Charles Avery, The Islanders: An Introduction
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until Sun 15 Feb
REVIEW DRAWING, PAINTING AND SCULPTURE
In 2004 artist Charles Avery began charting the creatures, topology and cosmology of an imaginary island. This exhibition presents his endeavours to date: a collection of drawings, narratives, sculptures and installations that creates an artistic territorialisation of a fabricated land. Avery’s isle accommodates a host of witty philosophical propositions and conundrums. Neither worthy nor drily didactic, these intellectual conceits simply revel in the topographic impulse, while the skilled draughtsmanship on display here roots otherwise academic concerns firmly within an artistic realm.
The exhibition is playful from the outset. Avery’s ‘Eternity Chamber’ greets the visitor. A tall hexagonal tardis-like structure capped by a mighty steel gull, its chained door remains slightly ajar, revealing tessellated flooring, mirrored walls and an endlessly reflective interior. The chamber pops up in other works and it slowly becomes apparent that it is an artefact of mythological import: designed to emulate longevity, the chamber belongs to a small fraction of the Isle’s residents.
And so the culture, beliefs, habits and addictions of a caste nation are gradually unravelled. Avery invents and charts a people hooked on gin-pickled eggs, hybrid beasts, God-S-Hites, and Gods that include Mr Impossible, a 33-year-old man elevated to his new title mistakenly by three drunken philosophers. Hemmed in by ‘The Sea of Clarity’, ‘Cape Conchious-ness’ and the ‘Analitic Ocean’, and immortalised in consummate drawings, uncanny acts of taxidermy and iconic sculptures, the characters displayed here make for an intriguing introduction to Avery’s unique oeuvre. As visually arresting as it is fantastically provocative, this exhibition is already a landmark in contemporary Scottish art.