Kick your idea of Dallas to the curb and imagine this: an iconic Texas landmark, made historically relevant because of the power of a woman. Now, superimpose a transgender model on top, and you have the gist of artists Daniel Kusner and Bryan Amann’s project, 214 Trans4m. The project is up at the Arcade Gallery at UT-Dallas’ artists-in-residence facility. The show will run until July 27. Kusner gave L Style G Style the scoop.
Will you explain what 214 Trans4m is all about?
214 Trans4m is a collaborative photo series that highlights Dallas’ significant architecture and women who have made their mark on North Texas: Mary Kay Ash, Tina Turner, Erykah Badu, Jan Crouch … These dramatic figures are brought to life with transgender models—an approach I hope draws a parallel between Dallas’ identity and gender identity. The series is replete with historical research about Dallas, an ever-evolving metroplex that frequently snubs architectural preservation. 214 Trans4m reminds us that Dallas’ only consistent trait is transformation—not tradition.
Where did you get the inspiration for 214 Trans4m?
My collaborator Bryan Amann and I were walking our dogs in Fair Park. There, I saw a 26-foot bronze sculpture of a Columbian Mammoth modeled after a prehistoric elephant discovered at a South Dallas excavation site. The sculpture reminded me of Richard Avedon’s iconic “Dovima with the Elephants” series. Dallas is home to a mesmerizing drag legend, Sugar, whose willowy body resembled Dovima’s. “Sugar with Elephant” was so rewarding, that it altered the way I looked at North Texas’ geographic points.
What are your ties to the drag community?
Without getting too annoyingly PC, I’d like to make a tiny distinction: some of my models are drag entertainers—but not all. Some are on a gender path that venture far beyond drag’s limits. That said, I’ve lived with drag entertainers. I’ve worked for drag legends. And I’ve helped organize public memorials for departed drag artists who are dearly missed. I’m a proud member of both the drag and trans communities.
Who do you hope to reach with your message?
Anyone who celebrated the recent DOMA and Prop 8 victories can process and appreciate 214 Trans4m. Honestly, I want someone like Justice Antonin Scalia to experience my “Callas in Dallas” project. The work depicts opera diva Maria Callas on the day she was fired from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. That shoot featured the stunning Erica Andrews, whose untimely and shocking death was recently announced on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Scalia is a well-known opera buff who can appreciate the fierce intensity the artform’s finest interpreter. How cool would it be if Scalia witnessed Erica’s powerful emotional range and experienced a transformative moment of his own?
What was your favorite place to shoot?
That last apartment where Lee Harvey and Marina Osawld resided together before they separated: 214 W. Neely. The two-story duplex is near Oak Cliff’s most fashionable corner, but the tiny building is in shambles. The backyard remains unchanged from when Marina photographed Lee holding firearms and Socialist newspapers. Her photos became both a Life magazine cover and conspiracy theorists’ obsession.
A family lives there now: two sisters and their father live downstairs. Their brother lives upstairs—the unit the Oswalds occupied. But upstairs was strictly off-limits. For the shoot, we cut the lawn, washed the staircase and removed any anachronistic items. The setting was intimate. We felt like we’re the only people who appreciate the duplex, which is sadly neglected but a significant element of Dallas history.
Are you working on any new projects?
I’m planning to shoot Laura Bush, circa 1963, as Southern Methodist University freshman; and a bloodstained billionaire-divorcee Priscilla Davis and fleeing Stonegate Mansion.