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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.

ChiKaFeature

Meet the Artist Who is Setting Off Fireworks with Your Tweets at the MET Today for Chinese New Year

It may be Super Bowl weekend, but it’s also Chinese New Year, and contemporary artist ChiKa has something exciting in store for those visiting the MET this Saturday to celebrate the Year of the Monkey. Artifactoid sits down with the Japan-born New York-based talent to talk projection mapping, LED light installations, and the fireworks she is setting off at the MET today with your tweets.

Artifactoid: What inspired you to work with projection mapping and LED light as mediums? How did you get your start with them and what drew you in?

ChiKa: For projection mapping, it was a natural progression of interest from working with live visuals and VJing; I was working with experimental composers, festivals and clubs. The organic next step for me was projection mapping. I wanted to explore. I got out of doing ordinary projection surfaces in dark spaces (2D screens) and moved toward doing projection mapping onto 3D surfaces and objects. As for how I got my start, I was working as a graphic designer at a big corporation and wanted to do something artsy. So, I started going out to anywhere that would let me perform live visuals and VJ every weekend.

Then, my interest in LED light installation stemmed from the projection mapping. When the software I used for projection mapping, “MadMapper,” released its new feature, MadLight, that allowed me to control LED lights from video content, I decided that I wanted to shift from projection to an LED light installation.The stage set made during Mapping Festival in Geneva also inspired me to get into LED light installations. To get started, a good friend of mine (who is one of the founders of MadMapper) gave me a jump-start technical session. I love to make the geometric structures with led lights!

Artifactoid: What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on with each medium?

ChiKa: For projection mapping, it was projection mapping in Mexico during MOD Festival, and for LED light installations, it was my first large public installation, SEI02 at the Dumbo Arts Festival 2014.

Artifactoid: What was your most challenging art installation to pull off and how did you do it?

ChiKa: Every installation is a challenge. I think it is a nature of the technology. No matter how much I prepare before the installation, you never know what will happen. Be patient, organized and just clear problems one by one. Always works in the end anyway.

Artifactoid: Who are some other talented artists working  in the spaces of LED and projection mapping who inspire you?

ChiKa: AntiVJ, 1024 Architecture, Nonotak, and James Turrell.

Artifactoid: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career as an artist?

ChiKa: Follow your dream.

Artifactoid: How does teaching projection mapping and theater affect the way you approach your own art?

ChiKa: I can alway learn from my students. I need to be very flexible in order to be able to teach. I also teach differently every time I teach. There is no one way to teach. Art is the same; there is no one way.

Artifactoid: What are your additional artistic influences?

ChiKa: My background: being Japanese. Also, my ethicality. That always shows in my artwork. A third influence of mine is good music.

Artifactoid: Tell me a bit about your exciting project at the MET for Chinese New Year.

ChiKa: For this project, I am working with my partner in crime, Calli Higgins, who I have been working with since graduate school at NYU ITP. We are creating digital fireworks triggered by the Twitter hashtag “#metfest” during the Chinese New Year event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can check it out today, here!

Artifactoid: Anything else you’d like to add?

ChiKa: I’m also installing a new artwork at Ramapo College in NJ right now. The opening is this coming Wednesday, February 10th and the installation will be on view for one month.

NavarroFEATURE

What Type of Art Can a Volcano Create? Just Ask Eduardo Navarro

Volcanoes have long been the subjects of art around the world. According to The Guardian, in the 19th century volcanoes inspired artists such as John Ruskin and Francis Danby, while at the turn of the 20th century, Etna, Vesuvius, Stromboli, Cotopaxi, and Hekla captivated the attention of Icelandic painters. More recently, Andy Warhol adopted the volcano as his muse for the 1985 Vesuvius series of paintings and prints.

The ability of volcanoes to inspire art comes as no surprise: these commanding natural forces can severely and capriciously endanger their surrounding communities while simultaneously acting as the providers of vibrant life and breathtaking beauty. They have been painted, sculpted, drawn, photographed, video recorded, written about, and more. But, who has ever given the volcano agency to create art itself? Who has taken the volcano out of the subject role and transformed it into an actor with agency in the artistic process? The answer is revered Argentinian Contemporary Artist Eduardo Navarro.

Recently at Americas Society, Navarro’s 2014 project originally created for the 12th Bienal de Cuenca and titled Poema Volcánico was the focus of an enthralling panel discussion between the artist (Navarro) and curator Sarah Demeuse. While the official description of Poema Volcánico can be accessed on page 10 of this PDF, during the panel Navarro shared his behind-the-scenes account of the conception and creation of Poema Volcánico, summarized below.

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Eduardo Navarro lived in Ecuador between the ages of eight and twelve. During that time, Navarro would eat breakfast and dinner daily in front of a volcano, pondering it. The artist noted that as an adult, it meant a lot to him to return to the country to create a work of art that was both sentimental and a personal artistic challenge.

