BY James Roberts in Reviews | 05 MAR 93
Featured in
Issue 9

Tania Kovats

BY James Roberts in Reviews | 05 MAR 93

There is something other-worldly about Tania Kovats' first one-person show. The gallery window is blanked off from the inside by white, unpatterned net curtains, giving it the air of a rather minimalist undertaker's when seen from the street. The shopfront architecture and discreet signage of the gallery adds to this feeling. Perhaps it is just the associations of whiteness, linoleum and net curtains that induce an air of apprehension, like dentists' and funeral parlours - sites of pain and death - whose public frontages are as clean, antiseptic and discreet as possible.

This initial sense of morbidity is continued in the clear resin sculptures inside the gallery which encase samples of the two things that grow after death: a hair-ball and nail-clippings. There is a seductiveness about these solid cubes that is hard to resist: they are cast in a tour-de-force of craftsmanship with not a single trapped bubble in sight, and the surfaces are so highly polished as to appear most unlike resin. We know that it will eventually yellow like the nail-clippings it contains, but for now, the resin is crystal clear and the objects it envelops appear to float weightlessly in a supporting liquid. The ball of hair is formally satisfying and makes an appealing contrast with the random abstraction of the nail clippings dispersed evenly through the block with occasional traces of finger nail dirt spiralling off them in a rather attractive summer cloud formation. The optical qualities of the resin are interesting as well: because of the refractive properties of the material, strange things happen to the perceived volume of the object as you walk around it. Similarly, when standing still, the eye is simultaneously presented with multiple views of the object inside the cube - but then that is what Cubism is all about.

The optical effects of clear resin are manipulated again with Fatima, in which an insubstantial figurine of the Madonna is barely noticeable at the centre of the block. Cast in a slightly different coloured resin from the surrounding cube, the figure is almost invisible, yet, as light passes through, it is focussed or dispersed by the edges of the figure to project an almost holographic image of highlights and shadows onto the wall behind. Viewing at an angle from either side of the work, this surrogate figure is blurred, but as you move towards the centre, its sharpness increases until the moment when, just as it seems to be in your grasp, the shadow of your own body cuts out the light and the figure disappears.

The second installation in the exhibition carries a similar sense of play with appearances and an equally ethereal quality: on entering the gallery you find that the rear wall has disappeared to reveal a rift in the space-time continuum. There appears to be absolutely nothing where the wall once stood, just an expansive, bright white void leading off from where the floor abruptly ends. The walls have been narrowed and the ceiling lowered to compress the space and focus attention on this vertigo-inducing phenomenon, which works best after dark when there are no reflections visible on the illuminated perspex sheet and the illusion of nothingness can take complete hold of the senses.

The feelings induced by this space have an affinity, intentional or otherwise, with a kind of early 70s vision of the future, typified by the dream sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This sequence takes place in a bright, featureless room populated by unsurprising furnishings: a curious mixture of the mundane and the cosmic that had just enough in common with the (then) present to appear plausible. This seems to have been a period that believed the future was going to be perfect, in fact, rather like heaven - where, wearing practical man-made materials, we would listen to analogue synthesiser music while playing chess with glass pieces and sitting on a lot of vinyl and perspex furniture.

Fortunately, it isn't; but perspex, overall whiteness, polished surfaces and shadowless fluorescent lighting figured large in a great many visions of the future - a.k.a. heaven - that coincided with the maturation of Minimal art. Tania Kovats manages to invest a Minimal interest in materials, and the processes of seeing and experiencing space, with associative qualities that bring the work back into the world again, and into a context that makes its cultural history visible. The difficult part is to create work with the presence to maintain the initial suspension of belief - but you know that it works when you don't want to stand too close to the edge of the floor.