1. An object, typically an inscribed ring or stone, that is thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck

1.1 A person regarded as representing and inspiring a particular group.

Source: Oxford Dictionary

When I was a Sydneysider I would go to the fruit and flower markets at Flemington early every Saturday morning with my son, who is an unfortunately early riser. His mamma and his sister would sleep in and we would venture out in the darkness, stopping briefly at the brightly lit petrol station to get a coffee for me, and some warm milk for him. The Sydney Markets are a special place on a Saturday morning; big, noisy, dirty, and busy. They are not cool markets. Probably the coolest thing about them is that there are no people trying to be cool. The hipster has not infiltrated. The vast majority of people visit for the sole purpose of getting cheap produce. I was probably the only person that would happily go there for the sake of going there.

We would grab a trolley from the friendly guys who charged too much and proceed directly to the cafe at the far end of the markets, which is quite a hike but gave me the opportunity to scope out cartons and prices. The guy that ran the cafe had twins around the same time as us and we would briefly share our sleeping grievances and then I would order a cappuccino and buttered toast cut into 4 triangles for little man. We would then go to one of the stalls of the peri-urban farms, which are little farms tucked into pockets of the western suburbs that grow mostly leafy greens. They drive their truck into the market and basically serve people straight off the back of it. The peri-urban farmers do not have fruit cartons, but usually transport their produce in large, blue plastic crates. As the purpose of our visit to the markets was only ostensibly for produce, we proceeded onwards towards visit’s ulterior motive: fruit cartons.

Scanning the market stalls for cartons I would occasionally see an astonishing carton that I did not have. Rarely did this carton not contain produce though, which meant that it was off limits, unless of course I was after an entire carton of whatever it contained. I often go to great lengths to acquire a carton but sometimes it is easier to convince one’s self that it will be elsewhere in the market or will be there the following week. This is never the case. In these moments the elusive carton obtains a kind of aura, a kind of je n’ais ce quois. Lately I have been thinking if this certain I don’t know what is similar to what some farmers feel about their fruit carton, as if it is some sort of talismanic object.

The Arcadia Project (detail) preceded the Cartonography project, and involved cut-outs of fruit carton images collaged together.

I first encountered the word talisman via its use in sports writing. I remember reading an article about rugby in which the writer referred to a player as a talisman. It made sense because I was familiar with the characteristics of this player and could understand the word by virtue of context. It was a while before I realised that this was actually a secondary meaning and that the primary meaning of the word referred to an object. A talisman has a certain mysticism about it. It is a thing of magic, if you like. Many are personalised and have symbols and meanings that are significant to their owners. I have thought to myself that these characteristics all seem quite familiar, and the question then asked itself: could a fruit carton be a talisman?

There was a time before the Cartonography collection began when I was making artworks out of cut-outs from fruit cartons and discarding the rest of the carton. I was only after one particular part of the carton, mostly a character of some sort. Many of these cut-outs are the untethered remnants of cartons I have never been able to find ever again, and I curse myself for this short-sightedness. One particular cut-out baffled me as I wondered for a long time if it had actually come from a fruit carton. It had hung around my stuff for so long that I could no longer remember. The cut-out was a set of teeth, kind of like those that wind up and chatter while jumping around. Recently I was walking through the organic markets at Northey Street in Brisbane and I spotted the teeth. The teeth indeed belonged to a fruit carton and there it was, right in front of me at last. Strangely enough however was that it was not at fruit and vegetable stall, but the stall of a wooden toy maker. I enquired about it but there was absolutely no way the toymaker was going to part with his beloved fruit carton. He’d been packing his stuff into it for about 20 years and had developed quite an attachment to it. He was unmoved by my genuine desire to have the carton. I would have really looked after it too, but I got the sense that this carton was a sort of good luck charm for him… talismanic, even!

Last weekend we were out at Rocklea Markets in Brisbane (which has nowhere near as much gritty charm as its Sydney counterpart, but has many other endearing qualities), and low and behold there was the teeth carton. Many of them in fact. I managed to salvage two of them. It was the first time in a while that I had been actively looking for cartons and was amply rewarded. Rocklea Markets have not been the site of many of the Cartonography acquisitions – the vast majority were found at Sydney Markets – but it has occasionally provided some gems.

Like the talisman, fruit cartons also bear ‘inscriptions’. Macka’s carton has a number of words on it that accompany the various disembodied teeth. A name, product description, region, slogan, weight, carton manufacturer, farm address, phone number, and other non text-based info. There are very few cartons with anything resembling philosophical text upon them. The one that immediately comes to mind that has something like this is the Ecoganic carton from the Sciacca family in Far North Queensland.

Frank Sciacca of Ecoganic Bananas, with the gift presented to him by Prince Charles for his work in Great Barrier Reef Conservation.

I visited the Ecoganic Farm and will dedicate an entry to it separately, but when Frank Sciacca showed me a gift, nestled in a neat little box, that he had received from Prince Charles for his work in reef conservation, I immediately suggested that it should be housed for storage and display inside one of the Ecoganic cartons. I felt it was begging to be presented in such a way; one significant, pragmatic, ephemeral object holding another significant but symbolic, and decorative object. The incongruous but dovetailing roles of the two objects was immediately obvious to me, but perhaps that is because of the way that collecting hundreds of cartons has elevated my perception of these objects beyond their status as packaging. Probably. But they’re all talismanic, as far as I’m concerned.

Leave a Reply