“A knock-out by any definition… Canada’s most famous she-male… a Tiger Woods of plastic surgery.”
– Shihan Govani, The National Post
Art is a product and a process that expresses emotion or sentiment through various mediums such as song, painting, literature, photography, video or beyond. Some brave individuals choose their own body as their medium. Nina Arsenault is one of these individuals.
And Ms. Arsenault is coming to Montreal.
We chatted with the artist about transitioning, social media, and (of course) Montreal!
Who is Nina Arsenault?
Nina Arsenault: Boy, girl, man, woman, performance artist, academic, educator, reality TV star, stripper, whore, nightlife hostess, storyteller, aesthete, art object, cyborg, icon, Barbie, fairy and actress.
What do you do?
I’m an artist. I do live performance, photography, writing and video. I think my works blurs the line between art and artist, character and actor, performance and reality.
At what point did you come to the realization that you wanted to publicize your personal transition?
In graduate school, when I began transitioning, I was taking a performance art course and the professor Yvonne Singer encouraged me to document everything that I was going through. She told me to take photos and video as well as to keep a journal. She told me that I wouldn’t be able to anticipate how I would use the work later. She reminded me that when you’re inside the intensity of a huge experience like that you don’t know what you will need to express about it afterwards.
Wow, the transition photos must be like gold to you now. So have you completed the redesign of your body?
My body will continue to age and change. I’ll have to decide as I go along what to accept and what to change. I am interested in seeing how I can age in the healthiest way possible. And also how I can look my best as I move through the different phases of life. I love Madonna’s body.
What advice do you have for others who are considering turning their physical bodies into literal expressions of art?
I lived a very marginalized life as a non-passable transsexual at the turn of the millennium in Toronto. I knew that by becoming more plastic I wouldn’t really isolate myself further in society. I knew I was smart, very creative and extremely disciplined. I was willing to devote my life to aesthetics, to beauty, whatever the cost. I was willing to sacrifice my life for beauty if need be.
Can you not, please? We want you around for a while. Okay? On your Facebook profile, it has you listed as “In a Relationship.” What does it take to date Nina Arsenault?
There are many things about my personal life that I create art about, but my relationship with my boyfriend is just for us.
Fair enough. You have said, however, that you consider Facebook and YouTube as part of your art practice, can you elaborate on that?
There was a time when I wasn’t being offered any opportunities to have my work produced. I wasn’t being taken as seriously as an artist as I wanted, but I need to keep expressing myself. Facebook and YouTube meant almost anyone, even a transsexual prostitute, could create and disseminate photography, writing and video. People noticed my stuff and kept coming back to see what I was doing. It was very inspiring and built my confidence. Artistic institutions started to notice me as well and then they wanted to work with me. These forums of communication are only superficial and silly if you treat them as such.
Hey, this Facebook-whore agrees with you! So who are your icons?
Madonna, Frida Khalo, Spalding Gray, Martha Graham, Jessica Rabbit, Andy Warhol, Barbie, Morgan Le Fay, Heiner Mueller, Bette Davis, Marina Ambromovic, Cindy Sherman, David Lynch and Lars Von Trier.
You state unapologetically that your work does not exist to make the world a better place. Yet is there a responsibility to help others navigate their own gender-based questioning?
My responsibility as an artist is to express my truth.
NOW LET’S TALK MONTREAL
What can people expect when they decide to go and see “Silicone Diaries” in Montreal? Does the front row get splattered in testicle juice?
Um… no. The show is seven real life stories from my gender transition and my experiences in cosmetic surgery. Each story is a moment when I learned something about the contradictions inherent in the pursuit of inner and outer beauty.
Pretend that Toronto is a boy, and Montreal is a girl. How can we foster greater appreciation between these two beings?
When a beautiful gal such as you visits Montreal, what does she like to do?