Gerry Wedd: The Opening WAVE
Gerry Wedd is a six-time state champion of South Australia. Won 'em all on the trot, though that was a while ago now. He's since been a gun for hire at Mambo, back when they were a more daring enterprise, collaborated in all manner of surf art, but is never more at peace than when he's sitting in his studio knuckles deep in supple clay.
Gerry's become "the village potter" at Port Elliot, surfing whenever his timetable or aching body allows. He's also just finished working on a film project, which is somewhat novel for a ceramicist. The film is called WAVE and has been described as "genre-defying", which can itself be defined as any artwork that's difficult to describe, even by the people who created it. But Gerry, despite being in the throes of illness, gives it a red hot go.
Swellnet: G’Day Gerry. How’ve you been?
Gerry Wedd: I wish I could say good, but I'm fucked.
What's going on?
I’ve just had an endless litany of weird injuries and then COVID got me and then I got injured again and now I’ve got a cold that is fucking nuts.
There's something to be said for getting it all over at once; just combining your ailments into one short time frame.
So for the next two years you'll be sitting pretty…hopefully.
Let's hope so.
Your new work is the first thing people see when they visit the Art Gallery of South Australia. I know very little about it, so can you describe it to me?
Last year a guy that I used to see in the surf all the time approached me. He's a film producer, he’s done all sorts of work, including working with [Indigenous musician] William Barton. They'd just done a VR project and he said, ‘You know, you do those drawings on your pots, you tell stories, do you want to be involved in developing something?’
I foolishly said yes and then began developing something that has not a lot to do with surfing.
So what is it?
It’s essentially your classic ecological nightmare. It's a story, eleven minutes long, shown on a surround screen. The story starts with the ancient world, and then it moves quite quickly through an area based upon where I grew up, a little coastal area, and then very quickly goes from [white European] arrival to development to fire and catastrophe. The closing part of it is just this hilarious kind of cartoon wave that looks more like some kind of weird rendered chop.
Is it a morality tale..?
You could look at it that way. It started out being much more didactic and having a lot of people in it, however it just got to the point where, I guess, the viewer is nature. It's nature kind of standing back, watching the environment and things happening very quickly.
A weird thing was the story…the way it changed and unfolded once we started working together.
Yeah, I want to ask you about that because you usually work with ceramics - static, not moving - yet this is something else entirely. How did you adapt to that?
I had to do a lot of drawings. Basically, I kept redrawing the cartoon of this very basic idea, but then trying to imagine it at the VR stage, so that you would be wearing a headset and you would be in the forest and things.
I found it really hard, particularly through the middle of the project because we were doing all these things. I'm the artist, so I was supplying them with all the images and then they would just send me back these short clips of how I imagine it might work, which was challenging, but I got the chance to do some very, very rough kind of animations and stuff, which I'd never done before. I really loved that part of it.
Are you the sort of person who likes to be taken out of your comfort zone?
No, no. I'm a two foot feet beachbreak kind of guy, in every way. But the way people see me, I'm operating out of their comfort zone. But no, actually I'm not risk averse, but this was certainly different to the way I usually work. All of a sudden I was dealing with a team and each of those people are visual artists in some way. That was the good thing about it because normally I'm in complete control of just about every aspect.
But it's funny, because years ago when I did work with Mambo, I quickly adapted to my work being completely changed.
You're OK with that...?
Yeah. The art department would say, ‘Yeah, this is fine, but we got to do this and we got to do that.’
The great thing was that, say for example when there's this kind of tsunami thing at the end [of the WAVE film]. I didn't do that. The guy who is the VR expert, we described to him how waves break, so he built this ocean and then built all the wave movements. We tried to get the wave to be somewhere between a film and a cartoon and a wood block print and all those things.
Yeah. When I look at the wave on the screen it's disorienting.
Well you picked it, because water in one part of the wave is moving the wrong direction, so the water's running down the face instead of pulling up from the trough. Both of us, the producer and I, we're both surfers and we thought it's weird, but it's also kind of great. For us, it's suggesting something that's a lot more out of control than what you're used to.
Okay. And now people can see this when they go in through the foyer of the art gallery?
Yeah, it's in the front room. I know lots of surfers have already been and some of them just for a selfie. You've got this kind of giant Hokusai wave behind you.
