Splintered Assemblage

Catching the Indian Pacific to Rosalie Gascoigne’s ‘Monaro’

by Phillip Hall

I am fossicking through my bucket list, transcontinental
                                               adventure kitsch
               where all-inclusive opulence
               means: I don’t lift a finger; and crafted
                         brass detailing is a bitter-sweet
                                                     acacia’s bumblebee bloom:

                          Just before boarding
             an anxiety attack has me foundering
maybe a daughter could be spirited away, saving me
                               but a partner’s discreetly attentive firmness
            ushers me to a luxuriously appointed suite:

In truth, my odyssey is the Viking trail
                                from York to Orkney Islands, but scared
                   of flight I have outlived
usefulness, like this classic age of rail, so I prowl
the trackside ditches of mental decline for poignancy
                           in rusty corrugated iron,
the bricolage of Rosalie’s dried thistle stalks:

On this train the booze is ‘free’
               accordingly, I’m soon scotching along
               with George Mackay Brown’s Collected, and crying out
against idiot-royals and that orange trumper fool, upsetting
              decency and reaffirming beliefs
                                      sorry, I’m bloody useless:

Thank god for Americans who are overpaid and over here
               a young widowed, champion
               sailor with two daughters and an admiral dad,
               and a retired teacher couple who’d actually known
Ursula Le Guin: they gave me incentive to whisper
sober into winds like a wizard of Earthsea fleeing
                          foul shadow-beasts in the delight
                                        of Laser Class single-sailor dinghies:

                I am my own worst enemy, frustrating
verbal recognition in anxieties and cryptic clues, searching
for secrets in Rosalie’s assemblage
                of fragments propped precariously:

Because, even amidst this railway luxury and indulged
                bubble, the shadow
I carry is a cardboard 
                           coffin and surrender:

And so finally, I enter the gallery
                          where a collection is a beehive’s royal jelly,
the wheat-field of arcadia
waving across Rosalie’s bands and grids to cross-hatched tesserae
and herringbones of narrow strips, here to be airborne
is a cache of recycled, battered and worn
mass produced packing cases, stenciled with brand names,
                                and cut with her band saw into ever thinner slivers:

Here, the scratch marks
                         are the bold and ungentle joy
         of wanting in.

Rosalie Gascoigne: I wish I were one of her assemblages. I love all of her work, but my favourite has always been ‘Monaro’ (1989, synthetic polymer paint on sawn and split soft-drink wooden crates on plywood, Art Gallery of Western Australia). For a long time, I knew this astonishing assemblage only in reproduction, but in early 2019 I had the chance to travel to Perth, & meet this work in person. Whilst there I also introduced myself to ‘Hung Fire’ (1995, retroflective road sign on wood, Art Gallery of Western Australia). George Mackay Brown is a wonderful Orkney poet (1921-1996) who, like me, self-medicated for much of his adult life with grog’s sly mouthful. Ursula K Le Guin (1929-2018) is a bestselling American poetry, fantasy & science fiction writer. She is perhaps best remembered for her Wizard of Earthsea books. This poem also owes a debt to: Christopher Allen, Art in Australia: From Colonization to Postmodernism (Thames & Hudson, 1997); & Vici MacDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne (Regaro, 1998).

A reproduction of a selection of works by Rosalie Gascoigne (including ‘Monaro’) can be found at: https://www.inkahoots.com.au/ideas/i_62-junkscape-poetry

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