Waterborne Vitalstatistix 2019Vitalstatistix in association with the South Australian Maritime Museum. Aboard the Archie Badenoch, Port Adelaide. 11 Dec 2019


The mild and partly cloudy late afternoon on the day of the opening performances for this short season of Waterborne promised a beautiful sunset. At 7:30 sharp, the gathered audience moved on from the Port Adelaide Lighthouse to board the diesel-perfumed Archie Badenoch. Gentleman Skipper Brian gave instructions on how to board his brightly painted vessel by going down a short ladder to engage with its comfortable seating and generous viewing areas. Once inside, Alexis West of Birra Gubba-Wakka Wakka-South Sea Islander-Caucasian decent acknowledged that we were on Kaurna land, and one can imagine what a paradise of habitation and food source the banks of the Port River estuary would have been before settlement.


After steaming down the port estuary for about 20 minutes passing the gigantic gantried ghosts of industry past and present, we slung our rope around a mooring post off to the side of the shipping channel. Here Alexis assisted us with our headphones and invited us to move around the boat and focus on the sparkly rippling water already dancing with rosy hues. There was indeed a fabulous sunset in the west while the Adelaide Hills were glowering with purple under a rising full moon.


In these pleasant and for all but mariners, unusual, conditions, we listen to a compelling narration read by Queensland actor Sarah Kants. Over the past 18 years, UK artists Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead have specialised in writing site-specific work using (to quote the program notes) “performance, video, photography, sound and digital installation. Their work makes use of detailed social and scientific research to expand the viewer’s relationship to site. Often working with experts, they undertake rigorous investigations into the ways we connect with the environment, architecture and public space, and create a particular context to examine the flows of feeling they generate.” Given their stated objectives, Waterborne is certainly a perfect example of achievement.


By writing in second person, French and Mottershead create a thoroughly intimate and personal journey where what’s happening is happening to you. And what’s happened is you have drowned. What follows is a detailed chronology marked by lunar cycles of your flotation and decomposition down the river to the sea until your bones are ground to ephemeral grains of sand. At first shockingly macabre, Kants’ articulate rendering of French and Mottershead’s forensically detailed documentation of decomposition transcends some rather icky fact and science to poetry and meditative seduction. Personally, I also felt self-pity as I imagined this thing happening to me. Yet there seemed justice in becoming the sustenance for so many creatures in the afterlife. This examination of decay is ultimately life-affirming because the alternative is rather grim and final. A complementary gin and tonic, or soda if you prefer, settled the nerves on the way back to the wharf.


I don’t think I’ll ever forget this experience – this ferry trip across the River Styx – not only to remind myself of how precious life is, but for all the other contemplations it provoked. Not to be missed. Bravo!


David Grybowski


When: 11 to 15 Dec

Where: Aboard the Archie Badenoch, Port Adelaide