There is no season quite so connected with longings, expectations and memories as is summer. At the same time, everybody spends the warmer months differently. We met up with artists to talk to them about this very special time of year.
Cars clog the narrow street as we sit outside a café in Kreuzberg one afternoon. Cyclists ride past, it’s noisy, the sun is shining, and Katja Novitskova has ordered a brownie and a flat white. There’s a bit of the usual Berlin small-talk: “Kreuzberg is buzzing”, but unfortunately unaffordable. We are both uncertain: She really doesn’t know what to get out of summer, and I have no idea either, but I promise myself I’ll get help from her.
She has come directly from her studio just a few streets away, where she is working intensively, and will continue to do so until the end of June, after which she opens a show at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. At the same time, she says with slight regret, midsummer’s day and the period around it is quite a special time. The Estonian-born artist celebrates her birthday on June 20, and June 21 is the longest day of the year. Then the people in the Baltic celebrate the shortest night of the year, which is particularly short up there – “a night of no filters”, Novitskova tells me.
We start with a simple question on the tricky theme of summer. I suspect that nothing is nicer than the memory of summers gone by, so what is her first memory of the warmer months? Novitskova, who was born in 1984, recalls her grandmother’s dacha. Everything was very simple there, she says: no running water, no heating, rainwater was collected in a barrel. Her grandmother grew vegetables, apples and flowers, and at the end of August, these were harvested and preserved. During the holidays Novitskova and her brother travelled to the summer house, which dated back to Soviet days. Until she was ten, and then her grandmother died.
Katja Novitskova loves summer in the country with the pre-modern cyclical life determined by nature, while in her work she is virtually obsessed with digital images. “But that’s the only way the summer makes sense,” she says, “when you do something outside. Nowadays I spend most of my time at a computer.”
I want to know whether Estonia is perhaps the hippest place in the world right now. The artist makes a noise that is half disparaging, half amused. OK, she concedes, the Baltic Triennial opens in Tallinn at the end of June, and the capital has long been home to a vibrant music scene, but summer in the Baltic, now that is something different. Novitskova says she has to swim in the cold Estonian sea at least once to bring back those wistful memories. She says August is her favorite month, when the nights are cooler and the days shorter, when the plants are heavy with the growth of a full summer, and when the grandmothers preserve the harvest. It’s only then that Katja Novitskova can truly relax.