Nicola Costantino

Nicola Costantino, Human Furriery (Peleteria con Piel Humana) (installation view), 1995 - 1998

Nicola Costantino, Human Furriery (Peleteria con Piel Humana) (installation view), 1995 - 1998

For TRACE, Nicola Costanino (b. 1964, Rosario, Argentina) made her installation in a prominent Liverpool shop window. The window display included an array of stylish garments presented on mannequins. Seen from a distance, the costumes could have been made from suede, with a fur trim and a subtle pattern of flowers or some other simple motif. One would have assumed that they were selected from a designer’s seasonal range. The garments were sufficiently intriguing to attract closer inspection and, as one approached, the whole ensemble was radically transformed.

The suede turns out to be latex and seemed more like human skin than leather. Worse still, the motifs that relieve the surface turned out to be directly moulded from the human body. Far from being florets they were revealed as direct body casts of navels, nipples and arseholes. The chalk-coated silicone simulated flesh, with a suede-like feel. The history of bodily imprints in modern art can be traced from Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein, through the work of arte povera artists, to contemporary practitioners such as Janine Antoni and Abigail Lane.

Transferring the imprint of the most intimate and hidden parts of the body to the very garments that ordinarily conceal those parts produced a paradoxical inversion that would have greatly appealed to Duchamp. Contemporary viewers were likely to bring a range of associations to this work. Some may have seen it as a statement in support of animal rights, in the sense that Costantino substitutes traces of a woman’s body for the hide of an animal. Others may have seen the work as a feminist statement about the rag trade and the commodification of women’s bodies. It was equally possible to accept both these readings and relish the humour and the sensuality of the objects themselves.

Nicola Costantino at Liverpool Biennial 1999

Human Furriery (Peleteria con Piel Humana), 1995 - 1998
collection of the artist and Ruth Benzacar Gallery, Buenos Aires
Exhibited at Lewis's Department Store