Down the Rabbit Hole – The Fruit Carton Wonderland.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.49.08 pm This entry begins with a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a story that resonates with the graphic themes of fruit cartons, as well as the themes of Cartonography more broadly, which I will elucidate:

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. ‘I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think–‘ (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) ‘–yes, that’s about the right distance–but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?’ (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)

Presently she began again. `I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think–‘ (she was rather glad there was no one listening, this time, as it didn’t sound at all the right word) `–but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma’am, is this New Zealand or Australia?’

Srhoj_Citrus I like to imagine that Alice has actually arrived in Australia when she reaches the bottom of the Rabbit Hole. It would seem plausible were it the Australia as represented on the fruit carton, a representation of Australia I have thus come to refer as Wonderland. However for the purposes of avoiding confusion and distinguishing the two I shall now call the Wonderland of the fruit carton the Fruit Carton Wonderland (FCW). The purpose of this entry is to highlight the things that Alice’s Wonderland and the FCW have in common, namely: anthropomorphic characters; the use of puns and wordplay, and; the altering scale of things. There are other relationships but these are the main ones and the ones that I will expand upon below.

 Anthropomorphic characters. 

I have recently resumed the regular posting of anthro’ fruity characters on the Cartonographer Instagram page after an expedition to FNQ, and also the Cartonography Exhibition at Bondi Pavilion. Indeed one of the first posts on The Cartonographer blog was about anthro fruity characters, as there is often a relationship between the name of the grower and the type of character used. In Wonderland Alice encounters an array of hybrid folks, some of them good, some of them bad (but benign), and all of them quite daft. Here are a selection of characters documented thus far on the Cartonographer Instagram page:

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The characters in FCW are not confined to fruit and vegetables alone. In some instances human firgures are used, which was explored in an earlier blog about the fruit carton and the human form. There are also a number of fruit cartons with various types of non-veggie creatures on them. Bug’s Citrus, an oft discussed carton on this blog, has two bugs holding aloft citrus on its carton. Lizzio’s Bananas has a pair of lizards flanking the large text on its carton. In the same vein there is Batnich’s smiling bats (pictured below). All of these employ anthropuns as devices for incorporating their characters, which leads into the next relationship between FCW and Alice’s Wonderland. IMG_1777

The use of puns or wordplay. 

‘When we were little,’ the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then, ‘we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—’ ‘Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?’ Alice asked. ‘We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily: ‘really you are very dull!’

Because every fruit carton has text on it, and because fruit carton design emerges from a tradition of sign writing where wordplay is rife, and perhaps also because farmers have a particular sense of humour – one that is maintained in the face of potentially devastating climactic conditions – there are often humorous elements on fruit cartons. Puns are one part of this humour. As mentioned above there are many anthropuns, whereby the name of the farmer determines the character on the carton. There are also other examples such as Howe Farming’s Bananas with Altitude, derived from the farm’s location on the tablelands, rather than the flats near the coast in FNQ. As far as the collection to date shows, the punning only really kicks off in terms of latitude around Bundaberg in Queensland. South of there there isn’t much wordplay to speak of, apart from the Bats of Batinich’s (pictured above). At Welcome Creek near Bundaberg is Cross Family Farms and their series of cranky (capsicums), grumpy (gourmet tomatoes), mad (bull horn chilli), and of course cross (zucchini), range of vegetables. There is also Ford’s Produce, who have a capsicum and an eggplant driving a watermelon with pumpkin wheels.

Puns occur throughout Alice’s adventures. They are part of the absurdist landscape that forms Wonderland; they are a linguistic device for accentuating this absurdity and are most present in Chapter IX.The Mock Turtle’s Story, from which the above quote is taken. The Mock Turtle’s nonsensical story is delivered melancholically, but as the Gryphon observes, ‘It’s all his fancy, that: he hasn’t got no sorrow, you know. Come on!

‘It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, ‘when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!’

Thinking more broadly about the Cartonography collection, the process of collecting, and the purpose of it all, and how these factors relate to Alice’s Adventures, there is a common sense of disorientation, a quest for something that is perhaps not quite clear. Like an archetypal road movie, there are existential questions that arise, not-quite graspable aims or quests, and general despairing at the frustration of it all. This is probably best illustrated in Alice’s exchange with the Cheshire Cat:

‘Cheshire Puss,’ …’Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat. ‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation. ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’ Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. ‘What sort of people live about here?’ ‘In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, ‘lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, ‘lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’ ‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’ ‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice. ‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

The Altering Scale of Things

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Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words ‘EAT ME’ were beautifully marked in currants. ‘Well, I’ll eat it,’ said Alice, ‘and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door; so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!’

On a number of occasions in Wonderland Alice’s size alters dramatically. This is usually after consuming something or other and is a rather distressing scenario where things are either out of reach, or as the picture above illustrates, a space becomes too small after having expanded to a ridiculous size. The scale of things in the Fruit Carton Wonderland is far less distressing. Often it is a piece of fruit that is is made to look enormous in its foregrounding of a landscape (I have previously hypothesised that this pictorial foregrounding was the inspiration for the construction of large pieces of fruit as tourist attractions across the Australian landscape). In other depictions of the FCW the piece of fruit or vegetable is to the farmer what Gulliver was to the Lilliputians (see Mortimer’s below).

Tea_Towel

Mortimers

I’m not sure if there is any benefit in drawing parallels between Alice’s Wonderland and the Fruit Carton Wonderland, only to say that I have now satisfied an urge to write about the lands that are depicted on the fruit carton and their resemblance to Wonderland. However there might have been moment when a migrant farmer from Europe or elsewhere arrived in Australia in the 20th century, was thrust directly into the landscape and way of life of the antipodes, and felt a little like Alice encountering Wonderland. Perhaps the Fruit Carton Wonderland is a product of this experience. I don’t think you have to be a migrant farmer, however, to feel a sense of awe, bemusement and wonder of the Australian landscape each time you encounter it. Perhaps every piece of fruit and vegetable feels a little like Alice in a strange and faraway place. “This is not where I am from”, it might say. It could ask, “What is this is absurdist dream that I awaken into each day?” Who knows?

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