Nicola Costantino: Art of Sensation

(This text was originally published at The International Museum of Women, July 2014)

Nicola Costantino was born in Rosario, Argentina, on November 17, 1964, into a family of Italian descent. As a child, she was a little unusual, with remarkably popping eyes and many scientific and technical leanings.

While she attended the course of Fine Arts at the National University in Rosario, her interest in new artistic materials and techniques led her to research and work in craft workshops and factories. At ICI Duperial, she experimented with silicone molds and matrices on polyester resin apt for flexible polyurethane foam injection. Her skill in this technique proved decisive for the development of her art work, and enabled her to achieve the real-object perception that would become characteristic of Nicola’s art.

Costantino achieves in her art what visual arts should do: her sculptures, installations, videos, and photographs catch the eye and alter perception. Because they are predominately rooted in sensation, and not just in concepts, her artworks trigger an immediate, physical reaction. Casts of animal fetuses, molds of human skin, and soaps made with the artist’s own fat build up a tension between ornamentation and revulsion. Her innovation revolves around ethical values and the alienation from nature. Even sexuality is turned into compulsion, flesh, and transmuted bodies, turning everything into an oppressive eroticism.

In 1995, she started to experiment with an almost exact copy of human skin made in silicone that she used for the production of her clothing. And it is for theses silicon sculptures and clothes resembling erogenous parts of the human body, that she achieved notoriety. Also, she made her first coat with navels and human hair, which she herself wore during her frequent trips to New York and Los Angeles. Fashion –  a topic that had been present throughout her life along with consumption and the human body as a tool of seduction – has become a recurrent theme in her work.

Costantino frequently employs visually and conceptually shocking means to investigate corporeality, and the relationship between animals and humans. With a background in sculpture and having worked with her mother in a clothing factory as a child, Costantino constantly seeks to incorporate new materials and processes in her practice. She studied mechanical engineering to make her kinetic works, taxidermy for her casts of animal carcasses, and soap-making to create soap from her own body fat. In her later career, Costantino has turned to photography, exploring themes of doubling and manipulation.

In 2003, she started her project Savon de Corps, with soaps made with a part of her own fat obtained from a liposuction. She held a solo exhibit of her Boutique at Senda Gallery, in Barcelona’s Paseo de Gracia, a street where the world’s most glamorous clothing brands are based, and another exhibition with her whole work at Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca, both in Spain.

Cochon sur canapé (1992), her first solo show, was considered a forerunner of contemporary Latin American art.

In 1994, she was admitted into the Antorchas Foundation’s Barracas Workshop, coordinated by Suárez and Benedit and moved to Buenos Aires, where she settled down and started working. In 1998, she represented Argentina in the San Pablo biennial and then began to take part in several exhibits in museums around the world, such as those in Liverpool (1999), Tel Aviv (2002) and Zurich (2011). In 2000, she performed a solo show at Deitch Projects (New York); her Corset of Human Furriery became part of the MOMA collection. In 2004, she presented Animal Motion Planet, a series of orthopedic machines for stillborn animals, and Savon de Corps, a work that caused great impact in mass media.

Her reunion with Gabriel Valansi in 2006 lead her into photography, where she has more than 30 works in which she always takes the leading role embodying different characters of photography and other art forms. Her interest in video performance drives her creation of self-referential work Trailer (2010), her first cinematographic-like production, as well as her embodying of a historical and emblematic female character like Eva Perón in Rapsodia Inconclusa (55th Venice Biennial, 2013).


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