Leading up to the 12th Bienal de Cuenca, Navarro got the idea for his volcano-related artistic endeavor. He thought, “How can I work with the geography, landscape, and energy of the volcano? Instead of documenting a volcano (since we live in a world overly saturated with on-demand digital imagery), he wanted to create a project that would allow the volcano to express itself, and to do this, decided that he would have to enter it.

Navarro then got in contact with renowned Ecuadorian volcanologist Silvana Hidalgo of the Instituto Geofísico in Quito to confirm for certain which volcano it would be possible for him to enter without assuming the actual risk that it would erupt while he was inside. Through his extensive research and conversations with Silvana, Navarro decided to work with the Guagua Pichincha volcano.

Guagua Pichincha was known as one of the safer active volcanoes to trek into in Ecuador. To provide a comparison, Cotopaxi was another option, but Navarro explained that one had to be on the level of a professional mountain climber to enter its crater. Guagua Pichincha, on the other hand, was known in Ecuador as the “training mountain” that one would tackle before becoming a professional climber.

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Once Navarro decided upon the Guagua Pichincha, he had to figure out what his process would be leading up to the climb and artistic execution. After spending the required monthlong period adjusting to the proper oxygen level for the climb, Navarro decided to enter the crater twice, with two different guides (including record-setting climber Karl Egloff). His first trip would be to see what the crater was like, test expectations, and become familiar with the experience of going inside it. His second trip would be geared toward executing the artistic portion of the project.

On the first trip, Navarro realized first-hand how difficult it was to trek down into the crater and come back up, regardless of the intense physical prep work he made sure to do in advance. Also on the first trip, Navarro identified fumaroles (the cracks where smoke escapes from the volcano’s center) as the feature of the volcano he wanted to pursue working with artistically.

In regard to how he was going to work with fumaroles, one of Navarro’s first ideas was to get a woven basket, lower it down into the crater, and then try to pull it back up and see what would come out. Navarro thought that this could be an interesting idea, not only because baskets are accessible and would allow gases and sulfur to move freely through them, but because choosing woven baskets would give him the opportunity to work with an object that was native to Ecuador.

Navarro then had only a ten-day period between his two descents to figure out the details of both the device he was going to provide the volcano with so that it could express something, and the protective suit he was going to wear during the trek (most volcanologists wear fire protection and oxygen masks when entering craters). He went to the local fire department and asked if he could borrow a fireproof suit, and while the personnel there couldn’t provide him with one, they directed him to where he could get the materials so that he could make one of his own.

There is no question that Navarro’s descent into the crater was a high-risk undertaking. Navarro noted:

It is a sad thing when you pass the guards in the front (entrance) at Guagua Pichincha. A few weeks prior, three geologists went in. One almost died and two had to be rescued with a helicopter, so this was much more dangerous than going for a hike, having a picnic, taking a photograph, and climbing out.

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Returning to the execution of his artistic endeavor, Navarro revisited the Instituto Geofísico to speak further with Silvana, who was crucial in the process. When Navarro raised the question, “How can I make the volcano draw?,”  Silvana suggested the possibility of using litmus paper to react to the sulfur. Navarro immediately loved this idea, and started working with using litmus paper to create a machine that would allow the volcano’s energy to leave a trail. The result was a hand-made frame that acted as a rack for the sheets of litmus paper, which fit inside a custom woven basket that he worked closely with local artisans to create. Navarro wore the basket like a backpack during his trek, and eventually lowered it into the fumarole. He then left it down there for one hour, providing the volcano with a chance to leave its mark and express itself as if typing on a PH-reactive typewriter (example of result featured below – top right).

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Ultimately Navarro titled this work Poema Volcánico because of the act of “handing the typewriter” over to the volcano. In other words, Navarro gave the volcano the power to express something that was not his interpretation of it.

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To expand, it can be argued that Navarro gave true authorship to the volcano because he wasn’t attempting to control the project’s result. In fact, throughout the entire process, there was always the chance that the volcano and litmus paper wouldn’t have any real reaction at all. Even after months of preparation and two rigorous climbs, Navarro admitted that he was willing to accept any outcome. For Navarro, “it would have been fine if the volcano didn’t have anything to say.”

Setting himself apart from the many other talented artists who have been inspired by volcanoes throughout the centuries, Navarro’s intention was to transform the volcano from subject into artistic collaborator. Navarro does not claim that the volcano is necessarily the author of this work, nor that he himself is the author of this work. To Navarro, Poema Volcánico is about how well he and the volcano know each other.

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Eduardo Navarro’s work has recently been featured at MALBA (Buenos Aires), The New Museum Triennial (New York), and e-Flux (New York). While in New York for this Americas Society panel, Navarro was a guest scholar at the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Visiting Artists and Critics program with Hunter College. For more on Poema Volcánico, click here to read Navarro’s published diary entry that details his first descent into the crater.