OUTLINE OF PROBLEM
The topic of tonight’s discussion – provincialism – has haunted Australian art since the arrival of the British. Indeed, some of the country’s best critics have argued that provincialism – whether defined as derivativeness, parochiality or idiocy – is the defining ingredient of Australian culture. Yet this subject, which a generation ago was central to discourse, has lately been ignored by artists, critics and curators. The reasons for this are complex, no doubt; but is the notion of provincialism truly obsolete? What might be its relevance today?
RESPONDENT: RURAL MALE ARTIST
I enter culture as an outsider, a journeyman.
I come from a long line of farmers; as such, my family name is synonymous with working the Land. Hence the loading of rural and regional signifiers into my art, which mainly takes the form of junk assemblage. Assemblage is essentially an urban tradition, built from the alienated detritus of the big smoke. My work rewrites this tradition from the perspective of the journeyman; in so doing, it gives form to the paradoxes of a rustic male outlook.
Growing up in country Victoria I affected an urban style of dress: jeans, sneakers and so on. This distinguished me from my classmates, who didn’t share my artistic and intellectual interests, who on the weekend preferred to shoot kangaroos rather than catch the train to the city and visit the state gallery, an oasis in an otherwise desolate landscape.
Those classmates were ill-bred children, who preferred to hunt defenceless creatures than prey on the classics.
Back then, I wore workwear only on the weekend, as a sign of camaraderie with the labourers. But I rarely left the house and refused to engage in any form of manual labour; not once did I till the field. Even at the farm, even in the rural context of origin, my clothing was concocted – serving to appease the labourers indentured at my parents’ plantation.
In my youth, to visit the state gallery was to practice a total reversal. The dandy clothes I purchased from thrift stores dignified my assimilation to the urban lifestyle, in a city where I was in truth an imposter.
Everything changed when I moved to the city. In order to make a name for myself in cultural circles, in order to distinguish myself, I found it necessary to return to the farmer uniform that I had so despised, which I had tried so hard to rebel against in my youth. Overnight the very uniform that I had up until then despised – overalls, Blundstones, other regional accoutrements from a Stetson to a handkerchief – became my regular costume, a sartorial recipe for success. This belated embrace of cowboy attire – which overnight became my signature – was merely another turn of the screw.
This is not a regression or joke, as it was regarded by my family, who would have preferred that I carry on the family business in the provinces. But I am not a joke. The masquerade has become the content of my art, its raison d’etre. City and country are costumes, subterfuges even. My identity stands, as I stand, in neither of these places, but in the contradiction between them.
20 February 2023
Rosanna, Victoria, Australia