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Tania Kovats – Oceans – at Hestercombe House

January 9, 2015

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;*

The siren call of the sea has a willing captive in Tania Kovats. Water has been a recurring theme in her work. There has been an inevitable progression from Meadow, the transportation of a wild flower meadow from Bath to London via the inland waterways, to Rivers, a collection of water from 100 rivers from around the uk, to collecting sea-water from around the globe. Breaking boundaries, connecting territories, bringing the outside in, Oceans transports the sea into the confines of Hestercombe House and contains it still further in bottles.

Walking up the main driveway towards the grandeur of this stately house, an array of windows are partially masked by blinds, marked by lozenge shapes that evoke the still waters of a calm sea. Marks which are repeated inside the house in Sea Mark a technically challenging wall installation of ceramic tiles and in Sea Mark for Hestercombe a vast site specific installation of small ink drawings which paper the walls of the stairwell fusing with the fabric of the building. Glass and water pervade the spaces. Looking out from the first floor, the transparency of these components, the liquid and the vitrified, are repeated in the straight Palladian waterways of the garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwyn Lutyens. The clear glass of the magnificent windows confines the interior, outside the clear water contained in the rigid arrangement of channels mirrors clouded skies. But water will not always be contained.

The human body is made up of around sixty percent water, it is the connective medium that flows through and lubricates the different parts of this complex mechanism. Great Britain, this country in which we live, is surrounded by sea, it is an island whose interior land is connected and divided by arteries and veins of water. Kovats is interested in water as a conduit and in its relationship to time. Her concerns are landscape, seascape, movement through the land on water, experiences which encapsulate the slow unfolding of time, a progression that slows time, that offers a breathing space away from the hectic noisy speed-dating with life that goes on in urban spaces. And yet water, our seas and rivers can be violent treacherous fast moving and tumultuously noisy. Canals our inland waterways are slower moving but they too can flood and invade our landlocked territories.

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Tania Kovats All the Sea (2012–14),  Courtesy the artist. Photo: Ruth Clark (Image at the Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh)

As with Rivers, the installation, All the Sea was a way of stilling water, arresting its movement. In drawing in waters from all the seas around the world, it effectively drew in people from all the lands that bordered those oceans. It became a huge, collaborative artwork. Her call to people to send her samples of water from the seas where they lived had an astounding response and people from all over the world sent her bottles that contained seawater together with histories, anecdotes, information, all of which data has been archived. But the water itself has been filtered and transferred into glass bottles of different shapes and sizes containing different amounts of water and displayed on an enormous open plan shelf.

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Tania Kovats, Only Blue (Antarctica), 2013. Courtesy the artist.

Empty bottles signify the missing seas. The pages of books of maps piled on tables, in which the land has been whited out, are a poignant reminder of the falsifying of records, the airbrushing of inconvenient cultures by early cartographers. Salt drawings, experimenting with speeding up the process of evaporation to leave increasing levels of crusted salty residue, are a memory of the water that was there.

Kovats has captured the sea, making something permanent out of something fluid and ungraspable unless trapped in an impermeable container. She has divorced these waters from their histories, containing them in an alien environment but, filtered, not distilled, they still hold the memory of their origins and represent a moment in time, a moment of time in the history of their captor. She has stilled the perpetual motion of these tiny samples of the world’s seas.

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Tania Kovats All the Sea (2012–14), (detail) Courtesy the artist. Photo: Ruth Clark

© Fiona Robinson 2014

Originally published in Evolver Issue

Tania Kovats Oceans at Hestercombe, curated by Tim Martin from the original exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh continues until 11 January 2015.

http://www.hestercombe.com

 

* From Sea Fever by John Masefield

 

 

 

 

 

 

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