The story of Soho House told through water

The story of Soho House told through water | Soho House

To celebrate one year of Brighton Beach House, we look at Tania Kovats’s art commission for the club, using water as a medium

Thursday 22 June 2023   By Anastasiia Fedorova

This summer, we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary of Brighton Beach House in the UK. The club on Madeira Drive opened its doors last June, inspired by the English coast with its Art Deco architecture and wide-open seaside landscape. The art collection is one of the House’s highlights, comprising of two parts. The Brighton Beacon collection, guest curated by Gemma Rolls-Bentley, brings together works from an international line-up of LGBTQIA2S+ artists and is a love letter to Brighton as a beacon for the queer community. The Local Collection features artists born, based or trained in Brighton and is dedicated to delving deep into the city’s unique character. 

One of the key artworks in the Local Collection is an assemblage of water vessels, each marked with a logo of a particular club. Located at the reception, ‘House Waters’ is an installation by English artist Tania Kovats. Born in Brighton, she works across different disciplines and is often inspired by water. In 2012, she completed a major installation ‘Rivers’ for Jupiter Artland, which displayed water specimens collected from 100 rivers across Britain. In 2014, her work ‘All The Sea’ brought together water from each of the world’s seas, displayed in clear glass bottles. ‘House Waters’ is a continuation of this method. 

The story of Soho House told through water | Soho House
The story of Soho House told through water | Soho House

To celebrate Brighton Beach House, we sat down with Kovats to find out more about her research into the meaning of water in art and society, and how ‘House Waters’ came together. 

How did the idea for ‘House Waters’ first come about? 
‘It started from a conversation with Kate Bryan, Soho House’s Global Director of Art. For my previous works, I collected water from rivers around the UK, and for ‘All The Sea’, I gathered sea water by putting a call out on social media and people sent me water from all over the world. With Soho House having a global network, it was about researching which body of water is closest to each House, and then asking either members or members of the teams in different Houses to collect water and send it to me. I then processed that water and arranged it in bottles for Brighton Beach House – it is especially significant for the House, as it’s so close to the sea.’ 

Are vessels or bottles an important part of the work as well – and how do you choose which ones to use?
‘My work is about our connection to water. It is vitally important that we think of our own health and the health of our waters, both locally and globally. In choosing the actual vessels, it’s somewhere between science, the kitchen, the pharmacy and the perfumery, but also none of those things specifically. The bottles have their own kind of aesthetic. They sort of have character, but without pointing to any other purpose other than art. In my work, I don’t test the water – I put it through a distillation process to stabilise it and take away any impurities, so it is very much a frozen moment, like a photograph.’

When did you first realise that water is something you really wanted to work with?
‘In my career, I’ve made many pieces that had landscape references, which means that I was working with water even if it wasn’t immediately obvious. Water is this great sculptor in the landscape. And as a sculptor myself, I’m really interested in how the landscape is made, how water is constantly forming the landscape, whether it’s thinking geologically about big glacial valleys, or the erosion of what we think of as solid rock constantly being affected by water – sometimes slowly over centuries, sometimes really fast and catastrophically. We think of flooding and how that kind of impacts on how we live, but there’s also no life without water. But sometimes living close to it is a challenge, especially in the current climate situation.’

Your work has this very interesting participatory element, as people collect and send you water. Is this community aspect important to you?
‘I think co-creation and collaborative making is a really energising approach to the creative process. What might start off being about my relationship with water ends up encapsulating many people’s connection to it. They start engaging with the work before it exists, as part of its making. I think that translates to the audience when they’re looking at the work as well – there’s a sense of bringing people into this conversation and into the process. I’ve enjoyed building that into the methodology of the work.’

Are you planning on exploring more ideas around water in the future?
‘My next water collection, which I’m starting quite slowly, is one of holy wells and healing springs. I started that piece of work with one bottle before the pandemic – although, of course, post-pandemic it acquired even more meaning. Whenever I’m near a well or a spring that has that association, I’ll collect water. I’m interested in the ideas of baptism or cleansing our psyche. It makes sense, because each time you get in and out of the water, you feel different.’

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The story of Soho House told through water | Soho House