Tamara Kostianovsky: Between Wounds and Folds at Smack Mellon

By Etty Yaniv

Tamara Kostianovsky was born in Jerusalem, Israel in 1974, and grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Between Wounds and Folds her Fall 2021 solo exhibition at Smack Mellon, featured sculptures linking gender-based violence, personal memory, and ecological destruction through consumption into a complex and speculative ecosystem. The dimensional forms, both soft and brutal, combined discarded fabric with industrial materials, often drawing their shape from mutilated fauna and flora in various states of decay, including tree stumps, cow carcasses, and birds of prey.

Tell me a bit about the genesis of this exhibition.

At the invitation of then-curator Gabriel de Guzman, in 2019 I accepted an offer to exhibit my work at Smack Mellon’s 6,000 sq. feet gallery in a large and ambitious solo show, my first exhibition of this scale in New York City. As time went by, I became familiar with the space and started having conversations with the new curator Rachel Vera Steinberg, who took over the position in 2021, and with Smack Mellon’s Director Kathleen Gilrain. We decided to plan for four interlocking but independent installations that will be configured to respond to Smack Mellon’s unique space, an industrial building built in the 1880s, creating an exhibition that wouldn’t just focus on my latest work but would rather present diverse bodies of work simultaneously.

Between Wounds and Folds, installation view
Between Wounds and Folds, installation view

Overall, the sculptures in the exhibition combined discarded fabric with industrial materials to address the increasingly urgent social and ecological concerns of material consumption and waste. I’ve always felt at ease in the symmetry of the Medieval galleries at the Met Museum, and I kept that configuration in mind when thinking of the exhibition design for this space. Although we mostly replaced saints with carcasses, we strived to give a sense of religiosity to my sculptures of the flayed body.

One of the installations included my well-known “Meat” sculpture series that uses my own clothing to visually transform the violence of slaughter in reference to femicides in Latin America. It was refreshing to me to be able to present these works in a completely new configuration compared to previous exhibitions, taking advantage of the triple height of the gallery space. Another installation presented sculptures of “Birds” made from decorative and floral upholstery fabrics that are mounted on an extremely large wall. I was excited also to exhibit the floor sculptures of my “Tree Stumps” series, a body of work that I love because it pays homage to my late father by using his clothes as material. And finally, I introduced a kinetic installation of “Tree-Carcasses”, taking shape as rotating, life-size cow carcass cavities that host vignettes of rich vegetation, and populated by sculptures of exotic birds.

This exhibition drew together threads from distinct series of works for the first time, offering an alternative to the notion that the only way out of the ecological crisis is through behavioral changes that at times appear punishing. Can we rebuild a new type of ecology using the remnants that material culture leaves behind?

Between Wounds and Folds, installation view

A monograph on the artist’s work entitled Rapacious Beauty was published by Hirmer in December 2021 to coincide with Between Wounds and Folds at Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, New York.

(Top image: The artist at Smack Mellon, photo courtesy of Rachel Vera Steinberg. All photos courtesy of the artist unless otherwise indicated.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on September 24, 2021 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.

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Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing, and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She has exhibited her immersive installations in museums and galleries, nationally and internationally. Yaniv founded the platform Art Spiel to highlight the work of contemporary artists through art reviews, studio visits, and interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Tel Aviv University, a BFA from Parsons School of Design, and an MFA from SUNY Purchase.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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