Simkuté, Grete. "Façades en Vluchtige Schoonheid." H ART 22 October 2015: p. 15. Print.


Tramaine de Senna at Art Center Hugo Voeten by Grete Simkuté


“Everything is great, but no one is happy”- comedian Louis C.K. and postmodernism in a nutshell, reiterated by Tramaine de Senna. In this particularly polychromatic, multimedia solo-exhibition in Herentals, this Californian artist exhibits her private American pop culture with a wide range of metaphors and tropes of the past. She thus paints a far from superficial tale of hollow forms and material fetishism.

Since 2011, de Senna has been studying abroad in Breda and then Ghent, all the while becoming increasingly aware of the fact that her personal quest largely relates to the collective quest that typifies the soul of America. As she says, "in a country that is predominantly inhabited by immigrants, who for generations long have lost not only their roots, but also a direct link to others, the thing we have in common is popular culture. The first thing that happens at school or work is the formation of an identity through things that play on the surface: what music do you listen you? What is your favorite sports team? Something concrete like ancestral culture is thus replaced by abstractions like postures and attitudes." And here comes the central issue: those searching for a sense of "belonging" in a world that, along the lines of Baudrillard, comes to us via manipulated images and representations that superficially points more to oneself than anything else, will be disappointed.

This sense of a "twilight zone," located in an area within the unfounded, is what de Senna expresses so perfectly and visually in her work. An architect by training, this artist makes do with the regularity of streamlined surfaces and geometric sobriety in the spirit of modernism, "an era of hope," said de Senna. In the three-part sculpture “A Setting, Tableau" (2015), consisting of a grid, a fake houseplant and three plywood panels painted in sweet, gradiated candy colors, de Senna refers to both modernism and the "disposable architecture" that both homogenized and dominated the Californian neighborhoods since the 80s. "In these 'McMansions' the weight of a lack of history is very noticeable," says the artist. "The houses are rapidly built with cheap materials and a bunch of architectural influences. The sand and stucco that acts as a surface finish on the exterior is the only link with the environment in which it stands. It gives the image of weight and thus history."


She calls it a "toxic blandness", a toxic uniformity that, beyond the initial attraction, inevitably leads to decay. The panels, treated with spraypaint on sand, imagines the dawn and evening light: as a backdrop, a staged setting, it provides a background against which a rapid rise or fall of something will occur: elusive. A vague, template-like appearance of a lamp, a plant, a fire pit has the appeal of a mirage: an atmosphere that you "know," a familiar ‘felt’ space, but one where you cannot enter in. These notions of structures, facades, fleeting beauty, and staged authenticity is what Tramaine de Senna continues to explore in (light) sculptures, video projections and textile work. Says the artist: "the intimate bond with my materials and what I strive to do and enjoy, disrupts my alienation and thus restores my humanity."

"The Laborers or Mixed Blood Motif" (2014 - 2015), a manually quilted textile work of satin and stitching, resulted from a thought process about work and migration (who and what determines the value of work and not the time one puts into it?). De Senna employed a weaving motif that was used by her ancestors, the Navajos, while trying to get in touch with its origins: a more transcendental interpretation of a concept as 'representation'. Speaking of which, it is also a way to shed light on an overlooked aspect of putting art history in favor of women: "in the hierarchy of the arts, architecture is referred to as the ‘mother art.’ The nomads built their abodes with rugs and fabric. Well, it is not the 'structure', but the 'textile work', supposedly the 'lowest' of all in the category of applied arts, which is actually the beginning of architecture."

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