Since 2004, the Scottish artist Charles Avery (1973, Oban) has dedicated himself to the invention of an imaginary island, new corners of which he continues to chart through drawings, sculptures, texts, ephemera and (more rarely) 16mm animations and live incursions into our own world. Known only as ‘the Island’, Avery’s wave-lapped realm is not only a vividly realised fiction, teeming with sights both strange and strangely familiar, it also operates as a petri dish in which the artist tests ideas from the fields of epistemology, aesthetics, mathematics, economics, anthropology, architecture, and beyond. As Avery has said, the Island – with its fantastical flora and fauna, its eccentric cosmology and customs – is ‘a place that helps me to think’.
These Waters, Avery’s first major solo exhibition in the US, takes liquid as its organising principle, from the seas that surround the Island and its spiraling archipelago of islets (mapped on the dark orb of Islanders Globe(2017), to the draughts of liquor that lubricate philosophical debate in its numerous bars and pubs (poured, perhaps, from the bird-like neck of Untitled (Carafe) (2014). In a series of drawings, we see tourists from Triangland, an analogue of our own reality, bathing in the rock pools and sandy shallows that abut the Islands’ shores, their toes tickled by ‘ninth’ – sacred, eel-like creatures that might be understood as both the embodiment of the drawn line, and of the point where pure, mono-directional will converges with destiny. These creatures reappear in the sculpture Untitled (Pool) (2014), where their dark, glassy forms gather around a plughole in an ornate bronze tub, the centrepiece of the Island’s (determinedly inorganic) public gardens, the Jadindagadendar. Watched over by a curious egret, these primitive beings nose blindly about, trapped inside a universe-within-a -universe-within-a-universe, unable to respond to the instincts that propel them ever forward.