On the cross-cultural beach

Margaret Bradley

Luke Waterlow, Girt by Sea

Luke Waterlow, Girt by Sea

I imagined the title of this “marathon performance installation about culture and the sea” referred to Australia’s national anthem, Advance Australia Fair. Girt By Sea conjured up images of Australia, the island-continent surrounded by ocean, and the boatloads of refugees not allowed to land on Australian soil. It all depends on your perspective.
Having witnessed Badai Pasir, Deborah Pollard’s performance/installation on Baron Beach near Yogyakarta, Central Java in 1996, I was looking forward to its translation into an Australian context. Invited to Sydney to work with Urban Theatre Projects, Indonesian artists Hedi Haryanto and Regina Bimadona collaborated with a number of local performers. And in Australia, as in Indonesia, this performance installation was staged over the weekend at a local beach.

Arriving at Manly by ferry from the city, sunlight glistened on the ocean as you looked across to the West Esplanade Harbour Beach at Manly Cove. “What’s that on the beach?” asked a fellow passenger as 8 brightly coloured huts—black/white, green/orange, blue/yellow with lifebuoys hanging over their doors—came into view along the beach.

Greeted by lifesavers doing the hula, you couldn’t help but follow as their female companion—and her extra large box of NutriGrain—led them down the beach. Two nuns were playing volleyball at the water’s edge while someone else was in the water fishing from a fish bowl suspended in a blow-up ring.

Queues formed in front of the huts as inquisitive observers joined others to find out what exactly was inside. Three huts housed installations with images and shadows created by the play of light and shade. The other 5 hosted one-on-one, 2 minute performances. Upon entering, you were directed to pick up headphones and listen to your personal soundscape on a CD walkman. A story with soundtrack unfolded before your eyes. A cheeky face peered over an old Globite suitcase as its contents—a miniature beach with tiny towels, a seagull, flags and sand—were slowly revealed. A recipe was given for beach babes. You became part of a Chinese tourist visit to Bondi Beach. You listened to a Vietnamese legend.

The beach was alive—a chef basting a sunbather; an office executive in power pink sitting on a plastic dalmation-print inflatable lounge chair, mobile phone glued to her ear; a neat row of sandcastles; a girl in floral print dress and apron sifting sand through a flour-sifter, making patterns along the beach, and lifesavers buried in the sand, roaring for their Nutri-Grain or posing in early 20th century period costume, ankle-deep in water. As sunset approached, the light was tinged with pink and muted evening colours, giving the landscape an even more surreal quality.

The general public were exposed to something quite outside their usual beach experience as they stumbled across these events. Indeed, from whichever perspective you approached this amalgam of works, you couldn’t help but be touched, challenged and left pondering. Girt By Sea had many layers and many faces—a truly fascinating mix of cultural responses to the sea.

Girt By Sea, presented by Deborah Pollard in association with Urban Theatre Projects, artists Deborah Pollard, Hedi Hariyanto, Regina Bimadona, George PK Khut, Monica Wulff, Arif Hidayat, Simon Wise, Peter Panoa, The West Esplanade Harbour Beach, Manly Cove, March 23-24.

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. 30

© Margaret Bradley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002
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