Shaun Gladwell’s project references a historic event that took place one hundred years ago, connecting Israeli history to the history of Australia: The Battle of Beersheba of 31 October 1917, in which the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse Brigades, fighting with the Allied Forces, defeated the forces of the Ottoman Empire. The outcome of this battle – the British rule of Palestine – was to affect political reality of the region for years to come. It is also considered the last important battle to actively involve mounted infantry.
Shaun Gladwell’s works focus not on the battle but on its less central protagonists – the horses. Gladwell has had a longstanding interest in the horse as a historical and cultural image and in the ways by which it is connected to myths of war, heroism and masculinity. An early performance and video work of his was inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Riding with Death (1988), in which the horse and its rider are depicted as skeletons. He has also engaged in a variety of modern horse substitutes, such as the skateboard, bicycle and motorbike, and the risk of death involved in riding them.
The works on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art are based on photographs taken in Australia and at the Negev Desert in Israel, featuring the horse’s life-cycle from birth to old age. Like the horses that took part in the Battle of Beersheba a century years ago, brought over from Australia with the soldiers after they had been trained in the Australian desert for the climate conditions prevailing in Asia and Africa, the protagonist of Gladwell’s works is a Waler horse, albeit one born in the Negev Desert. It is depicted alongside and within the monuments erected in its memory. The photographs will be screened as videos and through virtual-reality glasses. In addition, the exhibition features a 3-D print of a Roman horse-and-rider sculpture, both somewhat damaged. Shifting one’s perspective from man to horse provokes thought about wider issues such as man’s relationship with nature, which runs the gamut from exploitation and domestication to empathy and admiration.