Katja Novitskova’s exploration of the human condition and the digital landscape has taken her to Mars, where scientific discoveries are being made in the dim light of a Martian sunset. Mars Potential (cat) is part of a series of work that was first shown at Novitskova’s solo exhibition ‘Spirit, Curiosity and Opportunity’ – a title that takes its name from three of the robotic rover missions deployed by NASA in the exploration of Mars. High-resolution images captured by the rovers on Mars are collaged with disproportionately sized, cutout images of animals from the artist’s previous ‘Approximations’ series (2012 – ongoing). Here, a cat – that most ubiquitous of Internet search – stares out from fossilised, desert landscape of the red planet. Taken from generic search engines and then affixed to aluminium display stands, the flat pictures of animals became three-dimensional – the perfect prop for visitor selfies that are then posted back into the Internet’s ocean of signs, returning the images to their free-floating source.
Novitskova is both aware, and wary, of the social and cognitive shifts enacted by our contemporary culture of the selfie. As in Mars Potential (Cat)’s original display, she co-opts the audience as a mediating force, legitimising her work through the perpetuation of its image online. There is an underlying uneasiness posed by this limitless circulation of images – Novitskova’s work is in a sense apocalyptic: “Nature adapting to technological surplus. Alarmed scientists fear the overexposure to screens might result in a lasting attention deficit, while anxious Christians dread Pope Francis would baptize aliens. ADD is the new multitasking. The brain adapts to higher frequency cycles, to lol cats—“Who are we to close the doors?” (Elise Lammer, ‘Katja Novitskova at SALTS, Basel,’ Mousse Magazine, 2014). Through the juxtaposition of irreal space imagery and Internet cats, the artist posits that the line demarcating the natural world from its technological rendering has dissolved, all exist now in a flat continuum of images. Real (outer) space is collapsed with Internet space; one is indistinguishable from the other, to the point of psychic disruption.
What mitigates this unrelenting pessimism is both by the Potential suggested in the work’s title, and Novitzkova’s own artist’s book, Post Internet Survival Guide, published in 2010. The publication is her own proposal to navigate a space in which “everything is simultaneously realistic and camouflaged,” offering strategies such as ‘Remember Where You Are’ and ‘Vanquish Fear and Panic,’ to combat the insidiously synthetic rendering of our post-Internet reality. The ambivalent spatial compression of Mars Potential (Cat) is a trope of endurance – perhaps one day, lol cats will live on Mars.