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Katja Novitskova's sci-fi installation invades City Hall

By Paul Laster
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A rising international art star who scours the internet for subject matter, Katja Novitskova has a knack for turning scientific information into thought-provoking art. She made her first big splash in New York when she was included in MoMA’s “Ocean of Images: New Photography” exhibition in 2015. She’s now representing her native Estonia in this year’s Venice Biennale, and also has a public art project at City Hall Park. Titled Earth Potential, it consists of a series of enlarged photographic cutouts—of animals, bacteria, planets—that read as a taxonomy of the natural world. During a recent stopover, the globe-trotting artist shared her thoughts about the role that ecology, technology and the internet play in her work.

What exactly does the title of your outdoor installation refer to?
My thought was to treat City Hall Park as a landing site for alien-looking interventions with the potential to change the way we see the Earth and what’s happening to it from a social and ecological point of view.

Katja Novitskova, Earth Potential (Lizard, Earth), 2017
Photograph: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY, the artist, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin and Greene Naftali, New York

How did you develop an interest in science?

I grew up in a very gray, post-Soviet neighborhood, and reading books about the planets, dinosaurs and ancient Egypt was my form of escape. I identify with science because fields such as astronomy, biotechnology, medical research, etc., are producing new forms of visual representation—though, of course, with no aesthetic purpose in mind. For me, science is a logical place to look for forms that reflect the current condition of the world.

Katja Novitskova, Earth Potential (Earthworm, Earth), 2017
Photograph: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY, the artist, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin and Greene Naftali, New York

A lot of artists take a dim view of technology, but you don’t.
Well, there are different types of technology, but what interests me is the sort that expands our understanding of the world—cameras, satellites, microscopes, space probes and image-processing algorithms that turn data into pictures. But all of the things are forms of mapping, and if you map something you’re engaging in a form of colonization. Any sort of colonization, whether violent or nonviolent, begins with mapping and discovery by trailblazers, pioneers or opportunists—and I like that tension between expansion of knowledge and expansion in an individual sense. And of course, scientific progress often raises ethical dilemmas.

Katja Novitskova, Earth Potential (C. elegans Saturn’s Moon Titan), 2017
Photograph: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY, the artist, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin and Greene Naftali, New York

Do you consider yourself part of the Net Artist movement?
I’m a few years too late for that, but I was definitely inspired by the Net Art community. I’m actually considering going back a bit to the browser-slash-social media domain.

Katja Novitskova, Earth Potential (Earthworm, Lizard, Hydra at Night), 2017
Photograph: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY, the artist, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin and Greene Naftali, New York

What would that entail?
I don’t have a clear idea yet. In the meantime, I’m making the simplest work I can. I want it to be Instagrammable.

Katja Novitskova, Earth Potential, is at City Hall Park, 43 Park Row (212-980-4575, publicartfund.org) through Nov 9.

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