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Tania Kovats: Oceanic at Parafin, London

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  • Friday dispatch
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Installation view of Tania Kovats: Oceanic at Parafin, London. Courtesy Parafin, London. Photo: Peter Mallet.

Tania Kovats has a fascination with the natural world. Her drawings, sculptures, installations, and large-scale time-based projects all indicate her ongoing interest with the sea, the water, geological processes and our natural environment.

Oceanic, Kovats’ first solo-show at Parafin, includes two major sculptural installations titled Bleached (2017) and Divers (2018), alongside works on paper and new sculptural work.

Divers, displayed on the ground floor of the gallery, consists of a series of eight figurative sculptures cast in concrete. Kovats employed wetsuits as moulds for these aquatic figures, which reflect on our liquid bodies and the experience of our own physical boundaries in water. Reminiscent of Modernist sculpture, the pale concrete figures seem to be weightless and ‘diving’ into the floor, evoking the organic forms of marine and plant life.

Downstairs, Bleached reflects on the pressing issue of coral bleaching that is increasingly caused by climate change. For this sculptural display, Kovats recycled specially fabricated corals, gathered from a decommissioned display at the aquarium in Hull. Showcased in vitrines that mimic museum display cases, Kovats slices through a plaster cast of the reef, resulting in a ghostly and seductive representation of a devastating environmental event.

Drawing is a central part of the artist’s practice and Kovats is a prominent advocate for its importance as a creative, democratic and reflective medium. She states: ‘Drawing is the most direct form of visual communication. It crosses boundaries easily and belongs to everyone.’ She has also written two books on the subject, The Drawing Book (2006) and Drawing Water (2014).

Oceanic includes new drawings inspired by Kovats’ ongoing interest in marine biologist Rachel Carson’s seminal 1953 book The Sea Around Us. We can see different editions arranged by the artist on a shelf at the entrance of the gallery. A series of watercolour drawings such as Sea Stain (Times Atlas of the World. Mid Century Edition Vol.4 The Americas) (2018) are painted directly onto maritime charts. The exhibition also includes a group of Kovats’ well known Sea Mark drawings whilst new works such as Orgasm Drawings (2021) and two large scale body prints titled Freediver (2020) refer to the artist’s own body in a state of flow.

With themes around maritime culture, water pollution and coral bleaching at centre stage, Oceanic is a critical reflection on how art can speak to our critical climate crisis and – against the backdrop of COP26 in Glasgow – is a timely artistic comment on socio-political and environmental concerns.

Christine Takengny