Back in 2004, the Scottish artist Charles Avery discovered an imaginary realm, called The Island. He’s been making expeditions there ever since, bringing back his discoveries in intricate, exquisitely executed drawings and increasingly realising this world in three dimensions with installations that include fabulous taxidermy beasts and mirrored chambers. Everything in the island relates to a philosophical problem and the whole epic project is Avery’s vast metaphor for art-making itself – a hermetic world where, rather than a conquering hero, the artist becomes a questioning explorer.
The Island’s sites include Onomatopoeia, the main town, from which men make expeditions to hunt the Noumenon, a riff on Kant’s notion of an unknowable thing, which can never be seen, only believed in. There’s the Plane of the Gods, a popular tourist attraction, and the Palace of the Gulls, haunted by a cult who believe the secret of eternity has been handed down to them through a talking seagull.
This vast drawing – his largest to date – depicts the hectic port of Onomatopoeia. It’s as crammed with ideas as it is throngs of daytrippers, entrepreneurs and hangers-on. Many of the Islanders wear geometric hats to denoted their philosophical position. The tourists, who throng the port, wear large, foolish versions of these hats intended for the tourist market. The large shack-come mussel-pot on the quayside is a nod to Marcel Broodthaers sculpture, Casserole et moules fermées (1964), gently ribbing his fellow Belgian’s love of the dish.
Those in the queue include Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor who met with Marco Polo to discuss the far off city of Venice. Other celebrities include J.D. Sallinger, glimpsed on the passenger deck of a huge cruise liner that’s pulling into the port (so that’s what he did with his life as a hermit) and Bill Murray who stands on the quay, fag in mouth, with his usual insouciant cool.
Untitled (View of the Port at Onomatopoeia), is included in the British Art Show 7, at the Hayward Gallery, London until April 17, then continuing its tour of the UK.
Text by Skye Sherwin