Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exhibition Opening Night : Making Waves, Metonymy: look both ways, Precious

Gerry Wedd Opened Friday Night's Exhibition to great applause, read his insightful speech below!

At exhibition of functional craft at JamFactory!
A concept- free zone! This is a real craft show full of craft of the ocean-going variety, but it’s also crafty. These are shiny objects of Cargo cult proportions. Perhaps Peter is using a different kind of craft in a bid to bring waves up the gulf and into Morphett street.

To help Peter along here is a Hawaiian chant to bring on the swell

Kumai !Kumai ! Ka nalu nui
mai Kahiki mai,
Alo po’i pu! Ku mai ka pohuehue,
Hu !Kai ko’o loa

 I come to this show as a surfer, of course I’m  impressed by the craft .They are lovingly and meticulously made, but all I’m really interested in  is how they perform. Where would I ride them,what do they feel like??

Surfboards are the example non pareil (parelle) of  archct Louis Sullivans dictum - Form follows function. Each curve, each edge, the width, the thickness, the weight, every aspect is considered with a view to it’s relationship with, and performance on an ever-morphing wall of water. There is no frippery in these forms. After spending countless hours of construction Peter has bravely handed over these beautiful abstract forms for others to leave their mark on : that is to ornament them.

What we have here is clash of sensibilities.

As that great taste-maker Adolf Loos pointed out in his essay ornament and crime "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects" Loos introduced a sense of the "immorality" of ornament, said it was "degenerate", and that its suppression was necessary for regulating modern society. He took as one of his examples the tatooing of the "Papuan" and the intense surface decorations of the objects about him; Loos considers the Papuan not to have evolved to the moral and civilized circumstances of modern man, who, should he tatoo himself, would either be considered a criminal or a degenerate.

Of course surfboard making pre-dates Loos who was in his own way a design Calvinist,
Now…Australia has an interesting link with one of the earliest descriptions of surfing and surfcraft, Ship’s log, 1780, Captain King in the service of Captain Cook.

Whenever, from stormy weather, or any extraordinary swell at sea, the impetuosity of the surf is increased to its utmost heights, they choose that time for this amusement: twenty or thirty of the natives, taking each a long narrow board, rounded at the ends, set out together from the shore. As the surf consists of a number of waves, of which every third is remarked to be always much larger than the others, and to flow higher on the shore, the rest breaking in the intermediate space, their first object is to place themselves on the summit of the largest surge, by which they are driven along with amazing rapidity toward the shore. Captain King-Cooks voyages.

When Cook arrived in Hawai'i, surfing was the main deal. Beaches had been named after legendary surfing incidents. There were the kahuna (a kind of surf priest ) who intoned chants to christen new surfboards, to bring the surf up and to give courage. Hawaiians had no written language until the haole (white-skinned people) arrived, their history was oral, remembered and retold in songs and chants.

Hawai'i was ruled by a code of kapu (taboos). Kapu regulated almost everything from where to eat; how to grow food; how to predict weather; how to build a canoe; how to build a surfboard; how to predict when the surf would be good, or convince the Gods to make it good .A hierarchical system denoted who could ride which board. Commoners rode small paipo boards on their knees and stand up alaia boards as long as 12 feet.  Royalty rode waves on olo boards that were as long as 24 feet.The boards were hacked out of local timbersand laboriously shaped and finished with abrasive stones. Although the Hawaiians patterned their bodies and textiles, their boards seem to be largely un adorned.

After contact with stern Calvinist missionaries  Hawai'i was changed forever from the Eden which Cook had encountered. The missionaries drove surfing out along with any other lascivious activities. As the kapu system crumbled under Christianity, so did surfing's ritual significance within Hawaiian culture.

The Hawaiians weren’t the first surfers we know of but they were the ones that developed it into a cult. In the 1900’s surfing and surfboards began to spread afield and developments in design came thick and fast. The boards surrounding us in the gallery embrace those developments: from Tom Blake vegetarian,naturist,1920’s tore the rudder from a speedboat
and attached it to the bottom of a surfboard .
to Bob Simmons-1940’s who  studied hydrodynamics in an
effort to go faster than anyone else

In the 1960’s surfers were quick to embrace the counter culture and all it promised. For a brief time in the summer of love surfers embraced the idea of surfing as an artform and a life philosophy.
Counter cultural Guru and Acid head Timothy Leary saw surfing as a way of reaching an all-knowing Zen like state. And I quote…
“I want to have film of a surfer, moving along constantly right at the edge of the tube. That position is the metaphor of life to me. , the highly conscious life. That you think of the tube as being the past, and I’m an evolutionary agent, and what I try to do is be at that point where you’re going in to the future but you have to keep in touch with the past…that’s where you get the power… and sure you’re more helpless, but you also have the most control at that moment. And using the past … the past is pushing you forward isn’t it?”

Leary’s quote is apt with regard to Peters boards if not his whole practise.
These surfboards, like much craft are on the cusp, being propelled forwards into the future by the past. Now go and do some mind surfing of your own.