JUDITH RUDAKOFF, ed.
TRANS(per)FORMING Nina Arsenault: An Unreasonable Body of Work
Chicago: Intellect Ltd – The University of Chicago P, 2012. 264 pp.
review by ZAREN HEALEY WHITE
TRANS(per)FORMING Nina Arsenault undertakes the ambitious task of presenting and examining the many forms of transgenedered Canadian aesthete’s multifaceted “body of work.” As an anthology with a range of essays responding to the diverse avenues of inquiry provoked by this complex woman, the book succeeds in capturing the theatrical, creative, performative, and spiritual conundrums embodied by Nina Arsenault.
Through one-woman stage performance, self-portraiture, and the daily enactment of her hyper-femininity, Arsenault’s “body of work” is evolving physical and spiritual self. In her transition from man to woman and from woman to goddess, Nina Arsenault has undergone over sixty cosmetic surgeries and procedures costing approximately $200,000. Funded primarily through sex trade work, Arsenault’s transition is a story of literal self-fashioning through a process of surgical alterations over eight years. As an artist, Arsenault uses the aestheticization of the female form as fodder for her highly personal, carnal, and challenging art practice: that is, she engages with the female form as material object and ideological construct, with transgender issues, and with the nature of stage versus real-life performance (in her embodiment of concepts and characters such as mannequins, faeries, and Barbie). These ideas in turn constitute some of the critical ways into Arsenault’s writings, self-portraiture, and performances collected in this volume.
Edited by Judith Rudakoff, dramaturg for Arsenault’s one-woman autobiographical play The Silicone Diaries, with the assistance of Associate Editor J. Paul Halferty, TRANS(per)FORMING explores Arsenault’s “unreasonabl[e]” embodiment of “extreme and even unreal representations of Western beauty” (3). A mix of writers, professors, playwrights, directors, and artists provide the essays that range from meditations on cyborgian identity politics, to searching for authenticity in vocal training for a transsexual performer, to analysis of her of her evolution of a commodified sexual being.
TRANS(per)FORMING Nina Arsenault: An Unreasonable Body of Work can be purchased at amazon.com by clicking here.
These conversations took place in July 2013 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Brendan Healy and I sat down to discuss his work as a director and as an Artistic Director. The conversations are transcribed verbatim including vocal affects, Freudian slips and slurred pronunciations. The general tone of our talks were upbeat and of two people passionate to discuss ideas. These pieces can be read in order or by selection. There are more conversations to come.
More to come soon…
Waverley Hotel Room
self-portrait by Nina Arsenault
This is an interview with The New Sabbath, CUIT 89.5 FM’s 2pm Sunday show hosting conversations about philosophy, ethics, culture, religion and spirituality in contemporary society.
It focuses on last year’s 40 Days + 40 Nights: Working Towards a Spiritual Experience which was performed at the SumerWorks Theatre Festival. This part of my art practice uses performance to explore philosophical questions. The audience was witness to the acts of exploration but not always the conclusions.
Photography of the installation space of 40 Days + 40 Nights: Working Towards a Spiritual Experience has been added to the Documentation section of this site. 40D+40N:WTSE was a durational experience of monasticism Nina undertook in the summer of 2012.
101 Spadina Avenue
One short block north of King Street, on the east side of Spadina
(photo courtesy of Samantha Lauzon)
“Three of the best pieces of theatre I saw last year were all at SummerWorks: Hawksley Workman’s The God That Comes, Nina Arsenault’s 40 Days and 40 Nights and Mitchell Cushman’s inspired staging of Terminus.” — Richard Ouzounian
Been having lots of vital memories of last year’s Summer Works a year later now. Wishing everyone involved a great festival!
(this article originally published in Fab Magazine, issue 287, Tgirl column, 2005)
CIVIL RIGHTS AND SELF-ABUSE
“OBSCENITY and HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY is FORBIDDEN: In the United States of America, the following acts are generally considered obscene… extreme sadomasochism…(depictions of rape, torture, etc.).”
This email came from the American-based internet sex company I worked for. They were threatening to fire me for producing illegal porno shows on their website.
Months earlier, my girlfriend had recommended the job to me. I was escorting, and she worried I was letting johns slap, smack, spank and strike me. I detested being the bossy bimbo buttfucker for submissive buyers, so my sex-biz niche market was letting tricks pull my hair and whack me around. I’d tell her, “I still feel like a woman ’cause I don’t plow their asses.” Then one night, an overzealous sadist fractured one of my bones. Throwing an extra 50 bucks at me, he apologized: “Real women don’t have those lower ribs.”
I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take up my girlfriend’s offer. I’d done virtual sex before, and this new porn portal let me keep my own hours and gave me a plumper percentage of the profits. Every Friday I got a cheque from a cyber-pimp in the States. I even got to fiddle with the digital camera settings to wash out any of my imperfections. Being a whore never looked so good.
