The Runway and The Slaughterhouse: In Conversation with Artist Tamara Kostianovsky

Full Original Article in Spanish Available in Vice-Versa Magazine.

Born in Jerusalem and raised in Buenos Aires, Artist Tamara Kostianovsky was affected by the strong culture of animal consumption in Argentina during her upbringing so much so that it became a main focus of her artistic practice. During her youth, Kostianovsky became fixated on the ubiquity of animal carcasses around her city, and came to view them as tragic and sacrificial entities that possessed a certain melancholic beauty.

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What’s more is that Kostianovsky’s experience surrounded by carnage from a young age didn’t stop at animals; her father was a plastic surgeon, and in a recent conversation, Kostainovsky explained to me that not only did she have a stint working at his office, but medical images of surgeries and dissected human body parts were commonplace in her childhood home, laying around casually, even on her kitchen table.

As an artist, Kostianovsky transitioned her career from focusing on painting to sculpture, and felt compelled to creatively work with her memories of the torn body and themes of consumption. Her 2014 collection of sculptures, “Actus Reus,” comprised a series of hanging “meat” and “animal carcasses,” which she would meticulously assemble using only her own discarded clothing (sometimes working around an armature).

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Continuing to experiment with these themes, Kostianovsky began to diversify her subject matter when a friend of hers suggested that she begin to work with birds. Kostianovsky liked this idea, and she started experimenting with feathers, ordering them off of the Internet, studying them and replicating them with fabric using new techniques.

One day, she ordered what she thought were feathers online, but what arrived instead in the package was a full pheasant for taxidermy. She looked down at the deceased bird in the box, and thought that it shared this certain tragic beauty to it that she had always felt inspired to work with. This launched her 2016 collection of hanging dead bird sculptures titled “Relic,” which she recently exhibited as a part of a group show at Y Gallery called “Natural Resistance” that dealt with the tension between violence and nature.

To note, by working with nearly exclusively recycled clothing, towels and blankets to create works that highlight how we consume nature and animals, Kostianovsky continually makes a conscious and dynamic political statement of “anti-consumption.”

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In the following interview, Artifactoid sits down with Kostianovsky to discuss her artwork’s connections to art history, the inspiration that arose from working with clothing and dead animals, and the artist’s current participation in the exhibition, “Weave Wars” at the Indianapolis Arts Center from September 23rd through November 19th, 2016.

Artifactoid: Many people have compared your sculpture work to imagery present in Flemish still life paintings. Was the connection intentional, and what is most important about its influence on your work in your opinion?

TK: The connection between my work and Art Historical Still Life paintings is intentional. For years, I’ve been enamored by the way Flemish artists were able to turn images of dead animals and flesh into complex mirages of luxury and excess. I’m drawn to the expressive and dramatic character of this imagery and seduced by the issue of wealth that these works present. In the 17th Century, owning one of these works was a strong status symbol. They perpetuated a “full plate” on the walls of a house, while reassuring noblemen of their class, as hunting was only reserved for the nobility at the time.

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As for me, I’ve come to the world of flesh from a unique experience. While living in Argentina as a teenager, I worked at a surgeon’s office at the same time that I was going to art school. The transition between work and school became quite seamless and I was able to connect the sightings of blood, ligaments, and fat I saw at work with my early experiences as a young painter. Since then, I’ve been interested in looking at images of torn flesh from that perspective, so when I came across the Dutch Still Lives, I recognized that impulse to make the inside of the body appear luxurious and seductive, and I was transfixed…

Artifactoid: At a recent panel discussion at Y Gallery you mentioned the idea of links between a meat slaughterhouse and a fashion runway. Can you please expand on your ideas about this comparison and how it inspires you artistically to explore?

TK: In recent years, research for my work has made me take a close look at both slaughterhouses and the fashion world. On a first look we tend to see these systems as complete opposites: slaughterhouses hide the abject, the disgusting, and the cruel, while the fashion world is involved with beauty and perfection. In my view, strong resemblances between these two systems exist, particularly in the rhythmic, mechanical way that bodies circulate in choreographed way around a space, a topic that fascinates me because of its connection to sculpture, to architecture, and to our most primal experience of existing as physical beings in the world. Because of efficiency, optimization, and organization, direct connections can be established between the diverse systems that dominate the production of goods across different industries in today’s world. I am interested in making work that inhabits this intersection, artwork that on some level articulates the contemporary experience of consumption, industrialization, and that questions the modern ways in which we’ve become “modern predators.”

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Artifactoid: Who are some of the other talented artists working with fabric who inspire or influence you?

