Critical Analysis of ‘Pacific Undertow’

Shaun Gladwell is an Australian artist born in Sydney, New South Wales. His current residence is at Melbourne, Victoria, where he also works. Video performances form the bulk of his numerous works of art. Gladwell explores the relationship between people and landscapes through his videos created in natural and urban environments. He has attended numerous art exhibitions in Australia as well as several other countries across the globe, including Israel, France, and Switzerland. Although Gladwell works across a variety of media including photography, painting, installation, and choreography, he is famous for his video projects relation to bodies in motion. Examples of art projects done by Gladwell include the Pacific Undertow, Interceptor Surf Sequence, Portrait of Michael Dransfield, and Tangara. Gladwell’s works are of considerable significance to art lovers, enthusiasts, and other aspiring artists. Given this, the paper sets to analyze the Pacific Undertow by Shaun Gladwell.

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The Pacific Undertow is an artistic masterpiece survey exhibition by the Museum of Contemporary Art. It is one of the largest art exhibitions in Australia, borrowing its name from Gladwell’s 2010-film piece titled Pacific Undertow Sequence (Bondi). The Pacific Undertow will be showcased from the 19th July through 7th October 2019. From Gladwell’s early paintings and the famous Storm Sequence video made in the year 2000 to his modern works of augmented and virtual reality, the art exhibition will feature the artist’s pieces of art spanning two decades. The Pacific Undertow traces the artist’s obsessions with art and colonial histories, mortality, and everyday urban performance forms by bringing together the different forms of media. The video resonates with a heft of gravity, motion, and a sense of elemental forces, which are the essential principles that guide the works by Gladwell.

Gladwell explores the technological possibilities of the in the 21st century given his use of augmented and virtual reality. Virtual reality is about replacing the real-world environment with a simulated one while augmented reality is an interactive experience where objects in the real world get enhanced by perceptual computer-generated information. These two types of technology are fascinating, and even though the artist may be passing a minimal amount of information, viewers would still love his work. Through the technological experience, the audience gets immersed in the imaginary world. Moreover, viewers get to learn and appreciate the artist’s interest in the history of art, and his excitement about the power of natural forces. The people also get to learn about the artist’s ambition to capture the human body’s potential in responding to and performing in a particular environment.

John Macdonald holds a contrasting opinion regarding Shaun Gladwell’s art exhibition. He is not impressed with Gladwell’s work because he believes that Gladwell has less convincing creative engagement with ideas. Mcdonald begins by the question of why people would get amazed by slow-motion videos of a BMX bike, a person riding a skateboard, or on a train. He goes on to suggest that a skateboarder would not be thrilled by watching a video of a person skating along, but would be more than thrilled to get the opportunity to ride on a skating board. Although McDonald is entitled to his opinion, it is right to say that Gladwell’s works are creative and entertaining. The author’s numerous works of art that have been showcased both locally in Australia and internationally spanning twenty years in time are of great significance and should not be brushed off easily.

Mcdonald believes that the innovative collector’s, curators, and academicians are responsible for the unnecessary hype around Gladwell’s works. Additionally, a falsely held assumption that anything widely praised is cool can be used to explain why Gladwell’s works became so popular. Even though Gladwell has read a few books, people would regard him as a philosopher. He has a great interest in the sublime, but having the interest alone does not mean that he would create masterpiece after masterpiece. McDonald’s review on the Pacific Undertow represents the disparity between how writers, curators, and academicians view Gladwell’s art spanning across two decades. McDonald appears harsh and having numerous reservations all through. Denise Thwaite also criticized the artist’s work by claiming that viewers have witnessed the adrenaline rush for a long time, but they have not quite tasted it in his work. Users feel obliged to watch the series of events unfolding through Gladwell’s videos; however, a real narrative does not exist. Mostly, users may be watching activities that provide an adrenaline rush to the participants, but a dull experience for the viewers.

Thwaite believes that the pleasure principle guides Gladwell along the course of his creative explorations. He would want to learn a new technological technique while aiming to subvert it in the end. This is particularly true because his creative life revolves around bending or twisting the standard rules of technological engagement. The pleasure principle also makes him come up with projects that involve exploring motion in bodies. The artist’s positive engagement with the audience and the society results from his consistency in his approach on pleasure and media. The production and exhibition quality of Gladwell’s works is of exceptional standards. The Storm Sequence 2000 video says it all given the elaborate view of the water droplets spattering on the camera as he was using a skateboard on a rainy beach.

The paper describes Shaun Gladwell’s pieces of art that span over a two-decade period. The name given to this massive exhibition of Gladwell’s works is the Pacific Undertow, that is open to art lovers and enthusiasts until 7th October 2019. Through his numerous works of art, Gladwell has successfully explored the technological possibilities through his use of augmented as well as virtual reality. Viewers get immersed in the imaginary world and get to learn and appreciate the artist’s interest in the history of art, and his excitement about the power of natural forces. A divergent opinion regarding the artist’s work is that participants get an adrenaline rush, whereas the viewers get a dull experience. Particular sections of writers also feel that the artist engages with ideas in a less creative manner.



French, Blair. “Shaun Gladwell.” Australia’s Home for Contemporary Art | MCA Australia. Last modified 2019.

Magnusson, Tony. “Shaun Gladwell: Pacific Undertow.” The Saturday Paper (Carlton, Victoria), July 27, 2019, 1-4.

MCA. “Shaun Gladwell: Pacific Undertow.” Last modified 2019.

McDonald, John. “Shaun Gladwell: Pacific Undertow.” John McDonald. Last modified July 26, 2019.

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