Charles Avery: ‘You do not make art to express your opinion’

In the world of Scottish artist Charles Avery, there is change, but not time. For those who think it is not possible: welcome to ‘The Island’. Avery has been working on the imaginary island since 2004 and it continues to evolve. It started with the arrival of explorer, Only McFew, who thinks he has discovered an uninhabited island in the middle of an ocean. However, the island turns out to be inhabited by people living in a world where ratio dominates and the gods take the form of mathematical dilemmas.

To give an impression of the islanders: They look like us, like eels and eggs on gin, and they also like to talk about philosophy. There are The Hunters, who are often empiricists looking for the creature Noumenon – who is not only a reference to an imaginary ideal, but who, according to Avery, stands for the shadow of the perfect form we are always looking to find. truth. Only McFew also becomes Hunter, and he is secretly in love with MissMiss. A former colony in the much smaller Triangle Land, The Island, is partly dependent on tourists attending endless philosophical meetings, especially in the capital Onomatopoeia (not to be confused with Utopia).

As an artist, you have the privilege of being lonely (today less and much less than I would like)

“You can The islanders compare to an epic novel, a fictional world. It’s an imperfect world full of ideas, there’s room for failure, it’s not a success story, but a process along the way where I want to bring ideas together. The island is fiction, it does not exist, it’s all a journey of discovery, ”says Avery cheerfully in the Grimm gallery, where his exhibition at the moment. The hunter returns Moving away from is visible. At the same time, part of the island was built in paradise, an exhibition with 14 artists in the Frisian Oranjewoud. While presenting his fantasy world which makes perfect sense, Avery also often laughs at the connections he makes.

To start from the beginning: Is McFew as an explorer more of a Gulliver who ends up in Houyhnhnm’s world, which is mainly dependent on reason and logic, or is he more of a settler like Robinson Crusoe?

“Both are relevant, but my project is much more changing than the worlds the two represent. My island can be anything and suits many people. It’s a kind of gym where others can unleash their ideas. There “A dissertation was written linking the island to Scotland in the nineteenth century. Another dived into the mathematical theories. In short, people get the ideas they want out of it.”

‘The hunter returns / walks away’ at GRIMM, Amsterdam, 2022 Photo by Jonathan de Waart

Do some also associate Scottish independence with it?

‘That would be an interesting thought, but that is not the case yet. I do not think that will happen either. I also have no idea what the islanders think about Scottish independence. I’m not about what they think. This island was once a colony, but now the former settlers come primarily as tourists to listen to the philosophical debates. The original inhabitants now feel far superior to their former settlers. The only common feature among the islanders is that they are rational. It’s a fantasy island, but otherwise like any place on Earth. “

Why are there gods on the island? Gods who are mortal, of course.

“The gods are weird, but yes, gods are weird. Maybe idols are a better word. The bottom line is that they are not even at the top of the existential pyramid, they are in fact lazy gods who represent the ideas that that humans have. So they exist only by the grace of the sculptures. You have Duculi who, like other gods like Aleph Nul, Mr Impossible and Dha, lives on ‘The Plane of the Gods’. Duculi always fights with himself. They all represent the idea of , that the island is a rational society in which different philosophies are observed.The largest groups are the rationalists and empiricists, and there is also a third group who believe that everything is real as long as there is a belief that it exists. for these movements there are branches, sometimes they wear a hat from which one can deduce what current they adhere to. The hats are to be seen as the duvets in Scotland. mainly done by seniors and tourists.The empiricists are J the eggs. They believe that something only exists if one has seen it, and therefore they are always looking for Noumenon. He does not exist, but the Hunters continue to look for him. “

Also read the review of paradiseArt encourages seeing and thinking in the Frisian paradise

Suppose they succeed, is that the end of the island?

“Yes, and that’s why they’ll never find Noumenon.”

There are posters on the island with texts that Marcel Duchamp is overrated. What’s wrong with Duchamp?

“The misunderstanding started with him that everything can be art, that there are no inherent artistic qualities involved. On the island, the question is ‘Is this art?’ absurd. It’s about artistrywhat is made as a work of art, where you do not express as much an idea as imagination. ”

Do you agree with the islanders?

“Yes, I wrote it.”

Is your island going to change anything about Duchamp’s ‘misunderstanding’?

“In the art world, there is a big misunderstanding, it is a place where maladapted people do what they try to do, and the art world accepts it. artistry gets fired quite often. Maybe it’s irrelevant, people will always keep doing things. My idea of artistry will not change anything. “

Charles Avery at the GRIMM Gallery, Amsterdam. Photo by Roger Cremers

Your art is based on a story, storytelling has become increasingly important in art. Has it changed the way you work?

