Cartonography: Not a Project. 


It occurred to me recently that although the definition of project is very broad there is imbedded in it a kind of containment. Project suggests a life-span and set of aims to be carried out within a certain time frame. The process of Cartonography is attempting to resist this containment. There are aims; to collect and map as many fruit cartons from across Australia as possible is the primary aim; to gather as many stories associated with these cartons is another. However what the collection resists is a simple definition. It resists being tethered to any particular aim. Rather than a project it is intended that Cartonography will not have a timeframe or lifespan. Yes, yes I know there are long-term projects, or lifelong projects, but to me these are oxymorons. They are lazy titles for endeavours that probably deserve better. I’m not suggesting that Cartonography deserves anything yet, but that that it will actively attempt to shrug off, or grow beyond, being identified as a ‘project’.

There is perhaps a boldness in this idea that separates it from the notion of the project. People don’t describe building a house as a project. They say that they are building a house, or renovating. That is because the project, as Gaston Bachelard wrote, “ is a short-lived oneirism.” There are ‘project homes’, but people see these types of buildings as poorly built, disposable houses. They are to housing what Ikea is to furniture.

I have previously used the word project to describe Cartonography – I’m sure that if you were to look at everything written about it you would encounter the word project several times (the process of retrospectively erasing it is underway). Despite my insistence that Cartonography is not a project I continue to use the word in conversation, correcting myself ad nauseam. It will probably be some time before I can talk at length about Cartonography without using the P word.

The problem is having a ‘project-based practice’. It is something that I constantly wrestle with, and something that I am trying to distance my other, new work from. No regrets exist about my early projects, and I have nothing against projects per se, however the aim is to make less self-contained work, and resist the security that the boundaries of a project provide. In other words when one works within the sphere of the project it allows for the movement from one set of ideas in one project, to another (sometimes radically different) set of ideas in the next project. So long as the ideas in one project cohere within the boundaries of the project, i.e. they work together effectively to achieve a particular aim, they needn’t necessarily relate to ideas in any another project. The problem with this itinerant practice is not the regular exploration of new ideas, but the abandonment of old ones. It is like conceptual tourism; never getting beyond scratching the surface before moving onto the next concept, idea, or indeed, project.

In this process of moving way from the project there is also a desire i to shift my work away from an institutionalised realm, where there are measured outcomes and clearly defined pathways. I don’t wish for this to make my work more opaque, in fact quite the opposite. Within a self-contained project there are a certain number of keys that one needs to offer the viewer in order that they might ‘access’ the work. But these keys require a certain amount of work on the part of the viewer. There is a sort of language which they are being asked to learn – a sometimes murky lexicon.

When people from within the art world use the word project they are perhaps using it differently to those outside the art world. In a business sense, or in an educational setting, a project is a temporary or short term endeavour. It often has limited resources and a set of objectives. Once it is done the next project is adopted. ‘Project’ is frequently used in contemporary arts practices, tied to the short-lived nature of performance or exhibition display, where the temporal element of a project is due to the fleeting inhabitation of a space. Indeed the ‘project-space’ has all but replaced the ARI as the ubiquitous term for a non-commercial, grassroots gallery. I run a space called Breezeblock, and am guilty of calling it a project space, but have never really given any thought to how that is interpreted outside the art world. There’s a little project then…

Ergo I am not only resisting Cartonography’s definition as a project for myself, but for the way that it is perceived from outside. People ought to feel like they can access Cartonography at any time, and that there is always potential for them to contribute to an evolving definition of Cartonography and its aims. And that is probably the crux of the matter; Cartonography has aims and objectives, but they are by no means fixed in place. The aims of what the collection is used for will shift with the collection itself. Within Cartonography there will be projects; the recent exhibition at the Bondi Pavilion was one such project. But overall, Cartonography is not a project.

4 Replies to “Cartonography: Not a Project. ”

  1. Project is a dirty word for me now. Tainted, actually, by its over use and association with itinerant art practices (nothing against itinerants – perhaps touristic art practices is more apt). But I get your point – projects have a ‘life’ span.

  2. This is a great post – I don’t like the term “project” either and try not to use it, for much the same reasons. It is both a vague and restrictive term that creates boundaries. It *is* hard not to use it though!

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