So they don't have to put on VR headgear?
No. This is called a 360 degree screen.
You are in the middle of the action, so that 180 degrees that you're looking at if you're facing forward, as that's changing, so is everything behind you.
It's never going to translate well to a flat monitor.
Not to a monitor. I found out a couple days ago, it's going to do an East Coast tour*. It'll be on a different kind of screen, which is like, I don't know what circumference or whatever, but it's quite a big screen.
What about real waves? Getting any..?
No, I've been. Fuck, pinched nerves, all kinds of shit. For years I've done rehab on a mat and now, at the moment that's 90% of what I do.
Sorry, when you say mat, do you mean a yoga mat..?
Oh, blow up mat. George Greenough.
Yeah, a Fifth Gear Flyer.
OK gotcha. So you're sort of using that more as a necessity to keep you in the water?
Yeah. It's really funny because friends say, ‘Why didn't you get a boogie board? You could do this and this and this’, but they haven't tried them out. There's a peculiar kind of glide that you get on a mat. Only every now and then. I haven't totally worked it out yet.
Do you ever take it out to Knights?
No, ha, then I really would have back injuries. I did that three summers ago and I got flipped three waves in a row. I didn't have the paddle power to kind of knife into it.
I tell you, one really good thing about the mat is it makes shit surf really good.
Because you're down lower to the water surface. Is that it?
A part of it. Also, part of it is your ego goes out the window, and so you're not looking for a wave with a wall to do whatever on, if you know what I mean. It's much more immediate when you take off, you're just dealing with what's right there.
Even if it’s not perfectly shaped?
Talking about ego. I do a lot of bodysurfing and that can be humbling because you’re not even considered part of the pecking order.
But I find a freedom in that; just do whatever you want. Catch any sort of wave, even closeouts
Yeah. The really funny thing is, in the shitty waves I surf down here, I still have very good knowledge of reading the surf. Even when I go out on the mat and it's quite crowded, I'm still getting most of the best waves.
It's weird, and I call people onto the waves!
"Please, please, take my waves."
And I thought, fuck, when I was younger, everyone wanted to drop in on me.
Maybe they feel sorry for me.
Perhaps. But you've earned your spot up at the top of the totem pole. On your blow up mat.
On my mat.
*The East Coast tour hasn't been confirmed yet. If it does we'll run the dates here on Swellnet.
Very intriguing Gerry. When's it running too in Adelaide? I'll be back for Chrissie.
Also I'd say some psilocybin could enhance the viewing experience further ;) Are those trees modelled off the mallee scrub?
Hey Craig its at the Art Gallery of SA on North Terrace until early in the new year
Yeah, they were based vaguely on scrub around Aldinga.
I remember seeing Gerry surfing on a Mccoy a bit. Good board for that coast and worked well for him
By the way the film maker/producer is Mark Patterson and a score was made for the work by Gabriella Smart. The Hi Tech side of things was done in collaboration with Jumpgate VR It was a very collaborative piece.
When I was a whipper snapper learning to surf at seaford Gerry was the man , My first surf craft was a finless blow up mat , we would as kids catch the train from blackwood to middleton and camp on the point , living on cans of rice cream and spam , geez that spam was revolting.
Lived here my whole life and didn't realize there was a train to Middleton. Thought it stopped at Seaford.
Well there you go , when I was a kid there was no train to seaford
The Cockle Train only runs between Victor and Goolwa (stopping off at Port Elliot and Middleton), however "the line north of Goolwa was extended through to Strathalbyn and eventually Adelaide, and by 1884 many Adelaideans would hop on board the train in Adelaide for the much loved day trip to Victor."
I don't think Gerry is quite that old though.
(side note: the Adelaide line closed in 1980).
I think groms caught the train occasionally for short stints. I know that Mick Higgins and Greg Webb did.
I was a regular on the Noarlunga line (from Seacliff) for many years. Three tickets - me, my board and my bike. Nothing better than the anticipation pulling out of Hallett Cove station to see if there were any lines at Dunnies!
You had to buy extra tickets for your gear?
Surfboard and a bike takes up a lotta room on the train.
Fortunately, I was always going against peak hour traffic so it was pretty easy to get on and off.
