Sebastian Goldspink catches up with celebrated London-based Australian artist Shaun Gladwell for RAVEN as he returns to our shores for two new projects in Sydney. In early March he will launch with two concurrent exhibitions presented by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF). Shaun Gladwell: A project across two sites sees the artist deliver a major new commission, The Lacrima Chair, as well as a selection of previous works curated by heavyweight Paris-based curators Barbara Polla and Paul Ardenne to be held at Galleries UNSW entitled Collection+: Shaun Gladwell.
To start us off, can you describe how these two major Sydney shows came about?
The exhibition [at Galleries UNSW] is about one particular work that is in Gene Sherman’s collection. The curators Barbara Polla and Paul Ardenne will set up a conversation between this work and a few others that they will go and scout out for the show. It’s also about the new work that will be shown at SCAF. The reason it’s coming about I guess is due to Gene’s generosity. She wanted to see what would happen if you had one artist involved in two of her programs at the same time, and Collection+ always operates in this format. There’s always a curator and one of Gene’s works from her collection that is in conversation with other works from the artist from other collections.
So it’s a starting point for a larger conversation?
Yeah and the reason it’s being curated by two French curators is that Gene has an interest in that part of the world and saw that I was working there, so thought that would be a good place to start. So the idea was based on this connection I had to France, rather than the well-trodden colonial Australia-UK connection. So it’s been a great, challenging, left of field project for me.
Was it interesting to you as an artist to be bridging time in a way, having works from your past juxtaposed with work of the moment?
Yeah, but I don’t think it will be me looking back going ‘wow what amazing consistency and integrity’ but more like ‘what a fragmented story that is’! It’s maybe a bit like This Is Your Life but it’s not a retrospective. It’s a few conversations from my past but it’s not the whole story.
The Collection+ exhibition is almost like a re-mix of your work, a way of looking at your work not in a historical sense but a way of juxtaposing it in a new form derived from the curators’ vision. Could you talk a bit about this?
It happens whenever an individual work is pulled out and re-shown, but I think that when you make work for a show it’s always in conversation with your previous work. I do like the idea that I’ve handed my tracks over to some other DJ and they’re going to remix and generate a new sound or meaning. Also it’s not just about the relationship of old works to new works. The works themselves will actually be transformed: some works will be inverted when I never intended them to be inverted. They will be manipulated. I don’t see it as an incursion though; it’s just a way of bringing about a different meaning.
Being based in the UK and coming back here must bring up a lot about the Australian context, and it appears to be something that’s still present in your work.
In a way I feel like I still make a lot of my work here, in Australia. I don’t think I’ve ever left psychologically. With the distance and a bit of time I start to not romanticise my time here but to look at it in a different way. Also going back to a venue like Galleries UNSW, I remember that space before and having a space above that when I was a student. There are already these layers of experience there, which is great.
I wanted to ask about working with two curators based in France. Do you notice different readings of your work from different cultural perspectives?
They come from a different cultural space but I really feel we are all starting to share the same issues now. My interest in, say, bringing sport into an art historical perspective, with a question like how does skateboarding relate to a romantic landscape? They get it and they come to it with their own understanding.
Can you talk about the new work The Lacrima Chair and what it’s exploring?
In a way it’s actually about my relationship to France. When I went to art school at Sydney College of the Arts it was right at the end of Australia’s love affair with postmodern theory and I was reading these translated theory texts by French authors that were often translated by Australians. I was reading these texts thinking that that was some kind of line back to France. So that’s part of the work but I’m also interested in Australian figures like Nancy Bird-Walton, this famous Australian aviator who I’m obsessed with. So the work combines Australian and European history.
Shaun Gladwell: The Lacrima Chair, 6 March – 25 April 2015 at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, 16 – 20 Goodhope Street, Paddington, Wed to Sat 11am-5pm; (02) 9331 1112, sherman-scaf.org.au
Collection +: Shaun Gladwell, 6 March – 25 April 2015, SCAF Project 25, presented at UNSW Galleries, Corner Oxford Street & Greens Road, Paddington, Tues to Sat 10am-5pm; (02) 89360888, artdesign.unsw.edu.au/unsw-galleries