Katja Novitskova’s images became popular to a wider audience by means of their seductive, appealing surfaces. She appropriates readily available online images by outlining their silhouettes and pasting (e.g., printing) them onto cut aluminum carriers. As simple forms in space, they become sculptural interventions, a family of symbols standing in the room like theatre props. Novitskova uses an old advertising trick where images serve to seduce, trigger emotions and make us feel better off; her subjects often include animal pictures, portraits of mothers and daughters, exotic birds, and similar fare designed to evoke an instinctually positive response. Choosing her favorites from an ocean of images, she creates her own cosmos, telling stories of pseudo-scientific character, drawing a vision of a future and, above all, reclaiming the iconic image. She is a sculptress of the digital era, not because she acknowledges the image’s “constructedness,” but because she scrutinizes its structure by processing it even further, allowing it to retrigger itself.
In her seminal 1987 essay “Towards the Metalanguage of Evil,” Cady Noland discusses the wide-reaching impact images hold, focusing on the US media—its hidden meta-levels, the structures that serve to infest the public with violence and anger. She talks about “the game of synthesis of tactics, played out in the social arena,” which protrude not only through symbols of negativity, but also through the portrayal of celebrities in tabloids that reduce people to photo-objects only to re-animate them. She also acknowledges the role of the psychopath, as described by Ethel Spector Person, as someone “who shares the societal sanctioned characteristics of the entrepreneurial male. Their maneuvers are differentiated mostly by decibel, the acts of the psychopath being the louder.”
PSEUDO-SCIENTIFIC STORIES DRAWING A VISION OF THE FUTURE AND RECLAIMING THE ICONIC IMAGE
Today, capitalist society is this very psychopath: a socioeconomic model obsessed with growth, status, wealth, hierarchy and fire. This much is reflected in Expansion Curves (fire worship, purple horns) (2016), her contribution to the 9th Berlin Biennale, which shows two iconic images, animal horns, centrally placed among a set of expansive flames. Drawing a somber vision of our socioeconomic trajectory from the Neolithic Era to contemporary capitalism, Novitskova employs ancient ritualistic symbolism, comparing its status quo to our own.
Recently, Novitskova has explored new directions, as in “Dawn Mission,” her solo show at Kunstverein Hamburg. There, her research around space exploration, technological advances and scientific discoveries translated playfully into a set of photo-based kinetic sculptures, resin-layered and activated by light. Scientific image production takes place beyond aesthetic considerations, collecting data that relates to the natural world. But as these genetically modified images are transferred from the lab to the gallery, a question emerges: If an image is not constructed for the human eye, where does it go beyond the microscopic lens?
From photographs of space worms to footage of a camel, recorded in night vision, Novitskova is on an information hunt which continues to dissect the image’s broader context, though perhaps with less distrust than similarly inclined artists like Noland or Barbara Kruger; while she appears to be less interested in democratizing objects than, say, Sherry Levine, she demonstrates a genuine interest in creating new, yet unseen visuals. It comes as no surprise, then, that we find ourselves digressing when trying to read her work, since all images-turned-objects have been assigned a new set of questions.
Katja Novitskova (Estonian, b. 1984) is an artist who lives and works in Amsterdam and Berlin. She is represented by Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin, and Greene Naftali, New York.
Novitskova will represent Estonia at the 2017 Venice Biennale, and is currently working on two major projects for the fall: In October, she will take part in the first edition of a new triennial of contemporary art held in Okayama, Japan, curated by Liam Gillick, followed by her first solo show in the US, to be held at Greene Naftali, New York.
Samuel Leuenberger is the founder and director of SALTS, a space for exhibitions in Birsfelden, Switzerland. Based between Berlin and Birsfelden, he has curated the Parcours sector of Art Basel since 2015. Currently, he is organizing shows for David Dale Gallery, Glasgow, and the Thun Ceramic Residency, Bozen.
Image: Approximation (peacock spider 2), 2016, Courtesy of the artist, Greene Naftali, New York, and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin