A clay-and-fabric mongoloid creature that looks part lobster and part human lies sprawled across the floor like a fish out of water, gasping for air. A bright-blue couch in the corner sports several sets of lips, as well as a tiny, plush monster sitting on top that bears a clear resemblance to it—as though the couch-creature has borne a little baby.
“It’s sort of like a weird Pee-Wee’s Playhouse kind of thing,” says Jessica Kostelnick of her new installation, Living Hand to Mouth, on display at The Tan gallery in Barelas. The interior—composed of mediums including furniture, sculpture and costume—does evoke a certain fun-house feel, straddling the balance between childlike playfulness and disturbing distortion.
Kostelnick’s motley medley of otherworldly creatures mingle in a small room with brightly colored drapes and retro items like old turntables and shag carpeting. The way these elements proliferate in the space gives the sense that you’re standing in the middle of some sort of whimsically warped living room from the ’70s. Cushions on the floor look like giant eyeballs; intricately detailed ceramic human fingers spring up around old radios and vintage lamps. Neon cupcakes in a variety of sizes are arranged to form faces on a table. “They are edible. People were eating them” at the opening, says Kostelnick.
She points to a chair shaped like an enormous set of teeth. “This denture chair, or the dent-chair,” she says, “I put so much work and—literally—blood and pain into it, and I love it so much. You should try to sit it in it,” she says. “You have to kind of sit back, but it’s really stable.”
“It’s sort of like a weird Pee-Wee’s Playhouse kind of thing.”
Kostelnick says she’s drawn to these kinds of interactive aspects in her art. “You’re supposed to be comfortable—it’s supposed to invite you in.” In addition to the “dent-chair,” sturdy enough for sitting, and the cupcakes available for consumption by guests, there is also a fully functional Atari set in the middle of the space. When I arrived, a woman dressed as a lobster sat on an eyeball cushion and played the vintage video game with great enthusiasm.
As an artist, Kostelnick is drawn to a variety of media. “Anything I can get my hands on—fabric, clay, wood, drawing, painting,” she says, and Living Hand to Mouth reflects her eclectic style.
“I like food and animal and human parts all merging like an evil scientist or something,” she says. “I was working on a lot of these things individually for a long time. And then they all sort of ended up fitting together, which was wonderfully perfect.”