How do we participate in cycles of creation that continue without our involvement? What becomes of the byproducts of those cycles? And what kinds of lives do they go on to have; what new structures do they create? These questions subtly pervade Macro Expansion, Katja Novitskova’s first solo exhibition at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, a constellation of ten works arranged minimally across the two rooms of the gallery.
In the most immediately striking and visible pieces, Approximation I and II (both 2012), Novitskova appropriated familiar images of animals found online to make large-scale, digital prints on aluminium. A mother and baby giraffe interlock heads in an affectionate nuzzle; two emperor penguins stand facing one another heads bowed over the gallery floor in front of an invisible setting sun (here, replaced by Win Win (2012), an acrylic cut out of a laurel crown hanging on the wall behind). Both the penguins and giraffes had been cropped out of their original photographic background and stood in the middle of the gallery floor, replacing their ‘natural’ environment with that of the white cube.
Displayed as free-standing cut-outs, these ‘approximations’ take on a presence, like the publicity cut-outs of famous actors one might encounter upon leaving a cinema. Yet unlike publicity displays, these subtly pixilated images are cropped in places that assert their photographic origins. The giraffes are cut tightly at their necks, creating a jarring effect that Novitskova has used in past cut-out works. The baby penguin in the original image from the National Geographic has been removed – the artist’s own participation in the evolution of widely available and rapidly changing digital material.
Novitskova’s works demonstrate and literalize a contemporary shift in which digitally circulated images come to take on lives of their own, evolving and moving forward with their own agency. No longer mere representations of nature, penguins and giraffes become representations of the image coming to life.
Nearby, a grid of four digital prints on papyrus further explores the potential and generative transformation of online images. Intensive Differences (2012) features the photograph widely circulated online of Justin Bieber in a wetsuit with a beluga whale, printed with a thumbnail inventory of wetsuit options. Everything is a Becoming (2012) includes a picture of CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper wearing a watch while holding a sloth overprinted with two diagonal rows of available watch models.
These works could be pages out of a contemporary bestiary. Their layout melds the structures of advertising (product placement, multiple models of different products), pop culture heroes, DIY Photoshop collage, and the experience of a Google image search with the anachronistic references to ancient hieroglyphics and the invention of paper itself. Each title refers to concepts from the work of neo-materialist philosopher Manuel De Landa, whose non-anthropocentric view of history focuses on the self-organizing, generative processes that govern systems.
Novitskova does not quite depart from an investigation of De Landa’s models, creating an aesthetic for capturing the perpetuating systems he describes. Here, each occurrence of a human (Justin Bieber, Anderson Cooper) is exposed to a system of processes over which he has no control. It is as though the content of each image is only important as a means of giving rise to other sets of information, rather than referring back to its own history. Perhaps product placement is an evolutionary process in itself, a process from which artists and artworks cannot escape.