In life, I believe in being civilized and not committing acts of social violence to others – including discrimination, exclusion, and even gossip. I believe in nurturing others unfolding, whatever form that might take. But, for me, good art, like good sex is not “nice.” Art and theatre should be the forum where we, as women, as queers, and as people, are revealed to be mythic. Our lives and our emotional landscapes are expansive, contradictory and sadomasochistic. If you want things to be casual and polite, you can stay at home and watch a sit com.
Nina Arsenault, interview with sexlifecanada.ca (2012)
Nina Arsenault is a Toronto writer, artist, performer, and media personality who has undergone a whole lot of body modification (60+ cosmetic surgeries) to transition from male to female and to end up looking as… in the eyes of the viewer, what a male representation of a female should look like. I think the image speaks for itself, quite a journey.
why can’t you be like the other trannies who are going along with it? the one who don’t speak English, who didn’t have the privilege of an education because of transphobic schools, the ones who are deaf, the ones you told them that they were fighting for the right cause SO YOU COULD BE THE ONE WHO LEGALIZED PROSTITUTION AND SAVED ALL THE WOMEN while you made money and advanced your career and after you used us for your causes for one decade, two, without pay, you shut us out because we speak with anger and contempt
Excerpt from Nina Arsenault’s OPHELIA/MACHINE, 2012
I’m not a politician that’s trying to win votes or approval. I’m an artist and I believe that if you start with politics and you try to create art to communicate your politics you bleed out the complexities of human life to create a clear message. You create an essay, an essay in paint, an essay in sculpture or in writing, and that essay, that simple truth lets people go home, they go home satisfied, they understand a truth of the human condition better, and because that truth is an oversimplification, they wake up tomorrow morning and the artistic experience has lost all of its resonance.
A Manifesto of Living, Self-portraiture (Identity, Transformation, and Performance)
by Nina Arsenault
When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image. —Meister Eckhart, German mystic
Working Principles and Inspirations
1. I see all of my creative work—documentary photographs, reality TV, autobiographical storytelling, video art, staged photography, literary memoir writings, costumed nightlife appearances, voice/breath/body training, cosmetic surgery, and the daily presentation of my femininity through makeup, fake hair, exercise, and diet—as a continuing practice of living self-portraiture. My life and art are irrevocably entwined.
2. Self-portraiture communicates feelings and ideas, which cannot be satisfactorily communicated in fictionalized artistic forms. The viewer is never required to suspend disbelief, creating an immediate and compelling connection to the artistic works.
3. Self-portraiture creates the opportunity for cathartic emotional release, revealing aspects of the Self which are mythic in scope—both triumphant and tragic. Therefore, no emotion, thought, or expression is taboo. The primary feat of self-portraiture is the depth and vitality of the reveal.
4. I’m inspired by the words of actor/writer Steven Wright who declared, “I’m writing an unauthorized autobiography.” The self-portrait should always un- mask more than the artist knows or intends.
5. However, as in the paintings of Frida Kahlo, every self-portrait also contains mystery and ambiguity. No singular artistic work can reveal everything of the Self.
[and then it continues, on the next page…]
6. Therefore, what remains unspoken onstage is also an integral part of a performance. What is not within the frame of a photograph also creates the image.
7. I recognize the difference between memoir and autobiography. A memoir is a story or series of stories that reveals part of an artist’s life. Autobiography is the overarching narrative of an entire life.
8. One of the principal aims of self-portraiture is to inspire the viewer to ask, “How did she know that about me?” I agree with writer Philip Guedalla who said, “Autobiography is an unrivalled vehicle for telling the truth about other people” (Qtd. in Andrews 22).
9. Vanity never needs to be denied. There is great ego in self- portraiture. This should be integrated into the artistic works, but it should not dominate them.
10. The work is narcissistic in that I stare at my reflection and an artistic work blossoms within this gaze. In this way, the Narcissus myth is rewritten as productive and communicative.
11. Self-portraiture is auto-erotic. It brings me great pleasure. I experience this through sensation in my heart, head, gut, mouth, genitals, anus, and throughout my body. Every artist should have a sexual connection to their work.
12. I am inspired to see all other artworks through the frame of self-portraiture. I see the works of Jackson Pollock, Damien Hirst, Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono, David Lynch, and Lars Von Trier as self-portraits. I agree with Federico Fellini when he says, “All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography” (Qtd. in Murray 3).
13. Self-portraiture comes with a sacred responsibility to communicate my experience of life. Fictionalizing the artistic works would render them spiritually empty, intellectually reductive, and less sensational.
I understand, there are people in culture
who think they know the truth of my life better then I know it.
Medical professionals, certain medical professionals,
certain gender theorists and certain feminist academics
even believe they know the truth of my life more then I do.