture meets art gallery culture

Shaun Gladwell

The gallery is dimly lit for the video works, and rather atmospheric. The space is shared between 2 artists, displaying 6 projections, 3 framed photographs, and a scaled model of a lit warehouse. The space seems to be over-powered by the left of the gallery, because of the size of the projections and the movement they have.

The title of the exhibition Streetwork may mean different things to different people. To a missionary or charitable organisation, it means helping the homeless, living on the streets. To a skateboarder, it may mean a grand day out, skirting round benches and ‘carving’ railings or steps. Here, the title is possibly the mutation of the term “artwork”, or “work of art”. on the left of the gallery on entering, Shaun Gladwell has taken to the streets, absorbing street cultures of skateboarding, break-dancing, the act of street-looking, bringing them into the context of art. The juxtaposition of these different cultures (and graffiti is not mentioned here) actually raises issues of assimilated activities, in a different cultural context – be it black American break dancing in Japan by a Japanese (seen in Shaun Gladwell’s work), or Ninjitsu or Capoeira in Singapore by Singaporeans. It’s almost as strange as Imogen Kimmel’s Secret Society (2000) featuring a secret society of female sumo wrestlers, breaking traditions and rules of Japanese Sumo.

Exploring “everyday life as exceptional and at times strange …”, the works are suppose to “cross national boundaries and culture. Their audiences are provided with a sense of being connected to a larger global picture where the mundane can be exceptional”. In the curatorial text, the Sublime is mentioned too.

While not all the works reach the stage of being about the Sublime, or transcendental for those watching the digital videos, Shaun Gladwell’s storm sequence comes close, almost like a skateboarding version of Casper Friedrich’s Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (1818), in digital video. The stormy sea as backdrop serves to contrast the feat of the skateboarder (hoorah) and the danger of nature in anger. The person is immediately put in it’s own place, insignificant in scale to nature. In the slow motions of the videos, or ‘extended moments’, the viewer is also given additional space and time to ponder about challenged public-private spaces. Are the skaters in their own world? Are we not in our own world too, metaphorically speaking?

untitled (Yokohama)
To appreciate these works, consider the idea of Youth culture taking on athletic beauty and aesthetic movement in space. In Yokohama linework (2005), we see a downward projection of the feet of a skateboarder following a broken white line, presumably on the streets of Yokohama. The work reminded me of Richard Long‘s long walks, art made by walking in landscapes. Both seem to explore notions of ‘a physical line’, how it constructs our understanding of distance, time (by the time you have finished walking a line, time has elapsed) or ideas of ‘separation’/’divide’. There is also a performative aspect, which the Situationists would have been proud of.

Calligraphy and Slow Burn

To the right of the gallery, the projections are more static, seeing people pass what seems to be the industrial roller door of a warehouse. The work by Craig Walsh is more interactive and cleverly deceptive. Hidden in the model, are two surveillance cameras connected to a projector, by peering into the lit space of the model warehouse, your act is projected on one of the screens. Presumably, that was how the strange projected video documentation of people peering was recorded. The roller doors we see on the projection, are actually the roller doors of the scaled model, seen from the inside.

The work related to architectural spaces, non-spaces, public and private domains. By shrinking space into a scaled model, it allows the viewer to step back and re-consider our relationship to public spaces. The scale humbles the single person. Non-spaces are interesting phenomenons, neutral and almost universal. You could say they are like the airport lounges of many countries, transit spaces where it would take a while to guess it’s real physical location. The warehouse is one example of such non-spaces, sometimes showing art. The private and public domains are often crossed and explored by artists through the use of surveillance cameras, recording private actions and re-projecting them into a public area. The public and private boundaries are blurred when public spaces are used for rehearsals for dances, hip hop, BMX stuns or public displays of affection. The viewer is entrusted the role of a voyeur, while being looked on by others.

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The exhibition is well suited to explore a smooth blend street culture and the quiet contemplative mode of the gallery. If artists make works in reaction to society, looking at art in like looking into a lens at our surroundings – it either enlarges, reduces or distorts. These very different works by the two artists have created visual intrigues, magnified interpretations of public domains that are well sustained and explored.

8.0 of 10 stars

till June 18, Substation Gallery

(photos with the kind permission of the Substation Gallery)

Streetwork
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