This interview was originally published in V-Rag, Vancouver’s Gay Arts Magazine and in their online format at the following address:
by Michael Venus
Nina Arsenault is a trans-discipline artist whose work has blurred the lines between artist and art, character and actor and reality and performance. She has worked in live performance, video, photography and popular national media. Nina has seduced a nation with her wit and charm, not to mention her “Barbie” body, which she continues to shape into the body she wants. This educated living doll fills us in on her passions and drive to be herself and why she is becoming such an icon.
You studied theatre at York and continue to do a lot of stage work including The Silicone Diaries and I was Barbie. Tell us about those projects.
The Silicone Diaries my one woman about my quest for inner and outer beauty through sixty cosmetic surgeris and procedures. It’s a pretty accessible theatre piece although it is very intense emotionally. The Toronto production had people fainting as well as vomitting in the audience. But other parts of the show are very funny. People find the story about how rocker Tommy Lee tried to pick me up hilarious, and I sometimes crack myself up when I’m telling it. I was Barbie is my second play. It is about the night I was asked by Mattel to represent Barbie at her offical 50th birthday party in Toronto. I’ve told it in different ways because some parts of it are really like a fairy tale. Other parts of it are very Hunter S. Thompson.
I first saw you when you appeared on The Lofters and from there you have done a fair amount of television work. Will we be seeing more of you on the tube? Fave show you were on? Fondest memory?
Actually, I have turned down three television series in the last twelve months as well as two feature film roles. I am concentrating on my artistic work –my own autobiographical plays, my video work and photographic self-portraiture. I am still interested in doing tv and film but only if the roles are very well written. Otherwise, I write and create my own work to act in. On film, TV and even in literature there are few characterizations of trans people that I really admire. I won’t do something I don’t believe in just to be on national TV. I am interested in making art.
Over the past decade we have seen a real shift with seeing more and more transexuals on television and in the media. What are your thoughts on that and what do you think the next decade will bring?
I think it’s great that there are transsexuals in the media. I’d like for people to realize that there are a lot of different types of ways to be transgendered and this seems like a very good medium to disseminate that. Also, I don’t really have a problem with transgendered people being represented in such banal ways in the media as I think that almost everyone is represented in a pretty rigid way in mainstream media. From my point of view the BBC has always led the way for putting interesting queer people on TV. My aesthetic sensibilities are much more edgy than anything I see on Canadian television lately.
You were a part of Idea City 10. How was that experience and how did it come to be?
Basically, I got an email from Moses Znaimer personally asking me to come and speak at his annual conference of extraordinary thinkers and doers. It was a fabulous experience. Znaimer’s team had everything so well coordinated from beginning to end — the technical aspects of things, camera angles, assistants, smooze parties so the speakers could meet the participants at the end of the day to discuss the ideas. All executed with elegance and panache. He’s incredibly grounded and brilliant at everything he attempts. I met so many accomplished people from so many different fields of work: architects, sexologists, magazine editors, film producers, intellectuals, academics, pornographers and media artists. I felt like I was in a room with so many people who are interested in pushing culture further. People who are interested in the avante-gard, interested in what comes next, interested in being trail-blazers.
Do you practice magic?
My dramaturg and writing mentor Judith Rudakoff once told me that magic is simply energy and will directed at change. That is the best definition for magic that I have ever heard of.
What do you have planned for the next year?
I am working on a video piece with a hot young director and artist named Jordan Tannahil. He is going to be an international talent. He is major! Silicone Diaries is touring to Ottawa to be a part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival and will play in Vancouver in 2012. I’m doing a lot of photographic self-portraits with the help of some amazing photographers like Bruce Labruce and Neil Mota. It’s a dream to work with people who I consider to be amoung the top artists in Canada as well as the top provocateurs because I think that art, especially queer art, should be provocative. I’m also working on another video project called Ophelia/Machine about sadomasochism and sexual objectification. That piece will probably be in development for a long time, at least another eighteen months.
What is your advice for young trans people who want to break into the biz?
The sex biz or show business? Either way: make your own work.