Outside the entrance of the Estonian Pavilion in the 57th Venice Biennale, the phrase ‘If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes’ is printed on a poster in glowing red type. Katja Novitskova’s exhibition title originates from the 1982 post-apocalyptic film ‘Blade Runner’ and points toward several themes that run throughout the exhibition.
In a scene from the film, one of the replicants, a bio-engineered robot named Roy Batty attempts to track down his creator and along the way, encounters the man who created his eyes. The author marvels at his creation as Batty remarks, ‘if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.’ In this statement the replicant acknowledges the eye maker built his eyes but claims authorship for himself based on what he has witnessed separate from the creator. This scene frames Novitskova’s exhibition through the symbolic role of spectator versus the role of the creator – the creation takes on a life beyond what was originally intended.
Novitskova sources images of wildlife and biological systems from the internet and prints them in large format on thin sheet metal. Propped up cut-outs of snakes, eggs, bears and rat intestines crowd the upper rooms of the Pavilion with thick silver cords draped from the ceiling and woven amongst the sculptures like ivy on the floor. Two life-size printed predator cats take a dominant stance in dimly lit rooms. The eyes of both cats are erased by the glare of a camera flash leaving the mark of technology embedded in the photographic documentation. Novitskova selects images which may outlive and outnumber the species they document such as the endangered leopard or vulnerable polar bear.
Throughout the space, light is used as a method to shift the attention of the viewer. The motors of slow turning lights creak as they illuminate plexi brain graphs hanging from the ceiling. Their light prisms appear and disappear on the wall like ghosts as they turn. Rather than a participant in the exhibition, the viewer takes on the feeling of a spectator walking into the dream of a future species. This ominous feeling continues in the bathroom which is reminiscent of a horror film. The room is dark and the only light emits from ice shavings in the bath tub. Out of the shavings a giant snake emerges. The sinks and urinals are filled with little glowing crab like creatures. Two mirrors give the audience a chance to look at themselves in this scene where they remain in the shadow of the illuminated creature behind them. Next door, a circle of transparent robots made from baby rockers with red laser eyes shift back and forth as they watch a slideshow of stock photo sunsets, bugs, plants, bacteria and other specimen.
‘If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes’ imagines a post-apocalyptic time not far from now which flirts with the quandaries of contemporary society. The exhibition shows the results of a world driven by the attention economy and big data industries which is at the same time ignorant of environmental and ecological consequences. The era Novitskova depicts is one derived from human impulse of hyper production and consumption, but absent of the human species, filling the rooms with an eerie dread. Novitskova shows a physical representation of the virtual world civilisation may well leave behind.