We often speak of meat as if it were a textile. We talk about the way it knits together, the way it is mended, the way it is stitched together. Actus Reus is a project by Brooklyn-based artist Tamara Kostianovsky that makes flesh out of fabric. She recreates hooked wads of gristle, sinew, and musculature out of discarded clothing and other textiles.
Although violent and grisly in appearance, Kostianovsky’s work is benignly produced from discarded clothing rather than slaughtered animals. Her fabrics are raided from the family closets, especially the closet of her son, whose growth spurts are particularly helpful to contributing to her closet of “art supplies.” From there, Kostianovsky will make a sculpture based on an image of meat she sees in a photograph or drawing, sketching out her plan for the piece in three-dimensional form. A single sculpture can take months.
Kostianovsky shares that she has always felt a strange compulsion for the fabric of meat, a compulsion can be traced back to her days as a child working in a surgeon’s office in Buenos Aires. There, Kostianovsky says, “I had the opportunity to see what is concealed behind the skin. I was fascinated with the way muscles, fat, and blood interacted, transforming small portions of the body into mesmerizing compositions of color, texture, and form. Even today, I continue to see the world through that lens.”
Meat is also a way for Kostianovsky to work through her demons. Although born in Israel, Kostianovsky grew up in Latin America in the 1970s during the time of the Dirty War, an extended period of state terrorism by Argentina in which political dissidents were routinely disappeared.
“At that time, images of carcasses were ubiquitous,” Kostianovsky tells me. “Years later, when I started sculpting in the United States, these images began to haunt me and I felt a strong compulsion to try to recreate them in three-dimensions, as close to the originals as I could make them. As time went by and the project started building, I realized that I wasn’t only addressing the history of my own country, but that the works also related to a violent history of the world.”
“There is a denunciating political element in my works,” she continues. “But they are also about flesh, and I like that they remind us of our physical nature. We are so busy living our post-industrialized lives that we so often forget that nature–even our own–is a powerful and fascinating force.”
You can see more of Kostaniovsky’s work here.