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.