Untitled (Waiters dancing with Itinerants, Onomatopoeia)

Charles Avery, "Untitled (Waiters dancing with Itinerants, Onomatopoeia)", 2012.

Since 2005, Charles Avery has devoted his practice to the perpetual description of a fictional island. Replete with its own population and constantly shifting topography, Avery’s intricately conceived project amounts to an ever-expanding body of drawings, sculptures, installations and texts which evince the island. Exhibited incrementally these heterogeneous elements serve as terms within the unifying structure of the island – as multiple emissions of an imaginary state, and as a meditation on the central themes of philosophy and the problems of art-making. The ultimate destination of Avery’s epic venture is the documentation of this ‘heterotopia’ in a book of many volumes. Avery is one of a number of artists who have promoted a return to narrative. The Kadist Foundation Collection also owns a fictive map by Avery.

This drawing is a medium-sized work in which Avery depicts an event taking place on the island close to the Labour Exchange down by the port. In essence he depicts a dance-off between waiters and itinerant workers who are looking for work on the island. The idea comes from his own experience as a 16 year-old in Italy where he met a Spaniard who had danced his way from Spain to Italy, earning money in the street by doing so. Avery teamed up with him and became the hat carrier, money collector. Avery sees this kind of drawing as a companion to the large architectural views that show the principal buildings on the island and distant views of people. It is as though he is zooming in on a particular incident caught at the edge of a camera lens. The island is of course fictional but it is nevertheless a credible place, a little like Second Life, where characters act out their lives. In fact people are beginning to use the scenarios in their teaching work as though they were real and exemplary of certain true life situations. If there is a fantastical element at all it is redolent of Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll’s celebrated poem, which has been an important text for Avery. Avery is creating a world which could well be a place on this planet, an island off the coast of his native Scotland, for example, which can be visited by tourists (essentially the role of the viewer) or by those who want to stay there indefinitely (the role of the characters in the drawings).