Between Wounds and Folds: Suspended Cow Carcasses and Tree Stumps Reveal Layers of Discarded Fabric by Tamara Kostianovsky
Working with the tattered remnants of consumer culture, artist Tamara Kostianovsky (previously) asks us to question the origins, process, and disastrous results of our seemingly unquenchable desire to buy and waste. Four distinct bodies of the artist’s work spanning fifteen years have been gathered at Smack Mellon in DUMBO, Brooklyn to form Between Wounds and Folds. The textile ecosystem of cow carcasses harboring new life, vibrantly hued cross-sections of trees, and colorful birds of prey, are constructed from repurposed fabrics and discarded textiles. In this final state, the soft pieces function as an echo of their concealed beginnings. Smack Mellon shares in a statement:
Through alternating softness and aggression, her installations identify the nuances of violence that exist between a personal encounter and its normalization on a social and ecological level. Kostianovsky’s work asks for a re-imagination of human rights and environmental redemption models in order to consider the resultant violence as part of a larger, inseparable system.
Between Wounds and Folds is on view until October 31, and you can explore more of the Brooklyn-based artist’s work on Instagram.
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In her vibrant, neon-lit paintings, artist Gigi Chen intertwines ornate jewelry, graffiti, and glowing signs emblematic of urban life with foliage, feathers, and wide expanses of sky. Her acrylic pieces center on birds and other small animals in their natural environments with surreal, manufactured additions: a heron cradles a bright pink house on its back, two rabbits peer over a bush at an illuminated parking sign, and an owl carries an old payphone across a glacial landscape.
A lifelong New Yorker, Chen tells Colossal that once her family immigrated to the U.S. from Guangdong, China, when she was eight months old, they didn’t often venture beyond the city’s confines. “The fear of not being able to communicate clearly with strangers was very prevalent growing up, and it really restrained us from doing too much traveling during my early childhood even though my parents could drive,” she says, noting that it wasn’t until an artist residency in Vermont when she was 18 that she found herself interacting with nature. “I realized how small the Big City really is. I was terrified of the pitch blackness, the dense forest, and the dirt and the bugs. But I was totally in love and overwhelmed by how sublime and random nature is.”
These early experiences continue to impact Chen’s work as she confronts lush, forest ecosystems and cloudy sunsets through the lens of city life. “The dichotomy of the neon onto natural subjects like leaves and birds and trees makes for beautiful metaphors about how people relate to the flora and fauna,” she says. “Adding artificial light sources to a natural environment helped me to reimagine and expand the kinds of stories I could tell and broaden how I could convey personal messages.”
Many of the animal protagonists embody the artist’s experiences particularly those in her new series Light My Way Home, which is on view through October 24 at Antler Gallery in Portland. The metaphorical works are ruminations on home, family, and the security those two provide, and the pieces often portray the artist and her sisters as red-winged blackbirds with her late mother as the blue heron. “Home Away From Home Away From Home,” which depicts the three smaller birds encircling the other as she flies away, “represents what happened after the death of my mother,” Chen says. “Here, we are seeking the sense of safety and stability that my mother once represented to us and endlessly chasing the Ideal of Home.”
In addition to Light My Way Home, Chen also has paintings available through Stone Sparrow Gallery and Deep Space Gallery, and you can follow her works on Instagram. (via OYHBO Inert Gas Welding Hose 20FT, Argon CO2 Flow Meter Regulato)
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Artist and jewelry designer Debra Baxter (previously) explores the endurance of grief, mortality, and human bonds in Love Tears. Comprised of anatomical and figurative sculptures, the multifaceted series blend alabaster, quartz, and wood with delicate glass or metal to create forms that contrast the fragility of the body and natural world with the rugged topographies of crystals and rock.
Simultaneously corporeal and unearthly, the spliced works evoke the Victorian tradition of mourning jewelry, which used various motifs and deep colors as memorials. In “Catch Your Breath,” for example, branch-like veins in bronze sprawl throughout crystalline lungs, while “Love Hard” bisects a smooth, glass heart with spiky quartz. “There’s inevitable pain in every form of love,” Baxter says about the series. “I’m fascinated by the ways in which we decorate this grief and mourning, and I wanted to see how far I could push myself with balancing the immediate, often ornate, demonstration of loss, and my use of permanent materials. This is about loss and legacy.”
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Nearly a century since it began, the Great Depression is still largely associated with the iconic imagery that’s come to define the era. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and Walker Evans’s portrait of the distinctly tight-lipped Allie Mae Burroughs are two foundational shots that establish the period’s visual record, and they accompany the approximately 175,000 photographs also commissioned by the U.S. Farm Security Administration during those years.
While vast in number, this collection is understood today as being limited in scope, particularly in relation to its failure to reflect racial diversity, because the head of the FSA from 1935 to 1941, Roy Stryker, effaced images he felt didn’t align with the agency’s goals. When he wanted to reject a photo and prevent its dissemination, he would mark it with a hole punch, an erasure that Tulsa-based artist Joel Daniel Phillips evokes in his striking series Killing the Negative Pt. 2.
The ongoing project reimagines intimate portraits and wider shots from that period as meticulous graphite and charcoal drawings and oil paintings in shades of red. Monochromatic and ranging from small portraits to life-sized renderings, Phillips’s works complicate the narratives expunged from the historical record by focusing on a wider and more diverse swath of the population. “When the black voids of Roy Stryker’s hole punch are placed front and center, the reality of just how much power that a single, White man had to shape the narrative re-frames and re-defines the entire discussion,” the artist said in an interview about the first part of the project.
Included in Killing the Negative Pt. 2, which runs from October 9 to 20 at Hashimoto Contemporary’s new Los Angeles gallery, are glimpses into both rural and urban life with large-scale paintings of an older farmer, young girl outfitted in a frilly dress, and a panoramic shot of a migrant family and their makeshift living quarters. One smaller work (shown below) recreates a selfie that FSA photographer John Vachon snapped “in a hotel room mirror while on assignment. He took several of these, and apparently, Roy Styker (the head of the FSA) particularly hated this one, since he punched it twice,” the artist writes.
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Suspended in public squares and parks, the knotted sculptures that comprise Janet Echelman’s Earthtime series respond to the destructive, overpowering, and uncontrollable forces that impact life on the planet. The artist (previously) braids nylon and polyurethane fibers into striped weavings that loom over passersby and glow with embedded lights after nightfall. With a single gust of air, the amorphous masses billow and contort into new forms. “Each time a single knot moves in the wind, the location of every other knot in the sculpture’s surface is changed in an ever-unfolding dance,” a statement about the series says.
The outdoor installations are modeled after geological events that have extensive effects beyond their original locations and the power to increase the planet’s daily rotational speed. All of the titles allude to the number of seconds lost during a specific occurrence, with “Earthtime 1.78” referring to Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami and “Earthtime 1.26” speaking to a 2010 tremor in Chile.
Containing innumerable knots and weighing hundreds of pounds, the monumental nets are the product of countless hours and a team of architects, designers, and engineers who interpret scientific data to imagine the original form. Each mesh piece begins in the studio with techniques done by hand and on the loom, and the threads are custom-designed to be fifteen times stronger than steel once intertwined. This allows them to withstand and remain flexible as they’re exposed to the elements, a material component that serves as a metaphorical guide for human existence.
Echelman will exhibit an iteration of “Earthtime 1.26” in Jeddah from December 2021 to April 2022, with another slated to be on view in Amsterdam this winter. You can see more of the prolific artist’s works on her site and Instagram.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.