THE FENCE LINE: Concerning the Human Interface

Put your hands into the mire.
They will learn the kinship
Of the shaped and the unshapen,
The living and the dead.

-Wendell Berry, Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer.


Working as a contemporary Agrarian artist, my creative practice is rooted in a concern with the current state of American agriculture. According to the industrial agriculture model, it seems that the heroic agrarian spirit is both politically inconvenient and economically irresponsible. Unfortunately, assimilation into this model is nearly inescapable. For the few farmers who still remain, it seems that the human interface- the point of connection and interaction- between humanity and its land is becoming increasingly technological, specialized, and derivative. The new idea of liberty is defined by land consolidation, monoculture, and large machinery. Today, the image of a farmer working a furrow of land with his hands is obscured by dust clouds from large industrial equipment. It is from this perspective that I find the impulse to create discourse.

By devising an elegiac allegory, I aim to preserve the image of the heroic farmer- offering a reminder of our most basic, necessary human condition. The foundation for this allegory lies in a consideration of traditional Agrarian Art. Historically, the Agrarian movement is positioned against the industrial model as it is founded upon a healthy reciprocal relationship between humanity and its ‘place.’ Following the Agrarian philosophy, it becomes necessary to settle one’s self into a place and then to husband that place- its land, economy and community. Traditionally, Agrarian artists celebrate this relationship. Pastoral rolling landscapes, the lingering spirit of vernacular architecture, and the goings-on of the family farm often become the subjects of creative output. The intention is to establish a celebratory experience for the viewer- evoking feelings of comfort and community. But that’s not the whole story, not from what I’ve seen.

In this light, “The Fence Line” is a travel route through the pastoral American landscape, exposing humanity at the margins of an industrial ideal. Within the cadence of the fence line, cast ceramic implements of the heroic farmer provide moments of allegory. Within this allegory, both clay and the ceramic process function as metaphorical devices concerning the human interface. By forming clay with my hands into objects, which are typically ‘composted’ from memories of the toil and satisfaction of work, and then caring for the clay as it transforms into vitrified earth, I am able to consider a material relationship akin to agrarian husbandry. By revitalizing reclaimed fence posts (which embody American agriculture’s paradigm shift from traditional to industrial) into a rhythmic framework, I am able to support these ceramic objects as poetic analogues. Standing almost as a line of grave markers, “Fence Line” becomes an elegiac reminder of an agrarian song.

Nick Roudebush
2013