Tania Kovats: Evaporation @ MOSI, Manchester
“My job is to complicate things, to make things beautiful. The facts only mean things if they're also given imaginative space.”
At a panel event concerning climate change, hosted by literary magazine Granta, writer and birdwatcher Tim Dee is describing how he views his role as a creative writer communicating scientific fact. In other words, the facts can be reported – the job of the science journalist – but perhaps it takes a story for us to understand them.
Dee's comments happen to come just days after the launch of Evaporation, a new exhibition by artist Tania Kovats at the Museum of Science and Industry, and they provide a neat summation of Kovats' undertaking. Inviting audiences to reflect on our relationship to water and the ocean, Evaporation is a collection of works created to communicate ideas about the impact of human life on this blue planet. It is the second of climate change awareness project Cape Farewell's Lovelock Art Commissions, which allow an artist to research scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock's work, take inspiration from it and use their practice to explore its messages. (Cape Farewell has also historically run expeditions to the Arctic with a ragtag bunch of artists on board, in the hope that the art they make as a result of their experience will further understanding of climate change on a wider scale; past voyagers include Laurie Anderson, Jarvis Cocker and Antony Gormley.)
Lovelock's Gaia Theory holds that the Earth is a single, self-regulating superorganism, and Kovats represents this interconnectedness in a striking display of more than 200 glass bottles, each containing water from a different sea. The vessels, some slim, some squat, are not individually labelled, and while this may frustrate the viewer it helps to underline the idea of coexistence; that All the Seas are, in a sense, one being.
Most arresting, however, is the exhibition's huge centrepiece: a trio of metal cut-outs of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, designed strip by strip and then daringly coaxed into bowls. Stained and degraded, yet scalloped at the edges with delicate detail, they sit on their white plates like three rusted oysters.
Though they have an immediate presence, it is perhaps the way in which the bowls' creation is explained, through drawings and draft components fixed to the facing walls, that makes them so involving – and the rest of the show could benefit from similar insight into the artist's process. That said, the simplicity of display allows the works to speak emotionally rather than didactically, which is, after all, what the Farewell project is looking for.