After Richard Wilson’s take on The Italian Job and its coach hanging off the roof, and before that a collection of casts of Anthony Gormley’s body in Critical Mass, Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion’s programmers needed to up their creative thinking for its latest installation.
So curator David Rhodes contacted Australian artist Shaun Gladwell, who he first came across at the Venice Biennale in 2009.
Gladwell was representing Australia at the prestigious exhibition two years after showing his extreme sports video Storm Sequence in the biennale’s international tent.
Over lunch in the bright upstairs cafe, wind howling outside and waves lashing the coast, Rhodes explains the De La Warr likes to work in ways that engage artists with the building’s ethos; that it is not a space with integrated galleries but a complete canvas.
“Storm Sequence is of Shaun skateboarding on a quay on Bondi Beach in a storm and that really interested us.
“Bexhill is by the sea and is renowned for its BMX and skate community, so there was this immediate affinity with what Shaun was doing. That’s where it started.”
Gladwell is hot property right now. This will be his biggest UK show since making London his home two years ago, and later in the year he will have work feature in the Royal Academy of Arts’ autumn Australia show.
“It’s great to have a solo exhibition that is dealing with the entire museum,” Gladwell explains, dressed all in black and with a beanie hat pulled down to his eyebrows.
“That’s a real thrill. It’s such a great space. I love the environment and landscape,” he adds, perhaps eyeing up the space between the pavilion and sea already popular with Bexhill’s many skaters and riders.
The five-month show is the longest in the gallery’s history. To keep it fresh, “to embrace flux and transformation”, Gladwell will update the show with new videos and by exchanging work.
Right now, the centrepiece is on the roof. Mini Ramp Intersection (2013) is a BMX and skate ramp doubling up as art and a space for extreme sports enthusiasts.
Gladwell has tested it out but the gusting wind and late lunch prevents the man repeating the sort of tricks he pulled in Storm Sequence (2000).
Instead there is the video he made a few weeks earlier with Welsh BMXer Mattie Hemmings, BMX Channel.
“There is something beautiful in what the rider is doing. It looks more like a dance that could be choreographed and it is such an incredible thing that I hope, if anything, people will look at it in a different way.
“It really is like a strange ritual or a dance by the sea.”
Conflict is a key theme in Cycles Of Radical Will. And the ramp sculpture (surrounded by a safety cage) raises questions about who controls space.
Landings cross each other and force its users into opposition. It draws attention to the battle the athletes do with gravity and makes us see how conflict creates innovation.
There are bicycles and motorcycles and scooters in the show. Triumph Daytona 675 Intersection (2013) is a racing bike crashed into a partition wall in the pavilion’s foyer.
“I like the idea of conflict in these groups. Traditional methods of conflict, political or military, such as the Battle of Hastings, and then Mods versus Rockers and BMX riders versus skateboarders. But at a certain point I am talking about a conflict of style and that conflict becomes creative.
“It is not necessarily a negative conflict. The opposition means these two groups have to define themselves. You can’t just condemn conflict as a negative scenario. Even groups in conflict eventually drop their guard.”
He is also interested in landscape art, mythology and cinema, especially George Miller’s Mad Max. Another video, Jack In The Green (Lambretta-AGS 195 to Triumph-GV12 MXD), makes wide connections.
“I love this idea that Jack In The Green is this ritual in Hastings and there is this incredible pagan history.
“I went to the last bank holiday weekend in Hastings. I loved that there were these two groups. You had Morris dancers and bike enthusiasts, but one bike rider in a Jack In The Green outfit. He stood out. He was connecting the two codes. He was a bit of a rebel. He had a helmet under the suit and inspired this video.”
He admits there are as many coded and obscure references as there are opportunities for play.
“The artwork can only ever offer these subjective poetic interpretations of things. There is no aim or effect in my work. But there is definitely a lot of fun.”
Cycles Of Radical Will is at the De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill, until Sunday, July 23. The exhibition is open Monday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, free, call 01424 229111