Average cyber-strokers wanted tits, cock and a money shot (always faked with Nivea hand cream) without wasting a wanking moment. My fee was $7 per minute. I worked on commission and knew these jiffy jerkers meant diddly dollars. Extremists who enjoyed epic erotic encounters into the eerie hours of the night were what I craved for cash. These simulated sexual sagas were typically sadomasochistic.
“You won’t say no to anything?” typed TheDeliverer, a jaded web junkie from Jersey. He ordered, “Punch yourself in the mouth.” I imagined that with the sluggish digital feed I could hit myself gently and he’d be slow to figure out my scam. My lips and cheeks are plump with silicone, so they swell very easily when smacked. This looked authentic to him. He’d log in every Sunday afternoon, beckoning me to batter myself. I earned about $500 each time. Soon, the sessions grew more severe.
I’d whack my lips and smear my rouge gloss. It looked like I had a split lip, and blood-red spit drooled over my bosom. For hours, I’d punch my eyes. They would tear. Black mascara ran down my face. “Harder,” he urged, and I obliged. Messed-up eyeliner looked like a shiner around my swollen eye socket. “Dump a jug of ice-cold water on yourself,” he commanded. I filled the pitcher, and even waited for the water to go frigid. Then I poured it on myself. He typed, “Behold yourself.”
I looked in my video monitor, with the camera adjusted for brilliant colour and soft focus. I gasped. I saw an image of a vulnerable woman, exhausted from being badly beaten (perhaps gang-raped?) and shivering, with a mixture of anger and fear in her eyes that pierced the lens of the digital cam. TheDeliverer typed, “Good girl. Aren’t you beautiful?” I thought I was. I screen-saved the image.
That week, management emailed me about my show. The US website owners decided to let me keep working, because I was one of their top-grossing shemale employees. But they warned me that I could go to jail for breaking American obscenity laws if I did this again. TheDeliverer was probably permanently banished from the site.
I am in therapy. I ask my counsellor on every visit, “Is it possible that someone’s sexual tastes can be so fucked up that no amount of reconditioning can save them?”
STILL LIFE is a short video which in performance plays in tandem with a live piano composition by Brian Harman.
Composer: Brian Harman
Performance: Nina Arsenault
Video: DAnilo URsini
Piano: Jane Wood
Commissioned by TENT
The works premiered as PART of EMERGENTS V on Saturday, May 25 at The Music Gallery in Toronto. Below is a teaser video of the work as it will be showing live at other locations TBA with additional live performance by Nina.
Nina played the role of the Chemist in John Greyson’s murder/mystery serial Murder in Passing. Below is the trailer of the series and one of the episodes she was in. The entire series is now online at www.murderinpassing.com or can watched entirely at Murder in Passing’s Youtube channel. Because the serial originally aired daily on TTC platforms beneath the city of Toronto the episodes are silent or overlaid with music.
A bike courier has been murdered … and everyone in the town of Passing B.C. is a suspect! Suspects include his keen green boss, his troubled train conductor fiancé, his ambitious Chemistry professor, Passing’s anti-bike mayor and a CEO with Gramsci issues. Detective Epicene (with secrets of her own) must untangle a bewildering conspiracy involving bikes, cars, opera, gender and greenwashing to expose the murderer…
Mars Brito: Chase Joynt
Detective Epicene: Alexander Chapman
Mayor Keele: Arsinee Khanjian
Cop: Stephen Chen
Professor Klein: Nina Arsenault
Bike Boss: Moynan King
Fiance: Erin Bardua
CEO: Guillermo Verdecchia
Reporter: Ramzi Ayash
Fugue Singers: David Wall, Jeremy Ludwig, Erin Bardua, Stephen Chen
John Greyson’s award-winning films/videos include Fig Trees, Lilies, and Zero Patience. David Wall is an award-winning composer and lead singer of Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band. Anneli Ekborn acclaimed shorts and features include TIFF-winner Big Girl. Sharon Switzer has been producing art and film projects for public screens since 2007.
***Murder in Passing also screened at the Trans Film Festival, Toronto (2013)***
In Conversation is an intergenerational pairing of artists working at the intersection of methodologies. The project sees three pairings of artists exchange ideas across a 5 month digital residency, resulting in a 3 week programme of interdisciplinary exhibitions/ events.
Leo Devlin, Jason Lim, Poppy Jackson, Nina Arsenault, Nathan Walker and Klara Schilliger & Valerian Maly
The digital residencies are now live! You can follow the artist’s processes and submit questions via the following sites:
For Leo Devlin and Jason Lim see FORMative
For Poppy Jackson and Nina Arsenault see aGender
For Nathan Walker and Klara Schilliger & Valerian Maly see Install-Action
In Conversation is the 2nd part of ]performanc e c o n o m i e s [ supported by Arts Council England.