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 Semaphore is a newsletter and publishing project about art fromWestern Australia | Semaphore is a collaborative project and practice | Semphore enters into a dialogue with art from its rooted location of Boorloo on Noongar Country |


At The Beach

13 March 2020
A response to Surf Report and Saturday Slow Down by Melissa McGrath

Pig Melon

I haven’t been to the beach this summer.

When viewed in the context of my life, that’s not really an extraordinary situation. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I have gone to the beach since moving to Perth from Busselton in the late Nineties. We lived a brief walk from the beach, on the Dunsborough side of the drain. As many summer afternoons as winter evenings were spent traipsing along the sand, throwing my body into the water, feet sinking into tracts of seaweed, dodging stingers and wiping dried salt off my face.
This summer, a photo of a hand written phone number sent via text by a friend conjured these memories of being at the beach. We were discussing their week of Perth summer away from the red smoke of the East, as we had a drink at the airport bar. Chatting in the shadow of their impending boarding call we dialled the phone number, waiting for it to ring out and the answering machine to kick-in. The Surf Report that day captured the muffled voices of Ellen Broadhurst and Tom Rogers, who casually recounted the conditions at North Fremantle beach. A short walk from their share house, the beach that day was pretty quiet. The winds were strong and the threat of unpleasantness had kept the crowds away despite the heat. They laughed at something overheard at the beach as the muffle of awkwardness or outdated technology ate a fair amount of their words.
At the conclusion of the missive, my friend swiftly hung up to avoid our own conversation being recorded—something that felt odd given I had called to listen not to speak. The machine is apparently rigged up to the phone line in their kitchen, taped to the side of the fridge with gaff. It plays the pre-recorded message out loud to the house any time someone calls in for the report. Like a read receipt on a text, they know when someone calls just to listen.

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^^^ photos by Melissa McGrath

I have rung in a few times since this first, early-January call. Surf Report has featured a rotating cast of correspondents, as the housemates share responsibilities and visiting friends cameo from time to time, to reflect on the metrological and social conditions at the beach that day. Invariably my calls to Surf Report were by way of explaining it to someone—my co-worker, my co-editor, my mum—always relational. I think to Kate Bosworth’s character in the 2002 film Blue Crush who in the opening scene wakes to a muggy, Hawaiian dawn, strides across her beach shack, ear to a cordless landline phone awaiting the programmed weather report to provide the official outlook on conditions that morning. Intuitively she places a second call perched in the tall curved trunk of a palm tree looking out to the surf. This one to a mate—who is ensconced in a sleeping bag on the beach—to confirm the conditions. There is a specificity in the communication, a locality to the information and importantly human bodies on the line. It makes this personal translation more appealing than some official communique. I might not catch the knots of the wind or tide times, but for 45 seconds I feel amongst it, sand between my toes, about to grab a cool one from the fridge.
Saturday Slow Down picks up the receiver to answer this relational conversation—in-land, and inner-city—at Pig Melon; an artist run initiative which occupies a shopfront tucked between the east-bound train lines, the Polly Pipe and HBF Park (née Perth Oval). This series of Saturday evening events melds structured exhibition with one-night-only performance event. The flexi first edition curated by Clare Gregory sought to “show the pretty mad talent around here and how easy it is to get a bunch of people together.” This talent included Leonie Brialey (VIC), Ellen Broadhurst and Tom Rogers, with local raconteur Tristan Fidler overseeing artist talks.

Catching the show as it stayed open the following week, I see that the beach theme prevailed like a southwesterly with Ellen Broadhurst exhibiting one of her granite gravestones from the 2019 Sculptures by the Sea series (I Wish I Was) Dead & Surfing. The object which must exceed a tonne, sat upon a delicate mound of crisp white salt, and is etched with the line “I’m hoping for a Seachange”. Nineties beach shack nostalgia, Sigrid Thornton and rashies flash back to me with a melancholy embodied by the wilting petals of Leonie Brialey’s flower arrangement in hand-built stoneware vessels which rest at the base of the gravestone. This modern-day vanitas speaks—with tongue firmly planted in cheek—to an ephemerality of time that is ubiquitously felt in this current economic paradigm.

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^^^ courtesy of the artists

This one is for the lidders by Tom Rogers stars Ellen and Tom as themselves, surveying the beach at Margaret River with banter too-ing and fro-ing between them. Hierarchies spark and settle, and mansplaining runs abound. I think to films such as Margaret Dodd’s This Woman is Not a Car (1982), Physical (2018) by E.O. Gill and the superimposition of faces onto stunt people in the surf scenes of Blue Crush to inform the slowly-revealed narrative, colloquial language and splicing of content in this work. I watch it again, trying to catch and decode the jokes. Past the Taj Burrows quips, and the absurdity of applying infinite layers of blue zinc, the language mostly passes me by. Despite not being able to access each in-joke or anchor much to a familiar context, I feel towed along by the point of this work: posturing is bloody dumb.
Leonie Brailey’s series of ceramic works New shapes for old feelings or vice versa filter through from the gravestone to the second gallery space. They are adorned with sentimental illustrations in inky indigo glaze, and titled: ‘Don’t forget to smell the roses vase’, ‘Ocean water bong’, ‘Bowl for salty dog tears’ ‘Forever reaching for infinity goblet’ and ‘Sad guy ashtray’. Accompanied by a series of comic prints that illustrate moments of reflection. In one, characters converse: “What should I do?” “Well, you just need to push the boat out… saddle up and paddle out.” These gentle pictorial aphorisms are not reflections that have crystallised alone.
Because really, it’s not the waves or the sand or the tan that makes the beach. It’s the mates.

You can listen to the Surf Report by calling Ellen and Tom’s home phone number.

Saturday Slowdown
Pig Melon
Curated by Clare Gregory
Featuring Leonie Brailey, Ellen Broadhurst, Tom Rogers.
February 22 - 26, 2020.

Image credits (from top): 1 - Ellen Boradhurst, (I Wish I Was) Dead & Surfing, 2019, emerald pearl granite & salt. 2, 3, 4 - Leonie Brailey, New shapes for old feelings or vice versa, 2018, stoneware and Untitled, 2019, etching rag.
5, 6, 7 - Tom Rogers, This one is for the lidders (still), 2020, single channel video. Image courtesy of the artist. 8 - Saturday Slow Down crowd. Photo by Ellen Broadhurst.


Kaya. We acknowledge the Whadjuk People of Boorloo boodja who are the traditional owners of the land where Semaphore is made. We respect their culture, their custodianship, and their continuing contribution to the life of this city and this region. That includes recognising and respecting sovereignty while working in solidarity towards a treaty and supporting ongoing connection to country. That means linguistic rights, economic opportunity, and artistic endeavour. To their Elders, past, present and emerging, we say thanks.