Mesmerizing Flesh, Tamara Kostianovsky’s exhibition of textile sculptures, encapsulates a compelling, if harrowing contradiction between industrial violence and the beauty of corporeal and organic forms.
Tamara Kostianovsky: Mesmerizing Flesh
February 3—April 16, 2023
Ogden Contemporary Arts, Ogden, Utah
Tamara Kostianovsky’s exhibition Mesmerizing Flesh employs a spellbinding formal process, provocative fabric re-appropriation, and an unflinching phenomenological experience, to hook both art novice and connoisseur alike.
The Argentinian American multimedia artist uses a dazzling process whereby various textiles—including from the artist’s own clothing—are woven together to form large sculptures. Here, the works mimic animal carcasses and meat chunks, along with select sculptures resembling tree trunks. While the exterior of the sculptures retains an appearance of raw meat, the purported flesh is spread open to reveal intricate designs, among them floral arrangements.
In work selected from three distinct series, the corporeal pieces hang from the gallery’s ceiling and rods positioned on each side of the space. The central configuration utilizes a specialty-made mounting track which allows five carcass sculptures to ambulate around the track.
I’ve long maintained a fascination with phenomenology, the study of phenomena and consciousness. Less obliquely, I am drawn to artworks that force us to reexamine our own existence in the gallery space or those that through their disruptions, make us think critically about the formality and passivity of “viewing” art. In this respect, Kostianovsky’s exhibition begs not to be viewed, but experienced. The show visualizes something compelling not just conceptually, but institutionally. The way in which the bright, inviting space that is Ogden Contemporary Arts transforms into a sparse, almost haunting factory speaks to the imagination of the show’s curation.
This sparseness augments the shock of the hanging carcasses, which for this vegetarian writer is perhaps even more pronounced. The works recall the horrors of factory farming, the immorality of which is heightened by the industry’s increasingly prevalent role in fueling climate change. Yet, there is a fascinating dichotomy at play here. Despite this instinctive repulsion to the carcasses, each work invites a closer inspection, revealing the beauty and labor of their creation. Elaborate floral patterns indicate the fluidity and skill of the artist’s hand, while no doubt conjuring the domestic associations long tokenized among gendered and ethnic lines. Kostianovsky invites us to consider the body as a receptor of immense beauty rather than as a disposable item.
Kostianovsky cites paintings of butchered meat as inspiration. Indeed, Dutch still life tradition is replete with elaborate scenes of sumptuous fruits, meats, and material items emblematic of societal affluence, and interestingly, the vanitas or frailty of life itself. The sheer labor and rumination involved in the creation of these carcasses—a commercial good transported in bulk, underlies the dignity deserving of an object that was once alive.