“Not really. There is another development in art that is much stronger, namely politics. It has become part of storytelling and quite dominant.”

Are you talking about the discussion of cultural appropriation?

“That’s a lot, yes.”

Were you afraid that your cultural appropriation would be blamed for creating an ex-colony?

“No not really. I’ve made an island and it’s a pretty equal, inclusive world where there are a lot of ideas.”

What political influences do you refer to?

“When politics is linked to storytelling, and artists use their position to take political positions: be it the refugee crisis, the Israel-Palestine issue, gender identity or feminism. All important topics, but as far as I am concerned artistry no language. If I have something to say, then I say it. When I want to say something about politics, I use language, it has nothing to do with what I do. Art is the opposite of language. ”

Charles Avery, Untitled (Hunter Coming Towards, Significant Right, Pink Sky), 2022
Photo: Jonathan de Waart
Charles Avery, Untitled (Hunter Going Away From, Signifying Left, Blue Sky and Dark Clouds), 2022
Photo by Jonathan de Waart
Untitled (Hunter Coming Towards, Signifying Right, Pink Sky) and ‘Untitled (Hunter Going Away From, Signifying Left, Blue Sky and Dark Clouds)’ by Charles Avery
Pictures Jonathan de Waart

Is that why there are posters on the island with texts like ‘All art is meant, but everything that is meant is not art’?

“Yes, exactly expressing a meaning in art is not my definition of art. This project is for everyone, but not for people who use art for their agenda. I am not an activist and do not want to work on an agenda. Tag Renzo Martens [die in Paradys aanwezig is met een project om kolonialisme en kapitalisme met elkaar te verbinden, red.] – his ideas are at odds with mine. It is like a kind of zoo where everything is put together: as if to say, a table and a horse are the same because they both have four legs. That’s the good thing about art, anything is possible, and if it does not fit anywhere, it still fits into the art. “

He who repeats himself abuses his privilege as an artist

The fact that there is no time on the island seems useful to me if one wants to prevent political statements.

“Now are we switching back to the island? I do not want to connect the real world with the island. The island is purely fictional, it is in no way intended to convey anything.”

Does it matter if the viewers do it?

“I do not care. Everyone can get what they want out of it.”

What if Boris Johnson uses the island to air his ideas about it?

[Hard lachend] “Well, I would rather not, think if he says, ‘Look, I have some ideas and then come up with the island.’ No, it seems very unlikely that it would ever happen.”

You were once portrayed as an old-fashioned explorer. Is that right?

“No, those are not my words either. Maybe someone has said that because some people think my island is old-fashioned. As soon as people say my island is something, say it looks like it’s in the 1950s, I immediately make drawings showing the islanders with a cell phone. If I wanted to make my island time-dependent, I would give them the clothes of the day, but it would also make it obsolete in a few years. I try to be as timeless as possible. So when people have a mobile, it’s not about the device, it’s about focus, it can also be a book or something else. ”

Are there any ideas you can not get rid of?

“Yes, a lot, but sometimes you can still use it later, then suddenly something comes in handy, or you use it for something else than you first thought. As an artist, you have the privilege – nowadays less and much less than I would like – to be lonely. It’s a unique privilege where you let your thoughts come to you for six to eight hours a day, where you take the time to let your ideas come to you. As an artist, you have to make room for ideas and especially not repeat yourself with your work. If you repeat yourself, you are abusing that privilege. So yes, sometimes you do something and it’s still unclear what you do with it, but it comes from an idea. You’re not saying this is a good thing, and not that it’s not working that way. What you create and invent is part of a larger whole. That is also why I want to keep an open end in my work, it will never be finished. I can stop, but it’s different than quitting. “

Charles Avery: Untitled (Bejeweled Hare), 2009
Photo by Peter de Kan
Charles Avery, Dweller in Philosophical Hat
Photo by Peter de Kan
Charles Avery, Untitled
Photo by Peter de Kan
Pictures Peter de Kan

Will we ever be able to access the entire island anywhere?

“No, you can not see the whole of China, can you? You can never see a world completely, and therefore not get into this whole island. For example, you can never see a whole picture: you can see one side and the other side, but never the whole picture. It is also not necessary to see the whole island: the island culture is in everything. The island is not for everyone either. The island can only be entered by people who believe in it. Not that they believe it is genuine, but believe in the integrity of the work. It’s about the integrity of the artist and the viewer. “

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