TK: Discussing textile art can be conflictive. From a Latin American perspective, fiber has a rich, ancient tradition that speaks of nobility, community and a spirit of collaboration with the animals of the Andes. From a contemporary Latin American art point of view, fiber is often a material of choice that can successfully articulate with sensibility and humbleness some of the sociopolitical and economic problems of the region. Within a more international contemporary art perspective, textile art is often linked to “craftiness”, “softness”, and the “feminine”. I reject the notion that I make “soft sculpture”– there isn’t anything “soft” in what I intend to say or the way I say it. In using fabric, I see an opportunity to expand the scope of what this material can do, but most mostly an opportunity to redefine the gender notions that still haunt women artists.

I came to fabric through surgery, and because I use mostly my own clothing to make art, I see this material as a second skin, a surrogate of my own body. Janine Antoni has been a big referent for me in the way she used her body to activate sculptural processes. Louise Bourgeois comes to mind as well, but mostly because of a kinship to a dramatic sensibility, not so much because of the material choice.

Artifactoid: What are you most excited about regarding your participation in the “Weave Wars” exhibition?

TK: I’ve recently discovered the artwork of Ben Venom, whose work is featured alongside my own at the new exhibition “Weave Wars” that opened on September 23rd at the Indianapolis Art Center. I’m excited about his very alternative and badass quilts but mostly about having my work featured within an incredible group of artists who are thinking of ways of pushing the limits of fabric as material. Because I am a little fatigued of media-specific exhibitions, I tend to not participate in fiber-art shows, but this one seems to be energized, radical, and original. I’m excited about what curator Kyle Herrington has put together.

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Tamara Kostianovsky was born in Jerusalem, Israel and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn. Her work has been widely exhibited internationally, as well as presented in solo and group shows at venues including: The Jewish Museum (NY, USA), El Museo del Barrio (NY, USA), Nevada Museum of Art (NV, USA), Socrates Sculpture Park (NY, USA), The Volta Show (NY, USA), Maison et Object (Paris, France), and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (MI, USA). Kostianovsky is the recipient of several grants and awards, including: The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grants, and a grant from The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Full Film For View and Director Q&A with Argentine Conceptual Artist Syd Krochmalny

On September 22nd, 2015, Argentine Conceptual Artist and Director Syd Krochmalny debuted his 42-minute short film, “Blanchot en Buenos Aires” (or, The Writing to Come). Artifactoid is excited to announce that the unique and poetic art film, related to the theory of French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist Maurice Blanchot, is available for your view right on our site following the below trailer and exclusive Director Q&A.

Artifactoid: What inspired you to create a film about Blanchot?

SK: Having worked with the theme of “the community” in some of my previous works, the director of the masters program in “Interdisciplinary Studies of Subjectivity” at the University of Buenos Aires wrote to me to put me in touch me with Dr. Noelia Billi, who was organizing a series of conferences on Maurice Blanchot at the National Library. Blanchot is known for working with the idea of the community, so this connection made sense.

After several meetings with Dr. Billi, I formulated the following question: What can I do beyond merely interpreting Blanchot and his literary theory? I immediately thought of a double hermeneutic:  I wanted to not only interpret Blanchot, but to interpret the interpretations of Blanchot created by his readers. Then, I started to think of a possible action I could take to accompany this idea: How can I build a bridge that connects Blanchot and his readers in Buenos Aires on one side, and the poets of Buenos Aires on the other side? This problem led to the creation of the film.

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Artifactoid: How did you decide upon the unique style and format of this film?

SK: I thought the best way to work with these questions would be a film, but not a conventional documentary. I was not interested in preexisting connections, but rather in making a film that could create its own connections. The majority of documentaries expose something existing, either past or present — something that preexisted the documentary. What I aimed to do with this film was create a documentary about something possible or imaginary, that doesn’t yet exist. In other words, the idea wasn’t to do research on the reception of Blanchot in Buenos Aires, but instead, imagine a poetic of Blanchot (a style of Blanchot-like thinking), imagine the possible connections between Blanchot, literary theory, and local poetry.

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Artifactoid: Once you had the original concept and format in mind, how did you bring the film to life?

SK: The next step was to figure out how to make this concept visible. I chose to represent it as two axes hinged together. The first axis was to work with a site-specific dimension (within the limits of Buenos Aires). The second axis consisted in transforming the concept into a narrative story.

For the first axis (the site-specific dimension) I decided to work with the geographic space and human resources I had at hand. For the first location, I chose the National Library, where the final video would eventually be projected, and where the intellectual capital of Buenos Aires and Argentina is stored.

Second, I chose the UBA’s Philosophy campus as a “resonant space” of Blanchot’s thought. Finally, I chose the artistic research center called, “Canal de Interferencias Artísticas,” as a space that crosses between “the poetic” and “thought,” — a space that ties together the library and university.

