Edinburgh Art Festival: Award-winning Scottish-Siberian artist celebrates ecological entanglements
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Edinburgh Art Festival: Award-winning Scottish-Siberian artist celebrates ecological entanglements
Yulia Kovanova, Grey to Blue. Image by Kieran Gosney.

EDINBURGH.- Yulia Kovanova is one of Scotland’s exciting emerging artists, working across a number of mediums from film to immersive installations. Her film Plastic Man brought her nominations from BAFTA Scotland and Open City Documentary Festival (UK Best Short Film) in 2017 and 2018.

This year, Siberian-born Kovanova presents a brand new body of work, an arresting and immersive exhibition exploring ecological entanglements and examining how everything in our world is deeply embedded in and inseparable from its environment.

The free exhibition is presented as part of Edinburgh Art Festival, the major platform for the visual arts as part of Edinburgh’s world-famous August festival season. The exhibition is hosted by the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), the University of Edinburgh and forms part of ECA’s Summer Programme.

“Our world is a web of intricate relationships and interactions - some easily accessible to human senses and some less so. It is those very delicate relationships that Grey to Blue takes as its focus.” — Yulia Kovanova

Through an investigation of ecological interactions, Grey to Blue focuses on the exploration of colour and its spatio-temporal dynamics, to reconsider perceptual boundaries in search of new possibilities of how spaces might be shared with others. Each artwork explores the in-betweenness of things and how seemingly separate objects, bodies and phenomena relate.

A series of abstract interactions are presented through sculptural, photographic, moving image and sound based works, drawing attention to the role of colour in the living world, while highlighting ecological loss and absence.

Taking inspiration from the natural world, the artist is looking at how different organisms interact with their environment, and questioning the place of humans within their surroundings.

“This body of work deals with the removal of borders and boundaries. Even the ‘negative’ spaces between objects, the space in-between, become an equal part of the experience. Each artwork explores how everything is entangled, the in-betweenness of things and how seemingly separate objects, bodies and phenomena relate.” — Yulia Kovanova

A sculptural installation comprising of thin multi-coloured wooden rods looks at the interaction of a hummingbird and its flower as the bird enters the flower to drink its nectar. The coloured lines representing the flower interpenetrate the colours of the hummingbird, creating one spatial experience. The audience can walk through the piece, thereby entering the hummingbird-flower experience.

A second large installation [pictured at the top of the document] considers how flowers attract insects through their shape and colour. Two-metre long rods, suspended vertically and painted in the colours of a pawpaw flower, open wide to allow visitors enter the flower, duplicating the insect’s journey.

“Colour is everywhere, it permeates every element of our surroundings, our existence and our experience and is a means and one of the key elements of reading space. It is a powerful tool for communication common to human and non-human worlds.” — Yulia Kovanova

A pile of real soil spanning almost six metres is studded with casts of avocado stones of different shapes and sizes [pictured above]. The sculptures are absolutely white; their hue is missing - reflecting the extinct large mammals who would swallow and distribute the avocado stones. Thousands of years ago, these great giants, such as the six-meter tall giant sloth, would be attracted by the ripe avocados and mangos, swallowing the entire fruit with its pit, helping the plant to disperse its progeny far and wide. Those animals are long gone, yet the fruit hasn’t caught up to this reality, and continues to call for its lost partners.

As the hue left the avocado pits, the actual avocado dye became one of the components of the three plaster casts on the wall overlooking the soil [pictured below]. This piece shows the various shades that can be derived from avocado dye. With the giant mammals gone, it is the role of the human as a surrogate to continue the work of helping these plants disseminate.

A long strip of instant photos [pictured below], suspended from the gallery ceiling and continuing on the floor, examines the changing colours of a mango as it ripens and spoils - from green to yellow, orange and red. The mango fruits are lying on the forest floor waiting for their great giants, slowly transforming, slowly losing colour. The images are of an actual mango fruit as its colour changed, taken with in-camera blur. The details of the mango skin are removed, giving focus to the shifts in colour.

“There is a discrepancy between what happens within the environment and what we perceive as happening, with a large number of signals remaining unnoticed or misunderstood.” — Yulia Kovanova

In one of the dark rooms is a blurred video of a brightly coloured hummingbird and a flower projected onto an imposing fractured ‘screen’ made of suspended paper tubes [pictured below]. Accompanying the visual is a sound piece by Lars Koens that carries the audience through the columns.

The lights piece [pictured below], developed in collaboration with informatics designer Siyao Zhou, is looking at the relationships between bees and flowers - as a single bee flits from flower to flower in search of nectar. The lights are mapped to a bee’s movement - sometimes spending only a short time by a flower, sometimes longer. The colour of the flashing light is that of the flower, so the piece creates an experience of a bee-flower as one entity - alive only in coexistence. Lars Koens sound also accompanies this piece, interacting with the flickering light.

In planning and developing her spatial installations, Yulia worked in collaboration with architects Yipei Tan and Xinren Zhou, as well as Shona Yu for the video projection screen. The large-scale installations required very thorough planning to achieve the perfect simplicity and delicacy, with most works suspended in space. The sound pieces were specially composed by Yulia’s long-term collaborator and artist Lars Koens. The light piece has been developed together with informatics designer Siyao Zhou.

Yulia Kovanova is a Siberian-born, Scotland-based artist. Her practice currently focuses on the investigation of ecology of colour and its dynamics, the ideas of spatio-temporal borders and our perceptual boundaries. She often takes an interdisciplinary approach, working across a range of media, including moving image and sculptural installations, and through collaborative practice. She lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland. She completed her MFA at the Edinburgh College of Art (2014 - 2016), Edinburgh, Scotland and is currently undertaking research working with Edinburgh College of Art and Glasgow School of Art. Her film work gained her nominations for BAFTA Scotland and UK Best Short Film by the Open City Documentary Festival. She has upcoming shows at Sonica Glasgow and in Japan later this year.

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