two hundred and eighty two

© Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

two hundred and eighty two 2009

Tania Kovats (1966 – )


120 X 120 X 3.5 CM
Accession number


This slice through the trunk of an oak tree, a horizontal cross-section, makes visible the tree's venerable ring pattern. The ring pattern presents a year-by-year record of the tree's life, with the thickness of each line reflecting a particular year's climatic conditions. Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed to the exact calendar year, so it is a key means of measuring historical chronologies, both archaeological and ecological. Here however Tania Kovats uses the ring pattern to draw attention to the tree's own life, by tracing the grooves across the wood with Indian ink. Kovats' graphic description retraces an already explicit geological process, and serves to inscribe the wood - a relic of the living tree - with its own biography. As the title of the piece states, the tree is a sum of its parts. The lines of the rings become alternately looser and denser, as if in a succession of aftershocks from the eye of the trunk. Towards the bottom left they darken around a large knot, a sinister irregularity.

Two hundred and eighty two rests on the floor and against the wall, and with its irregular rind of bark like worn tyre treads, it is not a million miles from a decommissioned wagon wheel. It points to Kovats' interest in travelling works - in 2006 she created the Museum of the White Horse (a href=>, a landscape museum housed inside a converted horsebox, offering an inroad into the archaeological landscape of Uffington. This miniature museum travelled all over the UK. Her work is often stimulated by travel: in Meadow (2007), for example, she transported a complete wildflower meadow by canal boat from Bath to London.

So too, two hundred and eighty two relates to Kovats' installation of TREE in the Natural History Museum, London (, made in the same year. Commissioned for the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, TREE is a wafer-thin slice of a 200 year-old oak. From the roots through to the branches, it is inlaid into the ceiling of a gallery already decorated with plants. Both TREE and two hundred and eighty two magnify the status of a specimen into something with broader cultural associations.

'I am drawn to those moments in the history of science where those imaginative leaps take place. I’m also interested in the craft of science, the way that scientists prepare experiments, act them out, record them, the drawings and notebooks they use. The thought trails that they make I find really interesting.'[1]

[1] Tania Kovats, in the RSA Arts and Ecology Magazine, 2009: