Call it zen if you like: Australian artist Shaun Gladwell’s video, A Study in Stillness and Balance, is all about complete absorption in thought. A single feat of endurance and strength, Gladwell’s work makes the impossible look easy as he balances himself on an off-road mountain bike minutes at a time—a telltale sign of his past as a pro skater and BMX rider.
The 11-minute video shows the artist set in three urban locations around Campbelltown, Australia: a carwash, an outdoor staircase, and in front of a convenience store. Not a soul can be seen wandering the streets, and the soundtrack is taken up by the continuous chirp of crickets. We watch for minutes at a time while Gladwell holds the handlebars taut—his entire body barely moves as the bike shifts slightly back and forth. At the end of each scene, he rides off, and the video cuts to the next location, where Gladwell begins the trial again. Toward the end of the video, we finally see a car pass by—perhaps a sign of the return to urban normality.
Gladwell considers his videos “performance landscapes;” he is at once a part of the environment and also performing against what is expected of him within it. Each camera angle in the video, with Gladwell placed at center, resembles a still photograph—a testament to his highly controlled movements. This paradox of making a machine intended for movement entirely still is is a nod to Eastern philosophy, and a visual joke about the state of sociopolitical progress in the modern world.