This conversation between Eileen G'Sell, publications assistant at the Kemper Art Museum, and Glenn Tramantano, recent graduate of the Graduate School of Art, took place during the de-installation period of his work from the 2009 MFA Thesis Exhibition.
EG: Looking at this half-wall of floral wallpaper, with its glowing silk roses peeking out from within, I get a strange feeling of Douglas Sirk meets John Waters, of 1950s decorum mixed with camp. What aesthetic sensibilities informed this piece? Were film or theatre at all influential?
GT: My aesthetic influences are varied, but I'm often culling imagery from mid-level home design catalogs, wallpaper samples, and fabric patterns, which I then try to infuse with something unexpected, either in material or subject matter or both. I think that the idea of forcing together incongruous things, as well as an exaggeration of form, is definitely influenced by camp – at the time I made Conferring with the Flowers, I was reading a lot about this topic and I thought, what would it mean for a domestic space or object to camp or to be in drag? As far as film influences, one of my all-time favorite movies since I was a kid is The Wizard of Oz (thus, the title of the piece) – the color palette, the romantic idea of home, along with the fantastical world beyond, are all things that influence my work and this piece in particular.
EG: How is this piece working in tandem with the other artworks featured in the show, which also take advantage of crafty, inexpensive materials often used in home décor (like glitter and marker)? Conferring... feels more insidious to me, which is probably why I like it so much, but I could also be projecting my childhood hopes and fears that things could live inside my bedroom walls.
GT: There are things in each piece that can creep up on you after looking for a while. In the floor painting I heard the waters roll slowly (KPOW!), some people see the two men kissing, but most probably don't. I think of that piece as a kind of outward (though still intimate) expression of the inside of the wall piece. There are also fragments of embracing figures in the small paintings as well. So this idea of piecing together disparate things, i.e. queer bodies and natural patterns, is present throughout. And it's OK if some people just see color and pattern and sparkles and think it's pretty – I think that's fascinating.
EG: In your essay for the MFA 2009 publication, you mention the pivotal role that "disorientation" versus feeling "at home" plays in your approach to artmaking. How did this disjunction inform Conferring with the Flowers? What's it like seeing it installed in the middle of the Museum gallery space? To me, this insertion of something so overtly decorative in a contemporary art museum feels in itself disorienting!
GT: Yes, having it jut out from a completely white wall and concrete floor was pretty ideal. Although I had to get over the initial shock of it looking so small in such a large space! By disorientation I mean the feeling that you don't belong, either in your body or in the space it occupies. It's the confusion that occurs from having desires that aren't mirrored in the world around you. Conferring... illustrates this tension between the outside and the inside, while also acknowledging the ability these desires have to transform the conventional frameworks that house us. I'm also interested in the visual disorientation that occurs for the viewer when confronted with the work. One of the reasons I didn't fill the entire inside of the wall with flowers is that I wanted some of the cutouts to look two-dimensional and others to reveal the actual depth of the interior.
EG: Finally, as you also noted the importance of acknowledging the history of the queer experience in your work, did you pursue any research to this end? This kind of goes back to my first question, about Sirk and Waters. In some ways, things hidden in the wall reminds me of things being hidden in other domestic spaces – like closets! The documentary film The Celluloid Closet is another visual text with which Conferring... seems to be "conferring," though of course I am again putting my own experience onto it!
GT: The research that led up to my thesis show was focused on queer theory, and particularly the history of queer expression as it relates to making space/objects/a "home" for queer bodies. Foucault was particularly influential, as were theories on camp, nature and sexuality, queer space, drag, and the history of domestic space. And of course, artists like Warhol, Rauschenberg, Wojnarowicz, Mapplethorpe, and Hockney are all aesthetic and conceptual inspirations. A lot of these artists, like those in The Celluloid Closet, were practicing under and against extreme hostility, and some chose to be more subtle and abstract while others were more confrontational in their work. I'm glad that the piece reminded you of the closet – that is certainly what I hoped would resonate for people. There is a sense of confinement in the work, but ultimately the fluorescent pink glow that resides within the wall can't be fully contained. My intention is to reveal the potential in challenging conventional structures, turning them into something new and, hopefully, more beautiful in the process.