Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Australian art

Contemporary art

View More:


Double balancing act



Shaun Gladwell


1972 -


'Double balancing act' 2009-10 is one of two videos that Gladwell has made subsequent to his sojourn as an official war artist in Afghanistan. Based at Tarin Kout in Oruzgan province, Gladwell was embedded with Australian troops for 3 weeks in October 2009. Living with soldiers at the military base, Gladwell accompanied patrols, visited local communities and the field hospital and participated in the daily routines of the Reconstruction Taskforce. Apart from experiencing the reality of daily life for the soldiers participating in 'Operation Slipper', Gladwell was overwhelmed by the local landscape which he has described in interviews as unexpectedly "vast and enormous and grand".

The experience of war for the majority of Australians is through global media: 24 hour news broadcast into our lounges, streamed online footage and news photographs of defining moments. In previous works Gladwell has deliberately worked against the fast jump edits and image montages that he has referred to as 'MTV logic' through deliberately slowing footage, concentrating on a singular subject and having an open ended narrative if at all. He continues these methodologies in his Afghanistan works, but also avoids the conclusive moment, battle scenes and human interest stories of war reportage.

'Double balancing act' presents two performers, each on their own screen. One is a soldier who repeatedly balances his gun on his open palm while standing on the sand dunes of the Afghani desert. The other performer is a man on the urban graffitied streets of New York who attempts a range of balancing acts on his crutches. The soldier in camouflage uniform in the desert is in a sense disarmed as his gun becomes a prop to balance rather than a weapon of war; it also suggests something of the futility and boredom between operations in Afghanistan, of life suspended so far away from home. Inevitably viewing the man on crutches in the urban camouflage of New York suggests life after war and the reality of physical injury that can occur in combat zones and the fact that Australian troops have experienced their greatest loss of life since Vietnam while stationed in Afghanistan. While this balancing act requires some skill, there is also a sense of futility to it.




Media category

Time-based art

Materials used

dual channel digital video, colour, silent




duration: 00:07:32 min channel 1, 00:04:04 min channel 2, aspect ratio: 16:9

Signature & date

Signed l.c. certificate of authenticity, black fibre-tipped pen "Shaun Gladwell". Not dated.


Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2011


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Shaun Gladwell

Works in the collection



Where the work was made
New York

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Art Basel (Editor), Art/41/Basel: 16-20/6/10: the art show, ‘Art galleries, art edition, art feature, art statements’, pg. 58-665, Ostfildern, 2010, 558, 559 (colour illus., video still). Another edition exhibited in Art 41 Basel, Art Galleries Exhibition Sector - Anna Schwartz Gallery, 16.06.2010-16-20.06.2010.

Natasha Bullock and Alexie Glass, Parallel collisions: 2012 Adelaide Biennial of Australian art, 'The artist's works', pg. 9-140, Adelaide, 2012, 66-67 (colour illus., video still), 312, 313 (illus., video still).

Rex Butler., Shaun Gladwell: stereo sequences, ‘The video conceit’, Melbourne, 2011, (colour illus., video still). not paginated

Stephen Hepworth, Shaun Gladwell: perpetual 360° sessions, 'Preface', pg. 5-13, Heerlen, 2011, 12, 92 (colour illus., video still), 93 (colour illus., video still).

Anneke Jaspers, Look, 'Shaun Gladwell', pg. 13, Sydney, Sep 2012, 13.

Lily Wei, ARTnews, 'In harm's way', pg. 42-49, Manhattan, Apr 2015, front cover (colour illus., video still), 46 (colour illus., video still).