Two halves of a large skinned carcass hang from a studio ceiling — strung up like wings — as artist Nicola Costantino takes her position between them: she stands demurely, angelically. If the renowned, and controversial, artist was mythical, she may indeed be the goddess of death and taxidermy.
The daughter of a surgeon and fashion designer, each parent instilled in her a love of sewing: both fabric…and skin. These two worlds — Haute Couture meets taxidermy. Beauty and glamour meets life and death — imbues Costantino’s work with a surreal and macabre quality that many have never seen before.
Over 75 minutes, Costantino takes us into her strange world (though it is clear that we only see the parts that Costantino has expertly crafted for us to see). Every inch of Costantino’s life – her studio and home, even the way she moves across a room – looks orchestrated for our eyes. And beneath the glamour is a simmering horror — by design and used to great effect — that makes it impossible to tear your eyes away from her. One gets the idea that we know as much about the artist when the film ends, as we did when it began, and that makes the whole thing even more intriguing.
Costantino is her own muse: she even created a soap using fat she withdrew from her hips during liposuction. This fat, processed into 200 cakes of soft pink soap and shaped as her own waist to derriere, was fittingly advertised as, “3% Nicola’s essence.” And its tagline read: “Take Your Bath with Me.” (She assures us that the promise was true.) Costantino is undeniably, and incredibly, intriguing. And it is during moments like the soap moment that it becomes evident that she is as fascinated by herself as we are with her.
Some of Argentina’s history, particularly Eva Perón’s legendary reign in the imagination of her people, and how it finds expression in Costantino’s latest work, is elegantly woven through the film. From making sculptural “pig balls” (let’s just say she takes the nose to tail movement to entire new heights), to the final scene that involves a glamorous dress and not so glamourous task, this documentary just gets stranger, and yes, more intriguing.
I came to the film never having heard of Costantino, and left a fan of her and her art. And that’s why it’s a Winehouse must see.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the founder of The Winehouse Mag.