Found, 2018. Wood, foam, gravel, PVA, gloss, pearl farm oyster shells, CT1 (sealant), plaster, and glass, 55 x 62 x 50 cm. Photo: Courtesy Standpoint Gallery

Anxious Objects: A Conversation with Anna Reading

The futuristic blends with the primordial in the work of British sculptor Anna Reading. Her otherworldly forms call to mind remnants of a crashed space capsule overgrown with foreign matter or submerged manmade structures that have succumbed to marine accretions. These disquieting, largely colorless objects bear traces of human life but are devoid of figures. In Antenna to the Adrift (2019), for example, a quilted jacket perches atop a tall gray rigging, as if its owner had been swept away by spatial gales or met a watery end. The Fisheaters may appear less sinister, but it also testifies to an invisible human presence; close inspection reveals that the plumage of a suspended bird-like creature is made from disposable wooden forks.

Reading was the recipient of the 2018–19 Mark Tanner Sculpture Award, which provides £8,000 toward a show. Her resulting exhibition, “The Pothole,” which originated at London’s Standpoint Gallery, is currently on view at Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre in Manchester through June 20, 2020. In this body of work, Reading demonstrates imaginative experimentation with synthetic and organic materials: shimmering, orderly rows of oyster shells contrast with a brittle, barnacle-like substance (actually, an artist-made version of pebbledash) that seems to cling stubbornly to most surfaces. Though “The Pothole” marks a shift from Reading’s use of expanded foam to create distressed sculptures that look simultaneously low- and high-tech, her work remains constant in its devotion to the absurd. The viewer is frequently caught unawares, baffled by a lone eye staring glassily from a low, squat sculpture or a cartoonish face looming out of a large structure. This feeling of life lurking beneath the surface in even the most inhospitable surroundings inserts an upbeat quality into these otherwise unsettling sculptures.

Elizabeth Fullerton: What is the premise of “The Pothole”? It definitely has an uncanny feel.
Anna Reading: I wanted to make an environment that the viewer would move through. For me, the sculptures stand as islands or rocky outcrops. The original idea came from a visit to the Isle of Staffa, off the west coast of Scotland, when I was looking for a new set of references. The volcanic basalt outcrop was almost like a masterpiece of brooding mystery—austere and imposing. It’s uninhabited by humans, but there are colonies of puffins, seals, and limpets all over the rocks. It became my muse. The collages that form part of the linoleum floor feature photos taken on the island . . .

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