Queen and Country & The Islanders:An Introduction at The National Gallery of Modern Art

Two free exhibitions at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art are well worth a look. First of all is Queen and Country, where artist Steve McQueen pays tribute to the service men and women who have lost their lives in Iraq. In collaboration with many of the families (some preferred not to participate) McQueen has created a collection of unique stamps, each bearing a photo of the deceased as chosen by their family. Facsimiles showcasing the design of the stamps are encased in a huge oak cabinet. Individual sheets of stamps slide out in chronological order.

Queen and Country petition postcard

Each sheet of stamps contains the name, age and rank of the service person plus the date they died. Queen and Country begins with with the sheet of stamps for Lance Bombardier Llywelyn Carl Evans who died 21st March 2003, aged 24. The work is ongoing but the current last entry is Corporal Paul David Joszko who died 28th June 2007, aged 28. It’s an emotive and reflective piece of work, never more so apparent than clusters of stamps for the same date, such as 30th January 2005 when the RAF Hercules plane crashed in Iraq.

The artist considers the work incomplete until the Royal Mail issues stamps bearing the portraits of the fallen. To aid this the Art Fund have created an online petition.

Second, is The Islanders: An Introduction. Inspired by his upbringing on Mull, artist Charles Avery has created an exhibition bringing together all his work on an intricately detailed imaginary island. The detail really is extraordinary, best demonstrated by the plethora of fantastic pencil drawings which capture life on the island. Sculptures, installations and swathes of text complete this monstrously sized exhibition.

My personal favourite character proved to be Mr Impossible, a tiny duck-billed creature with a top hat. Watch out for the gin-pickled eggs, which the Island’s inhabitants seem rather too fond of or the up for sale stone mice, whose hearts beat only once every thousand years. Maps, texts and images draw the visitor into the world of the Island and invite us, as best our imaginations can, to join together the dots and create our own realisation of the Island’s curiosities.

The Islanders: An Introduction, is an enthralling showcase of Charles Avery’s imagination and talent. For all your efforts The Islanders may still overwhelm, so perhaps another visit and a free talk by the senior curator of the Gallery of Modern Art on Monday 2nd February (12.45pm) will help shed more light on the island Avery has created.

Queen and Country, and, The Islanders: An Introduction both exhibit until 15th February 2009.

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