Katja Novitskova, born 1984 in Tallinn, Estonia, live in Berlin and Amsterdam. They were an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam from 2013 to 2015. In 2010, they published the influential artist book the Post Internet Survival Guide and in 2016 their second artist book Dawn Mission was published by the Kunstverein in Hamburg. Their work has been exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions including Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn; the Estonian Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale; The Public Art Fund, New York; Cc Foundation & Art Centre, Shanghai; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki; Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; K11 Art Foundation, Shanghai and Greene Naftali, New York.
In their futuristic installations A DAY IN A LIFE with THINGS I REGRET BUYING (2014) and PATTERN OF ACTIVATION (2015) Estonian artist Katja Novitskova introduces a contemporary sculpture in the shape of electronic baby swings. Similar to their signature digital prints of cute animals, the swings are a recurring visual format, which the artist outsources, employs and explores, in their manifold practice. But unlike the flat animal images with strong internet auras, these are three dimensional and swing the viewer in a slightly different direction of Novistkova’s practice.
‘The mamaRoo is calming because it provides an environment that is similar to still being in utero.’
– Alan Lantzy, MD, neonatologist and paediatrician
The works are assembled from technological devices, in particular, the electronic mamaRoo baby swings produced by 4moms, one of the leading sellers of modern babycare items, in conjunction with other 21st century paraphernalia, including hair extensions, nail polish, Ty-Rap cable ties, and interdental brushes. The assemblages, bearers of cool monikers such as Peaceful Snuggles Swing n Sway or Evenflo Exersaucer Safari Friends, embody Novitskova’s ongoing interest in the human condition in an age of accelerating technological advancement.
‘mamaRoo 4 bounces up and down and sways from side to side, just like parents do.’
As is often the case in Novistkova’s practice, the works stand at the intersection between technology and the natural world. These swing installations look like futuristic playgrounds and nurseries situated in interplanetary landscapes. Yet they also recall vegetative microcosms infested with beings whose shapes look both foreign and familiar. With purplish brushes dangling from their torsos, orange mohawks adorning their heads and the slick white surfaces of their extra-terrestrial skin, Novitskova’s swings grab our attention, in conformity with this age marked by rich imagery. The cute monsters crane their long necks to watch over rocking infants and whisper: ‘relax, let mamaRoo take good care of you(r) baby.’
‘Or, is this sweet babe the presence of God’s ghostly hand as I ascend into a torpor, into the brink of nothingness?’
– Agatha Wara, artist
Who or what is this baby? The mamaRoo swing seats that Novitskova replaces with protein molecule foldings, cradle wormy embryos, an occasional rubber gecko and a wreath of stock market arrow baby-snakes. More often than not, however, the seats look abandoned, as if someone or something that had been happily swinging through their infancy has finally hatched out of the nest.
‘My girl also loves all of the mamaRoo’s different motions and sounds (esp. the heart beat)’
– KateBT, mamaRoo user
Novitskova’s series of swings tell us about the parents as much as their offspring. Today, the topic of nature, be it human or not, versus nurture is alive as ever. Less about the ghostly prospect of technologies replacing human parents, however, Novitskova’s works are about the fact that it has already happened – mamaRoo is here to stay. The ‘uncanny valley’ that the artist wrote about in 2011 ‘where life and technology co-exist in a blurry commonality’ still feels uncanny in 2018 but somehow more familiar and perhaps motherly than before.