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Tania Kovats – Oceans, At The Fruitmarket Gallery



Only Blue, 2013 (Antarctica); Courtesy of the artist


“I have a sense that people ignore elemental forces at their own risk. Nature is not benign. My sense is that we need to pay more attention to what our relationship is with the land. As an artist I have a very small voice on the planet, but I do feel if I could get someone to notice something, that feels like a small start.” [1]

The artist Tania Kovats has for a long time been creating work, which explores our relationship with, and understanding of, the landscapes that surround us. Many of Kovats’ sculptural forms and drawings are pre-occupied with the earth's changing geology. The work presented in Oceans – her current exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh – is no exception to this. Here, Kovats’ work is primarily concerned with our relationship to seascapes and coastlines.

To some extent it feels like Kovats is using the sea as a tool, in order to map a certain perception of the world. In many of the pieces displayed in Oceans, the coastlines, together with their maritime borders, play a central part in the exhibition’s formation. Kovats invites the viewer to observe the world by contemplating ‘what the sea is’. She does this by letting different kinds of media and approaches to her practice, such as installations made from atlases, drawings and sculptural formations – play with our perceptions of what a sea consists of, feels and looks like.

The exhibition’s centerpiece: All the Sea, displays water taken from oceans all over the world. The water has been collected with the help of a global network of people and organisations, who have shipped seawater from across the globe to the artist. This process has involved Kovats documenting, labelling, measuring and transferring the seawater into glass bottles - creating a comprehensively ordered library of glass containers. There are 365 bottles in the work and these bottles contain water from 97 different seas. Kovats was given a total of 250 donations. Amongst the water filled bottles, stand 37 empty ones, representing the seas that she didn’t manage to collect. These absent seas play an important role in the work; as Kovats explains, these seas ended up “mapping where your connections are – the seas off the northern coast of Russia have been difficult. It also shows up places where there are difficult circumstances. There are a lot of seas around the Philippines, but their infrastructure is still being affected by the typhoon.” [2]

On her website, Tania describes how “All the Sea […] represents an archive of moments in time, recordings of 250 human experiences with – and most probably in – the sea, capturing in bottles a substance that otherwise slips through our fingers.”



Reef 1, Glazed ceramic tiles on board; Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Pipe


Both the development and the outcome of All the Sea, embodies certain human relationships with nature and its contained elements. The missing seas remind us, not only of the difficult terrains, but also of the power of the oceans. The Philippines for example, has many seas but the area suffers from poor infrastructure due to the typhoon that hit the region in November 2013. This has made it difficult to access these areas, and subsequently collect the water.



All the Sea; Kovats aim here is to assemble the world’s sea water in one place, resulting in a seawater library; Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Pipe


The power of the earth is also evident in Kovats’ piece, Mountain. This artwork is made up of machinery imitating the formation of mountains. Kovats used the same kind of machinery to make her 2001 series of sculptures: Schist, which also represented the forces and the activity of the sea.


clip_image005[6]Mountain, a piece which utilises parts of machinery in its formation; Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Art Fund


Together the pieces exhibited in Oceans form a reminiscent exhibition that showcases the impact of the sea upon humans and the landmass on which we live.



Oceans runs until the 25th of May 2014 at the Frutimarket Gallery in Edinburgh.




[2] ibid

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