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Katja Novitskova's Work In A Post-Internet World – the Future In A Mediated Reality

Martin Rünk (1/2015)

Martin Rünk looks at the international career path of a young Estonian artist.


18. IX 2014–1. II 2015
Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo
"Europe, Europe" – an exhibition that brought together over 30 artists under 35 from eight European cities: Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Oslo, Paris, Prague, Zurich.
Curators: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Thomas Boutoux, Gunnar B. Kvaran.


Katja Novitskova (born 1984) is an Estonian artist, who lives and works in Amsterdam.1 She is one of the most successful local young artists in the international arena in recent years, which is attested to by her numerous group and solo exhibitions, international media coverage and a cooperation with the Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Gallery.

Novitskova's name has also appeared in the Estonian media ‒ she has participated in several group shows2 here, organised the cyber-sensuality festival Kik in der Kok3 in 2011, and written for the daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht on how to break through in the art world4. Unfortunately, she has not yet had a full solo show here and information on Novitskova's work therefore remains one-sided.


How to survive in a Post-Internet world?

Last year, I met with Katja Novitskova, who comes from Lasnamäe and studied semiotics in Tartu, digital media in Lübeck and graphic design in Amsterdam. She talked about her projects and art, and the basis for these.

After having completed her studies, a pivotal point for Novitskova turned out to be reading the 2009/2010 "Post Internet" blog written by the American art critic Gene McHugh, discussing the situation of art after the surge of internet usage. Rather than implying that the internet has come to an end, the "post" means that it has become a permanent part of our world, and therefore, of our art.5 Inspired by this thought, Novitskova began to curate a Tumblr environment,, bringing together visual images and texts from precisely this Post-Internet world; the environment grew into a now sold-out book, "Post-Internet Survival Guide" (2010), published through the German art publishers Revolver.6

With the book and an accompanying series of exhibitions that accurately touched a nerve at the time, Novitskova joined an up-and-coming phenomenon in contemporary art, which asks itself how to make art in the 21st century in a cultural space that has markedly changed due to the mass spread of the Web and the development of the technology that underlies it. Alongside Novitskova, the ranks of artists engaging in the Post-Internet include Constant Dullaart, Harm van der Dorpel, Rafaël Rozendaal, Anne de Vries, AIDS-3D, Timur Si-Qin, Kari Altmann, Daniel Keller, Juliette Bonneviot and others.

The changes that have accompanied the arrival of the Web are not limited to entertainment, information consumption or some other isolated spheres of life; instead, they affect the entire social organisation in developed countries at a fundamental level. Presuming that art is to reflect the contemporary experience of the world, the World Wide Web is undoubtedly increasingly its focus.



Katja Novitskova

Katja Novitskova
Pattern of Activation
Courtesy of the artist and
Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler



Internet art

When talking about the internet as material for art, one should not forget that the phenomenon that calls itself Post-Internet art did not emerge from nothing. An important predecessor is "early Internet art", whose formative period Tilman Baumgärtel, the author of the books " – Materialien zur Netzkunst" and " 2.0 – Neue Materialien zur Netzkunst / New Materials towards Net art", has dated to 1994–1998. In his introduction to the first book, Baumgärtel stresses that it "does not discuss scanned paintings or homepages illustrated with artistic photographs. What is important is art that discusses the distinctive functions of the internet, art that can only emerge on the internet and with the internet."7

Interestingly, what he is referring to with this is precisely the difference between Internet art and Post-Internet art. While Internet art is art that is created and presented in an internet environment, using as its instrument the possibilities offered by the web browser and the programming language, Post-Internet art largely focuses on the visual experience of spending time online and the preferred output may be a classical gallery show as well as an online environment. For Post-Internet artists, the vernacular culture of the internet constitutes material to be processed.

The boundaries between professional and amateur art are certainly not clear in Post-Internet art ‒ there is a continuous spectrum from sublimation by an enthusiast to critical treatment by a professional immersed in the context of contemporary art.


