Flights of Fancy
The Scottish artist Charles Avery has spent the past twelve years documenting aspects of a fictitious island. He spoke to VAULT about the incantatory power of drawing, his disillusionment with art school and the ups and downs of mapping a world that doesn’t exist.
IN THE MANNER OF A NOVELIST, YOU HAVE SPENT A CONSIDERABLE PART OF YOUR CAREER INVENTING AND REFINING A FICTITIOUS ISLAND SOCIETY – THE ISLANDERS. CAN YOU TELL US THE BACKGROUND TO THIS PROJECT?
The Island emerged from a state of confusion, or disorder. I had various pursuits: I loved drawing, but I needed a reason to do it. I was also writing and I had an interest in mathematical philosophy in general. Although I knew intuitively that these different areas were connected I was having trouble making them coherent – I was already an exhibiting artist and I had become acutely aware of the standardising forces in the art world. I wanted to keep my practice as open as possible, to retain the freedom. This is when I hit on the strategy of creating a space to contain the ideas and formalise their relationship. The Island provides that freedom – although it demands a rigour and level of devotion which, when I am suffering, make me wish I’d never started. I feel as though I am simultaneously inventor and discoverer, author and reviewer. I just keep pressing on. One day follows another, and after ten years there is a lot of it. It is ironic that I have got involved with such a project because at heart I am a minimalist. The most identifiable art-ancestors of The Islanders would be the Seth Siegelaub-approved conceptual artists of the 1960s – Roman Opalka, Sol LeWitt, Robert Barry etc.. Subscribe to read this article in full