MA programme Curating the Art Museum
Imagining Islands: Artists and Escape
Charles Avery, The islanders
A Plot (of sorts)
Avery has written two books to accompany his artworks of The Island, and these writings read very much like a personal memoir. We see The Island through the eyes of Only McFew, whose subjective reflections and stream of consciousness become increasingly incoherent. Both of Avery’s books begin with exactly the same sentences, subtly modified throughout the first pages to create a sense of foreboding and unsettling déjà vu. For example, in Avery’s first book, The Islanders: An Introduction, we learn about the dangerous Henderson’s eggs. The most anyone can eat is three before becoming ruinously addicted, yet in his second book, Onomatopoeia: The Port, we learn that Only McFew has already eaten his second egg; thus, readers understand that Only McFew’s fate is sealed.1 Avery’s narrative is not linear, only revealing its changes and progressions incrementally; by the end of part two, all we know is that Only McFew is lost and alone after his attempt to hunt the Noumenon in order to impress Miss Miss. Avery is planning a third book, and eventually hopes to create an encyclopaedic book for his entire project, one that, (as you can read in the interview below), will take the form of a “a book which one could enter at any point, and read in any order.”
Only McFew is meant to represent both the author and the viewer, so one might say he serves as a vessel rather than a protagonist with a fixed personality. At first, this subjective ‘self’ arrives on The Island with a colonial mindset, intending to gather items from its flora and fauna and take them back home to his queen in Triangland. Upon arrival, however, he falls in love with an indigenous girl known as ‘Miss Miss’ who shows him The Island’s marvels and wonders.
Towards the end of Avery’s second book, his attitude changes to one of confusion, and he begins to write an inventory in order to keep his mind sharp. Still, he cannot escape feeling “profoundly lost” and begins to refer to himself as “Only McFew,” the name he was mistakenly given upon arrival by Miss Miss. His thoughts slowly become rambling as he wonders “if beyond the shops and bars and lights of Onomatopy, beyond the Plane of the Gods, where the defunct machines and litter are strewn, underneath the mountains and the flowers and the dust and the bones of the hunters, there is an island at all?"