In addition, I decided to include Dr. Noelia Billi, who was finishing her doctoral thesis on materialism and language on Blanchot philosophy. Her research team also participated in the project, not only with the philosophical content of the project itself, but with technical operations, either as assistants, producers, cameramen or sound engineers.

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For the second axis (transforming the concept into a story), my idea was to articulate the concept in the following narrative sequence (synopsis):

Just before submitting her doctoral thesis on materialism and language, a Philosophy student comes across “The Blanchot Box” in the National Library: an unpublished project commissioned by Alberto Greco in a letter to the poet Ricardo Carreira. In the hands of the student, this unfinished work will [start to] take on a life of its own, tracing a/constructing a strange path/space out of the voices of philosophers and poets reflecting on the possible resonances of Maurice Blanchot’s thought in Argentine theory and poetry.

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Artifactoid: What is the reasoning behind the narrative structure of this film?

SK: For this film I was interested in using a poetic structure typical of Blanchot when telling the story: an open and undefined structure (as opposed to an Aristotelian poetic; a poetic of representation with a beginning, middle and end, typical of Hollywood movies).

The goal of the film is to demonstrate the ability to attach and detach the visible from its meaning, the words from their effects; attribution to reconfigure the distribution of certain provisions of the visible and thinkable. In this case, an imaginary system of a philosophical and poetic community that bring Blanchot to life through their words and sentences.

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Artifactoid: How did you select the different philosophers and poets that you chose to include in the film?

SK: The video references different poets that can be aggregated in two groups. The first one contains writers that Blanchot wrote about in his books: Borges, René Char, Beckett and Mallarmé. The second contains  the writers that I believe have possible connections with Blanchot’s topics and poetics. For example, Ricardo Carreira and his lyric materialism, where the writing is outside the will of the representational, and the words are how things work. These two ideas are also part of Leónidas Lamborghini‘s rewritings. Then, the others poets are connected with different topics that are part of the Blanchot Literary Theory: Vanna Andreini and “language,” Marina Mariasch and “the everyday life,” Francisco Garamona and Claudia Masín and “the aestethics of rocks.”

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Artifactoid: Why did you decide to work with the idea of the “Blanchot Box?”

SK: I worked with the idea of the Blanchot Box to give an image to the concept of the words and how things work. In other words, I transformed the image of the book into a box, and the idea of words into objects. If we think about artists who work with boxes, the first who comes to mind is Marcel Duchamp. And, a possible connection linking this idea to Buenos Aires is Alberto Greco: the first conceptual artist from Buenos Aires (and an artist who did different art-box projects). In addition, the role of Carreira in this film has to do with that he is a conceptual artist and writer who never had contact with Blanchot, but from my point of view, the literary theory and poetic of Blanchot resonates in Carreira’s poems: the writing is outside the will of representation, and words are how things work.

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Artifactoid: How can this film be interpreted?

SK: On one hand, “Blanchot en Buenos Aires” can be interpreted as creative research, because for this film I didn’t research the literary thought of Blanchot nor his reception in Buenos Aires, but instead, I researched his possible and imaginary connections with his readers and the poets of Buenos Aires. In turn, the working methodology was flexible rather than circumscribed to conventional or tested methods of scientific and humanistic research.

On the other hand, one might think of this work within the framework of “non-creative writing.” I wove poems together with other analysis, without the need to ascribe signs to each participant indicating their names and professions. In a way, it was an appropriation.

Finally, both dimensions, creative and non-creative, were articulated by a fictional story that the viewer can investigate on his or her own. I am interested in the freedom of the viewer, or to quote a famous French philosopher: “the emancipated spectator.”

To conclude, Artifactoid is pleased to present the full film, “Blanchot en Buenos Aires:”

Interview with Theresa Byrnes, Painter and Performance Artist

Australian-born and New York-based Painter and Performance Artist Theresa Byrnes talks with Artifactoid about inspiration, a return to her roots as a painter, and her most recent performance, “Mudbird,” created in collaboration with her 20-month-old son. 

Artifactoid: How did you get started as an artist?

TB: At age 16 in 1985, my studio was the family lounge and dining area. I would start to paint every night after dinner while everyone watched TV.  By the time everyone went off to bed one by one, I would get more and more on a roll. I would paint through the night. Soon I outgrew the family room, no longer able to pack all my canvases neatly every night without disrupting my process or running the risk of wet work being trodden on when the the family awoke. I scoured the classifieds to find a studio. I found part of a warehouse to rent cheaply, so I did. 29 years ago, at age 17 in 1986, I began to paint full-time in my very own studio!

