by Vanessa Gravenor
“All you get is light/ but light is actually a lot.” This is the statement written in the press catalog for Dawn Mission (2016), Katja Novitskova’s first solo exhibition, on view at the Kunstverein Hamburg. Novitskova, whose sculptures reconstruct images sourced from the Internet into a minimalist performative space, is a figure who is particularly at the forefront of installation-based practices in contemporary art. Her recent exhibition at the Kustverein Hamburg uses the museum as a type of crucible for extraterrestrial images, where projections of rotating reptile creatures and digitally printed animals on aluminum cut outs coalesce with diagrammatic signage and the language of post-production. In a type of absurdist logic that leads us back to the algorithm of the Internet, Novitskova opens a speculative space—between sculpture and photography—where phenomenological knowledge battles objective realism.
The title of Dawn Mission itself evokes a type of colonization of outer space, where imagery of the natural world becomes condensed into plastic diagram models. Novitskova pairs these ethnographic categorizations of organisms with the language and symbolism of the Internet, so that even the technical renderings of plant life or mountain ranges are aesthetically transformed, appearing instead as part of the “deep web.”
The exhibition invites reflection upon the different types of readings machines can promote—increasingly, as both viewers and consumers, we are confronted with data sets that we do not have the ability to break down and contextualize. The computer thinks faster and faster than we can, creating deep data. In an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Novitskova explains that she uses this source material in order to demonstrate the transplanting of web-based immaterial images into the real. This virtual-to-physical movement is reflected in Dawn Mission’s minimalist installation; her objects seem poised for movement, almost calling for a performance or event to take place. At the entrance of the exhibition hall, a spot-light is placed in front a spinning translucent sign that stands upon a faux rock base. The shadows of this “figure” are projected onto the walls of the gallery.
At the back of the exhibition hall, a green creature throws a similar gelatin shadow on the wall. Resembling a composite reptile-bird, overlaid on top of an image of the moon, the work surpasses collage; these unconnected images could only collide on the web, where such mash-ups and frictions are possible. Novitskova’s use of the Internet as a source for appropriation harkens back to the “new photography,” of the 1980’s, with the feminist appropriation movement, and even before that in Dadaist collage techniques. Dawn Mission’s sense of futurity and newness is balanced by this connection to the past. In Approximation (peacock spider) (2015), most recently included in Ocean of Images: New Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a digital image of a large spider is cut-away from its initial background and placed on top of an enlarged leaf. For Novitskova, the natural world is digitally estranged—these images are treated not as ethnographic studies of certain environments’ flora and fauna, but rather as evolutionary products of digital space.
Though Novitskova’s agenda seems clear, and without any type of political stance, her works within the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, curated by DIS Magazine, in the ESMT European School of Management and Technology generate an ethical stance on ecological change. Unlike Dawn Mission, where the setting was a neutral white cube, in the European School of Management and Technology the ‘real’ becomes another layer of collage. In Neolithic Potential (fire worship, yellow horns) (2016) and Expansion Curves (fire worship, purple horns) (2016)— the two major works installed inside the building of the European School of Management and Technology—Novitskova digests and refracts natural phenomena through digital post-production techniques. Here, maybe even more so than the Kunsteverein Hamburg, her cutouts look like puppets miming signage. What is unclear is if the audience is supposed to feel emancipated from being a spectator and included in the dance, or somehow estranged from the virtual procession altogether.
Dawn Mission at the Kunstverein Hamburg runs through July 3, 2016. The 9th Berlin Biennale runs through September, 2016
Vanessa Gravenor is an artist and critic living in Berlin.