Internet vernacular and art

In order to understand Post-Internet art, one must first get to know the aesthetics that the artists build on. It is a hyper-realistic and design-based fantasy world created mainly by teenagers, which with its meticulousness wants to make the virtual more real than the real world. 3D modelling, creating a fetishized consumption utopia, HD sensitivity to detail and memes, which travel in the wide expanses of the internet as symbolic themes, help to achieve this. Novitskova used the words "post-critical" and "escapist" to describe the phenomenon.

In a virtual environment, the question of overcoming the two-dimensionality of the display and achieving a total experience of reality becomes important. The virtual is a simulation to deceive sensation, a simulation where visual experience is meant to be as dynamic as possible and emphatically sensuous. The internet mediates social relationships; it is a social subconsciousness, full of conditioned responses, uncontrollable and liberating in its noise of information. It is a place for channelling collective sublimation and letting out the steam that builds up in the humdrum real world.


New materialism

Katja Novitskova calls her field of study "digital ecology". It is a misconception to think that the internet is purely virtual ‒ it is very material indeed, with its server parks and other technological infrastructure.8 The internet operates on human attention; money circulates according to the number of clicks and everything can be measured. The question of trends as new captivating content is central ‒ for everyone from content producers to artists engaged in internet aesthetics to trend scouts who hope to capitalise on it.

The human being is not necessarily seen as a subject in this circulation, but rather as a link in a chain. The material world exists independently of us and the human consciousness is just one perspective among many. Added as a backdrop to this is the recently emerged philosophical camp of new materialism, represented by the Mexican-American philosopher Manuel de Landa, and speculative realism, spearheaded by Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux. Both seek to transcend anthropocentric subjectivity and address topics related to the material world.


Katja Novitskova's work

For Novitskova, the publishing of the book "Post-Internet Survival Guide 2010" was immediately followed by appearances in various group exhibitions addressing the Post-Internet and new materialism. Her most important solo shows are perhaps those held in the Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Gallery, which is located in Berlin and focuses on new art. The first of these was "MACRO EXPANSION" (17. XI 2012–12. I 2013), which addressed the issue of technological ecology in a Post-Internet world. The next solo exhibition in the same gallery – "Spirit, Curiosity and Opportunity" (3. V–28. VI 2014) – went on to look for visual forms circulating online and their archaic predecessors. The words in the title refer to the names for the NASA missions to Mars, thereby introducing a space utopia meme. Last summer Novitskova also participated in the Art Basel art show and opened her solo exhibition, "Green Growth" (19. VI–20. VII 2014) at the SALSTS Gallery in the small Swiss town of Birsfelden. In autumn she took part in an extensive group show, "Europe, Europe" (18. IX 2014–1. II 2015) at the Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo. One of the show's curators is Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Often looking like a product of image processing when seen on screen, Novitskova's works are purposefully constructed installations, which, perhaps for effect, are created to be better suited to being photographed rather than looked at. In these installations, the viewer is faced with unreal physical objects, which are difficult to define and carry an aesthetic quality of net art, characterised by a disappearance of borders between the real and the virtual. The works reflect the silicone and plastic utopia of technological progress, raising certain topics (the controversial relationship between nature and technology, the juxtaposition of high technology and archaic culture) without, however, passing judgement on them.

A recurrent series in Novitskova's work is "Approximations" (2012–…) – cardboard or aluminium billboards showing animals, sometimes exotic and endangered, sometimes just cute, which Kati Ilves has written about in more detail in the magazine Vikerkaar. In the virtual realm, exotic animals have been reduced to a "sympathetic" meme, an aspect of mediated reality, which to a slightly more critical gaze should reveal important differences between our everyday experience and what is seen on Retina display.

