Why partake in our own lives when there is so much manufactured reality on view? From the virtual world, Second Life (where you can ‘live’ through an ‘avatar’), to possessing online gaming characters (eg Star Wars ) and the variety of reality TV, other lives seem more interesting. Disney has taken this one step further by creating a whole new town: Celebration, Florida.
With this voyeuristic zeitgeist, narrative-based work has become more prominent in the art world. More than ever, artists seem to be inventing new personas and creating new realities. For some it even provides a better focus in which to view their work, that is, it becomes a structure to provoke imagery. Certainly with Charles Avery this is the case. His drawings have always exuded a brash self-confidence, full of racy lines and stylised figuration, but their charm seemed to end there. The Avery figure seemed forlorn as if in search of a greater plot or purpose.
Since 2005 he’s been building not only a narrative but also an entire ‘universe’. The Plane of the Gods at Cubitt, a show of sculpture and drawings, includes two globes in which Avery has mapped out the geographical locations of his ‘world’. The characters depicted in the work are ‘gods’, ‘beings [that] provide base forms on which meaning may be imposed’, although other types of being also populate this archipelago. Furthermore, Avery counts himself as a resident of the archipelago. Does that mean he’s god or mortal?
Taking up most of the space is a large table upon which Avery has sculptured his gods. There is an elephant-skinned, sphinx-like figure with a wizened head (Aleph Nul—the eldest), a giant with a beach towel (Wi—The Swimmer), bearded snakes (probably the creepiest) and a tiny platypus-beaked man (Mr Impossible), among others. On the walls, drawings provide vignettes from this island.
By comparison, the duo show with Keith Wilson seems more aesthetic. With Wilson’s linear iron sculptures providing a more abstract structure and Avery’s figures on the walls, the show seems to emphasise the linear drawing to be found in both. However, it is his untitled sculpture with two candelabras on a table separated by a twin-sided mirror that may best illustrate Avery’s line of thought. The image of each is reflected, but their visibility to each other is blocked. Avery says that ‘day by day the island becomes more real (which I mean more internally coherent) and day by day I spend more time there until, finally I never return, and then all that will be left of me in this world will be the ephemera of my expeditions…’ Maybe what is visible is in fact a reflection of our ‘shadows’, and that there is another world behind the mirror: possibly an island on an archipelago.
Sherman Sam is an artist and writer