A long, red jelly-like arrow moving in a circular, snake-like manner.

Katja Novitskova, Growth Potential (re-animation), 2022.

Commissioned by Hyundai Artlab, © Katja Novitskova

The visual language of economics—and the stock images of growth, progress, and trends that come with it—are a source of inspiration for artist Katja Novitskova. On the occasion of her Artlab Digital Commission, Artlab Editorial talked with the artist about collaboration, JPEGs, and pulling ideas from the past.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a visual artist originally from Tallinn, Estonia and currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Before becoming an artist, I studied semiotics and graphic design.

Take us through your thinking behind your Hyundai Artlab Digital Commission.

Stock 3D models of economic growth arrows are simultaneously combinations of a shooting arrow, a mathematical vector, the shape of a snake, and a plant shoot—all merged into “industrial-grade” digital objects with often glossy surfaces and materiality. I’ve been fascinated by them for a decade now, and this commission was an opportunity to develop my work a bit further by making a dynamic animation instead of a sculpture.

Where is the arrow supposed to direct the viewer? Can you talk about the symbolism at play in your commission?

The arrow’s form and motion reflect the treacherous landscape of boom and bust dynamism of economic developments—or any complex process. The stock images of economic growth arrows themselves have to compete for attention to be picked up by anyone looking for the nicest arrow image for their presentation or email.

Over time, they turn into these extravagant shapes that barely reflect any possible market reality and instead present themselves as digital candy that looks attractive and noticeable in the sea of boring template growth graphs.

Curiously, this new complexity of form becomes interesting to animate, as it perhaps suggests potentially unseen dynamics within any given process that is reflected by the arrow’s motion. This unexpected potential is what makes it meaningful for me, and I hope the viewer.

A digital print of a bird with detailed feathers on aluminum, next to a polyurethane and steel sculpture of a red upward arrow on a vibrant electric blue background.

Pattern of Activation (emu), 2014
Digital print on aluminum, cutout display; polyurethane, steel

Courtesy the artist; Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann Collection
Photo credit: Hans-Georg Gaul

Your work frequently transforms digital media into physical objects. Can you walk us through this process? When did you first start working in this way?

My work starts mostly on the computer, as I’m playing with images and texts I find online to develop something new. It can be a simple Photoshop collage, a more complex translation between various softwares, or a several-step AI-assisted image generation project. Somewhere in between all of this I have a hunch that something can become a physical work—and what kind. I then think of potential people and production steps involved, and begin to set it all up. The process of translation from digital to physical can start with me ordering something online that can be modified into an artwork, or me collaborating with a 3D artist to make a model ready to print.

Your work often projects a cyber quality (arrows, digital imaging technologies) onto organic forms, animals, or mycelium. How do you feel your work responds to nature?

I think most things in visual culture, and specifically digital media, are in some ways a mimicry of natural forms or processes. Even a simple photograph JPEG of an animal is already an incredibly synthetic object: a collection of pixels that emerges from a machine that translates light into data using optical lenses that operate differently from any biological eye. I find this whole trajectory of thought intriguing to dwell on. How do we construct cultural meanings, and how do visual forms make up our worldviews?

An azure, horseshoe-shaped sculpture with a red drop in the center, made of polymer, steel, and acrylic paint, standing on a raw aluminum and mdf pedestal.

Approximation (Looking Glass Penguins), 2022
polymer 3D print, steel structure, polyurethane, PU-resin, acrylic paint, raw aluminum and mdf pedestal

Courtesy the artist; private collection, Cologne. Photo credit: def image

What role does collaboration and/or community play in your work?

For me collaboration is crucial when developing a new work or project. Either with a curator, CG artist, or a manual craftsman, the exchange of ideas and visual and material outcomes are what makes the work unique and strong.

Being left alone with my own brain and hands can feel very limiting. I used to be more active in various on- and offline communities over the years, and I find them absolutely essential for development of anything interesting in culture. Lately it has become more of a struggle for me, since I have a small child and my time is super limited. I reduced most of my communication to the closest of friends, and that also feels good.

Do you have an upcoming exhibition or project you’d like to share?

Next year is going to be big for me, as I’m doing a couple of museum solo shows: one at Fries Museum in the Netherlands and one at MGK Siegen in Germany. I’m also planning on developing some fresh works that I hope exist both in digital and physical forms.

A smiling person posing in front of transparent, curvy forms adorned with colorful drawings.

Portrait of Katja Novitskova

Photo credit: Lutz Leitmann

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