Another recurrent symbol is the cheerfully climbing red graph of stock reports and economy charts, which, despite some fluctuations, always invigoratingly points upwards. In the installation "Pattern of Activation" (2014) at Art Basel, the soaring arrow bounces off a trampoline and promises a bright future, reflecting an ambiguous position that, characteristic of Pop Art, conflates praise with criticism produced by exaggeration.

Web culture is a project to create a utopian future, which is well conveyed by one of Novitskova's most apposite works, "Shapeshifter" (2013) ‒ a piece of epoxy in the shape of a palm print with a crystalline silicon object reminiscent of a stone-age hand axe sticking out. By displaying in such a primitive form the crystalline silicone plate, or wafer, which is a basic component of a computer motherboard, the artist is clearly suggesting that, in a figurative sense, we are only at the beginning of our development.

We are still apes ‒ ironically and not.


Martin Rünk is an art historian and critic, who lives and works in Tallinn.


1 See:

2 "Archaeology and the Future of Estonian Art Scenes" in Kumu (19. X–30. XII 2012), "Shadows of Doubt" in Tallinn Art Hall (2.–27. X 2013) and the curator show "Literacy-Illiteracy" at the 16th Tallinn Print Triennial in Kumu (7. II–1. VI 2014).

3 Mari Peegel, Katja, digirealist Lasnamäelt. – Eesti Päevaleht 5. XI 2011.

4 Katja Novitskova, Juhend läbimurdeks kunstimaailma. – Eesti Päevaleht 9. VII 2013.

5 Gene McHugh, Post Internet. Notes on the Internet and Art. 12.29.09 > 09.05.10. Brescia: LINK Editions, 2011. The PDF book based on the blog entries is available for downloading at:

6 Katja Novitskova, Post-Internet Survival Guide 2010. Berlin: Revolver Publishing, 2011.

7 Tilman Baumgärtel, Materialien zur Netzkunst. Nürnberg: Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2001, p 6.

8 Recall, for example, Ivar Veermäe's solo exhibition "The Clouds of St Ghislain" in Tallinn City Gallery, 7. XI–1. XII 2013, where the artist observed a Google server complex outside the Belgian town of Saint-Ghislain, a gigantic technological facility, which should leave no doubt that the internet is very real.

9 Kati Ilves, Loodus ja loomad. Katja Novitskova vahendatud reaalsuse representatsioonid. – Vikerkaar 2014, No 3, pp 95–96.


Quote corner:

"A lot of contemporary art exhibitions can be criticized in a way that they are too easy digestibility: everything is so nice, humble and consumable. This is especially characteristic of gallery art: the focus is not on the author, but on the trends that persist for three or five years. Previous trend was the proliferation of text-based works, currently the eradication of boundaries between figurative art and applied arts is being played out (as seen in this exhibition), the following trends can already be gradually prophesized. Probably, it will be the triumph of Post-Internet."

Mihkel Ilus, Estna ja maali performatiivsus. – Sirp 3. IX 2014.


"Whether people like it, hate it or feel indifferent toward it, they all seem to know what "Post-Internet" means today but are unable to articulate it with much precision. "I know it when I see it" – like porn, right? It's not a bad analogy, because Post-Internet art does to art what porn does to sex – renders it lurid. The definition I'd like to propose underscores this transactional sensibility: I know Post-Internet art when I see art made for its own installation shots, or installation shots presented as art. Post-Internet art is about creating objects that look good online: photographed under bright lights in the gallery's purifying white cube (a double for the white field of the browser window that supports the documentation), filtered for high contrast and colors that pop."

Brian Droitcour, The Perils of Post-Internet Art. – Art in America 2014, November Issue.


"Digitalized world needs more and more IT professionals, but increasingly less just them alone. Soon we will have not just doctors, lawyers and artists, but IT specialist doctors, lawyers and also artists. The future is digital in every field of life. We need people who understand these issues from several sides. In every field."

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on the occasion of 100th anniversary of the Estonian Academy of Arts in Kumu on November 3, 2014.

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