Behold! The Cartonographic!

The Cartonographic is a limited edition print currently in production (a developmental line drawing is shown in the image below) created out of writings on the Cartonography collection on this blog. The print will be manufactured on cardboard using the same methods used to make fruit cartons – it will essentially be a fruit carton in its own right – and will be the centrepiece of the Cartonography Exhibition at the Bondi Pavilion on the 22nd of October 2014. Funds raised from the sale of the Cartonographic will be used to expand the Cartonography collection to document the stories of farmers and agricultural communities across Australia.


About the design of the print 

RAISIN D’ETRE, the large text that features at the centre of the Cartonographic, is a pun on the French raison d’être, which translates to reason for being. The phrase is often used in English to describe the purpose or central premise of a piece of literature or film.

For all life on earth the sun is the reason that we exist. However we exist because of the sun, not for it. To ancient pagan farmers though, the sun was a sacred presence in the sky. It was to them what the divine being is to a Christian, for example. When paganism was replaced by other belief systems like Christianity, the ‘new’ religion adopted many of the sacred pagan sites, symbols and calendar dates. The sun was one such thing, and when we are looking at things in religious paintings like halos and beams of light coming from the sky, what we are looking at is divinity as represented by the sun.

The presence of solar imagery on fruit cartons is common. The ways that the sun is represented on the fruit carton is similar to the way it is represented in holy imagery. The relationship between the development of art and religion throughout the centuries is strong; western image making techniques are representational descendants of this relationship, and fruit cartons are no exception to this.

This idea formed the raison d’être of a blog I wrote on the subject:

The purpose of this entry is to hypothesise that the imagery of fruit boxes and religious iconography are linked. It is my view that fruit boxes re-appropriate the the use of solar imagery from religion and as a consequence align themselves with paganism. The reason I say ‘re-appropriate’ is because Christianity adopted the sun as a symbolic device from paganism and what the fruit box is doing in using solar imagery is rescuing it back. The fruit box designer may not be cognisant of these heroics but in an image-saturated society that has emerged from western, religious, picture-making traditions, and where unconscious references to ideas are probably made as often as conscious ones, I don’t think it is a stretch to make an iconographic link from paganism, to Christianity, and back to paganism via the fruit box.

Like I say, just a hypothesis.

In the place of a sun rising over the hillside in the Cartonographic there is a large raisin. Another common element of fruit carton design is the use of puns or word play. RAISIN D’ETRE is also a celebration of this tradition of punning. It is also appropriate to use a raisin in this instance as it is a sort of re-incarnated, sun-shrivelled grape. In the context of the discussion of Christianity, Jesus’s rise from the dead is the obvious parallel to a reborn grape that foregrounds divine rays of sunlight. The sun rising marks the beginning of the new day – it is a new beginning, a symbol of hope and a chance to start afresh.

Starting afresh formed the basis of another blog entry, which examined the ethnicity of names on a great many fruit cartons in the Cartonography collection. The migrant influx to Australia brought with it a wealth of agricultural experience, much of which was directed towards the farming of fruit and vegetables. A new beginning is a reference to the migrant experience, one that I am familiar with as my family moved from Ireland to Australia when I was 6.

RAISIN D’ETRE is an attempt to crystallise the observations I have made by looking at fruit cartons over the course of the last twelve months. What it made me realise though was that speculating on the collective meanings of cartons gleaned from examining designs is only one avenue of enquiry. A much greater wealth of information exists in the stories and experiences of the farmers on the land. That is why the Cartonographer will continue collect, and why the Cartonographic will be used to expand the project to document the stories of individuals and communities across Australia.

Sean Rafferty September 2014

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