I remember when going against peak hour traffic meant having to go the old highway, as the new one was one-way only! Haha.
Same, on the old red trains, didn’t do the bike thing but walked from the colonnades station to Southport hung out all day walked back to the station etc etc. Absolutely buggered at the end of the day.
How old is Gerry now ? always used to get him and Greg Webb mixed up .
I'm 65 ,Noddy ( Greg Webb) is a couple of years older. Greg still makes boards as does his son Ben Webb. Always wanted to surf more like him.
Good link there malben , geez we used to get flogged bodysurfing boomer beach
If you surfed the mid in the 70's you know what a freak Gerry was, every time I started thinking I was getting pretty good he would paddle out and I'd quickly realize I was still a kook. He was so in tune and seemed to have a direct line to Huey and would swoop into every bomb set often staying prone until he reached the bottom and then springing up as he gouged into his massive bottom turn. No one in the world at the time could have surfed those waves any better imho. Noddy was a class act with a flawless vertical top to bottom backhand act, ahead of his time, but to me Gerry will always be S.A.'s GOAT despite the 2' beach break kid tag. I might drag myself into the big smoke tomorrow and check out his installation. Cheers.
Love your work Gerry
Nice work Gerry. Really love these immersive art exhibitions.
Hopefully it will still be on when I get over for Womadelaide 2023.
Went to the NGV Triennial early last year which was visually and aurally stunning.
We use to catch the train to Middleton from Seacliff as kids and camp in the gully during school holidays.
Still see Gerry in the water at times having fun and calling crew into waves. Don't stop until you really have to. Half the fun is just being out there.
Congratulations on the Art gallery film . I remember Mark ( Pixy ) riding a mate at seaford quite often 1970's with his dad on the long board . Pixy all ways said its closer to the waves dealing with as it happens . When we surf we are looking for the next spot to hit . Noddy would be my age 67 remember the River Mouth Left how for back in would he take off . Then Myponga stormy ? how far inside on the point can you push it . The road from Seaford to Moana was dirt track but the Round shop at the end of Moana had hot chips in winter run by a great bloke name Jim Gifford . Greg Frost had a style of his own side slipping and his board shapes . I think Mick and Noddy shaped and made boards at Frostys old farm house on the hill . Times changed the body wears down but in our sole we had and still have the waves and the ocean . Keep going in the water all of ya .
Hi Kym! Hope all's well.
Gerry i am just happy to be alive . We have survived, how lucky we are , The ocean clears my head, surfing keeps my body moving . and is sore after. Still makes me smile . Illness and injury slow us down but we keep positive thats why we are here . Spot on we should all share waves .
Late 70’s as a grommet I got in Gerry’s way as he was setting up a barrel at Ysteps, was expecting an earful but he kept his cool.
Lightning fast radical surfer
Ha, great to read the comments about catching the train to go surfing at the Mid, had some flash backs on that. Used to catch from Brighton and go to Halletts in a stormie or typically right through to the old Christies Beach station before Noarlunga Centre opened (back then there was even a Brighton South station). When it was busy the guards would let us put boards up in the overhead racks in the baggage carriage. We would then walk or hitch from CB or NC. They wouldn't let us on the bus with boards even though a lot of buses drove of empty, what a waste. Got some crazy lifts but the one I do remember was a bearded long haired guy in a panel van that asked if we had ever surfed at YP. He regaled us with a few stories of big waves and strongly recommend we get over there where the real surf was. Advice was taken once cars and licenses eventuated at 16, though two other mates did catch the bus to W and hitched to SB and then onto PB. At one stage they were in the back of a ute that had just moved a load of salmon and was still resplendent with blood and flies, not the thing for Southern Ocean surfing. A couple of other mates once caught the train to Middleton to stay in the caravan park there in the late 70s but were refused entry so ending up staying in the creek 2/3 of the way to the beach living on baked beans and creek water for a week. For reference there was also an old train line that ran inland down to Willunga that branched off a Hallett Cove going to Reynella, Morphett Vale, Hackham, Noarlunga, McLaren Vale and then Willunga. Closed before I was born but lots of sections now used for walking and cycling. Probably be quite handy now with all the population growth in those areas. Anyway, thanks for jogging the memories TB. I am heading up to Adelaide later in the week so will endeavour to get to the gallery.