I had already been included in minor group shows from 14 years of age and on. While in high school I did life drawing classes at night, and some of my drawings were selected for a group show. I went out on a limb and contacted a curator who included my work in a rotating VIP lounge, and my work began to sell. My first solo exhibition was at 17, but I consider being an artist about making art more than about exhibiting or selling it.

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Mistakes in painting are like an angel pushed your hand, changing your direction to somewhere you never would have gone

Artifactoid: Who are your biggest influences in performance art and why? Who inspires you?

TB: I did my first performance when I was 19 in 1989 in Sydney Australia’s Chinatown. The piece, titled “China Crisis,” was my response to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. My entrance into doing performance art was not inspired by an artist, but by heroic dissent. The cry out for freedom and justice inspires me. In “China Crisis,” I laid in front of a large red painting. For me, performance is a natural spill-over from painting: paint is my language, I just commit my body to performance. “TRACE” (2007) was inspired by a dying bird in an oil spill. In “DUST TO DUST” (2011), dirt was my inspiration – the transformative power of mulch.

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In 2002, I met Carolee Schneemann; we read each other’s books (mine The Divine Mistake, her’s More Than Meat Joy). I learned a lot about her work, and felt connected to her even more once I learned that she is also a painter whose performance flows from that.

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Artifactoid: What are some of your biggest day-to-day influences as an artist?

TB: Stains on the sidewalks, streaks with random marks on windows – I made a short  film about sidewalk markings titled, CARELESS in 2000. Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio) helped me shoot and edit it (he is now my son’s godfather). It was screened at MONA (Detroit) in 2001.

Old, decaying wood also inspires me, I have done several painting series on aged wood 2001 and 2010. When I paint on aging wood, I feel like I am collaborating with nature, not trying to capture it.

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Artifactoid: How has your perspective as an artist changed over time?

TB: That nothing is permanent. Earlier in my career, well, pre-September 11th, I cared greatly about paintings lasting forever. Now I feel “archival” materials are pitched to artists who believe this civilization will survive another 500-1000 years. I am into showing who we are now, because now is real: all we have, vulnerable, avoided, denied, unnoticed. Art materials are everywhere; they’re not limited to an art store. I love to work with mud and hair and other ingredients as well as ink and oil paint.

Artifactoid: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned through your art?

TB: That nothing is a mistake. Mistakes in painting are like an angel pushed your hand, changing your direction to somewhere you never would have gone. In my entire 30-year career, painting still genuinely astounds me – the unguessable moment it resolves.

Artifactoid: What is the best advice you’ve ever received in your career?

TB: Be humble.

Artifactoid: In what direction would you like to take your art moving forward?

TB: I am at a turning point. I am returning to my roots as a painter, where I first discovered my talent and lost my identity/sense of separation from art in the process: painting portraits. For the next two years, I will only paint portraits. Abstraction and performance art lent to my feeling immortal, but now, I am a mother and I feel human, more grounded and more vulnerable than ever. I am pulled to dive in in this direction.

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Artifactoid: What advice would you give to other artists?

TB: Know when to stop. As long as you are making art, “you’ve made it.”

Artifactoid: Please describe your inspiration behind “Mudbird,” and some of the most important things about the piece (to you).

TB: “Mudbird” is the second performance I have done with my son, Sparrow, (now 20 months old). In “Mudbird” I play with my baby in the mud thinking of the cycle of all beings – to live and die. We come from the earth and end up in it. Mud; earth, is a uniting and dividing force between mother and child. I gave my life for his to begin. Okay, I am not dead yet, but a part of me has died – my life as a single artist.

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At the time of performance, I felt a sense of my immanent death. I have Friedrich’s Ataxia (FA). It is a chronic and fatal genetic disorder of the nervous system. I have been wheelchair-mobile for 20 years. My voice slurring, mundane things slowly getting harder, and recently I tore my right rotator cuff. I have never felt disabled, as I have always fulfilled my aims and called the shots, but post-birth and with injury, I felt unusualły hopeless. Sure I cannot walk, but now I can’t fly; wings clipped. Much of the “Mudbird” series is about my burial and Sparrow’s flight. It has been a burial of several parts of myself. And now I again recreate myself, or return to who I am.

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Theresa Byrnes has had over 25 solo shows at spaces including Saatchi & Saatchi in New York and Sydney, and the Australian Embassy in Washington D.C. In 1996, she was awarded Young Australian of the Year. To keep up with Theresa and her latest works, visit her website and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and FacebookStop by her gallery space, TBG (616 East 9th street between Avenues B&C), for her next opening on December 9th, 2015 .