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The Auguries at Informality Gallery, Oxfordshire, UK


July 2021
Diane Chappalley and Anna Reading

For thousands of years, birds have been associated with dreams and fortune-telling. They are often seen as omens, the harbingers of prosperity or danger. Augury is the ancient practice of interpreting prophecies from the flight patterns and behaviours of birds. The process of interpretation is known as “taking the auspices”, a term taken from a Latin word meaning “someone who looks at birds.”

Birds are central to Diane Chappalley and Anna Reading’s duo exhibition at Informality. Flocking, diving, gliding, or soaring; the motif flits between the two artists’ media, taking on a chimerical set of associations and portentous meanings as the exhibition unfolds. Waterbirds emerge as key protagonists, perhaps because they embody the human dream of escaping our earthbound condition; they are at home in the air and the water as well as on land, metaphorically inhabiting the liminal space between life and death, dreaming and waking, past and future.

The forms of Anna Reading’s sculptures evoke the frenzied motion of birds feeding in a flock, while their surfaces recall the aftermath: empty oyster shells and discarded chip forks littering a concrete and bitumen surface that resembles a silted-up riverbank or seashore. The birds are interspersed with planet-like orbs, hinting again at fortune-telling and a human impulse to look for meaning in the more-than-human world.

There is something tidal about Reading’s works; as though in its receding, the sea has left behind the relics of an unidentified natureculture, encrusted with a protective rime by the combined forces of waves, rocks, and marine life. They hover between an ancient civilisation and an undefined future world. With platforms raised on spindly legs and amorphous stabilising bases, the sculptures are both landscapes and objects, simultaneously representing horizon lines and holding an objectual relationship with the vertical and horizontal dimensions of their surroundings. They revel in the awkwardness of sculpture as a medium, insistently interrupting the viewer’s eyeline and bodily experience of the space.

By contrast, Diane Chappalley’s large paintings present a picture plane that is closed off from the viewer. Each canvas is a self-contained world, precluding the viewer’s wish to inhabit it through Chappalley’s subversion of perspective and horizon. Scenes emerge from mist as if scried through a curved glass and the differentiation between earth, water, and sky becomes unclear. It feels as though the viewer is hanging impossibly above the landscape, or perhaps gazing down into the ambiguous depths of a rockpool; a bird’s eye view.

In these paintings, bodies pulse and blur into their expansive surroundings; shadowy Ophelias drifting downstream surrounded by the blooms of a discarded posy, as the flowers leach their potency into the surrounding elements. In I saw me seeing myself (2021), a glowing figure floats in a red womblike tide of flowers, curled in sleep as if in preparation for birth or laid out in the gentleness of death. Chappalley’s paintings evoke a dreamlike sense of the disassociation that manifests itself after trauma. Narratives are hinted at but never resolved, rife with mysterious symbolism.

The large expanses of Chappalley’s glowing canvases make a bold counterpoint to the discomforting armatures of Reading’s sculptures, creating a complex interplay of forms and materials. The pairing is auspicious in an ancient sense, replete with the enigmatic messages of birds and the uncertainties of the future.

Text by Anna Souter

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