The New Art of War - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The New Art of War

The New Art of War

By Anne Miller

SourceShaun Gladwell


The novels, the music, the paintings and the art that help us consider, learn, digest and understand what our wartime experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan really mean are only just beginning to emerge. 

By Anne Miller

Side by side, the two men move.

A desert soldier balances a gun on his hand. On the split screen beside him, another man on crutches sways back and forth — almost as if in a slow dance — in light and shadows, against a wall painted with graffiti.

The art of our most modern wars is now appearing in exhibitions and galleries the world over. For decades, the Australian War Memorial, a government agency tasked with assisting “Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society” has been sending artists — painters, photographers, printers, sculptors — abroad to document the frontlines. In 2009 it sent its first video artist, Shaun Gladwell, to bases at home and to Afghanistan to capture scenes of conflict from a cinematic viewpoint. 

These aren’t violent tales of a postapocalyptic antipode. They are instead surprisingly meditative.

A gallery in Perth is showing Gladwell’s work through mid-September, and he’s shared an exclusive clip with OZY, offering a glimpse of his ruminative wartime vision.

Gladwell, 41, may not have seemed like the obvious choice. He’s a skateboarder and BMX rider, and features both in his work. He has crafted slow-mo videos of himself balancing on a bike in urban settings; created pyramid-like sculptures with an eye toward the skateboarders who could use them for tricks; and snapped foggy photos along the shoreline that hint at the raw beauty of the monochromatic.

The Sydney native has a handful of Australian art degrees, a list of national grants and has won, or been short-listed for, serious national prizes including the $50,000 Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award and the $20,000 2014 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award.

“His work articulates a relationship between the performer’s body and its immediate environment through slowed motion,” according to the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art. Others have called him Australia’s pre-eminent video artist.

Gladwell’s responses to OZY’s questions were short, but he shared a virtual flood of his work, giving the impression of a man who prefers that his work speak for him. 

His wartime work, from a handful of military bases, includes desert references to the dystopian ’80s Mad Max films of the Australian outback. But these aren’t violent tales of a postapocalyptic antipode. They are instead surprisingly meditative. See for yourself.


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