I happened to run into the artist Tamara Kostianovsky when I visited Y Gallery recently to see her solo show, To Prevent Bad Luck. I had previously written about her work reminding me of Chaim Soutine, the modernist painter who created powerfully visceral portraits of animals that often became his supper. Kostianovsky agreed with that reference, saying that her work is about consumption. And it is, in a visually obvious way. Her birds — magpie inventions of fabric bunched to form limbs or internal organs, with upholstery cut and shaped to form feathers — are suspended on hooks and thus look like fresh kill. Some are half disemboweled, some are folded in on themselves, except for one wing that lacks the volition to stay in place.
The surprise is in how the work otherwise alludes to consumption: all the fabric used in the pieces comes from Kostianovsky’s personal belongings. When she arrived in Philadelphia from Argentina in 2000 to attend art school, the value of her pesos dropped catastrophically. She had to find materials to work on from what she brought with her. The work here is evidence of a kind of cannibalism and resurrection: clothing, towels, and upholstery have been consumed and yet find a second life here in this gallery of garments masquerading as dead fowl. These fastidiously fashioned creatures are ironically proof of life, proof of vitality, proof of a will to survive. Kostianovsky evidently believes in the power of breakthroughs borne of necessity.