This is an excerpt from a talk by J. Paul Halferty Identification, Embodiment and Being that took place on June 10 2011 at The National Gallery of Canada. Halferty’s talk was the second part of a two part lecture called Beauty, Art and the Female Form. The talk was organized in conjunction with The Magnetic North theatre Festival where my one woman play The Silicone Diaries was playing.
It should be stated that Transformation was created in 2006 by a process I call ‘collaborative self-portraiture’ -creating an image of myself with other artists. Bruce LaBruce took the actual photo. I came in with the idea of photographing my body at the time through his iconography. Creating the specifics of the image was a negotiation between us. He took the photograph and it’s his iconography.
The lecture excerpt (below) was accompanied by a slide image of Transformation. (2006)
Identification, Embodiment and Being – Nina Arsenault’s ‘Self-portraits’ (excerpt)
“Transformation appeals to the Classical images of Aphrodite/Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. According to Greek mythology, Chronos cut off the genitals of his father, Uranus, and cast them into the sea. Once in the water, sea foam arose around Uranus’ bloody member and testicles, and they were instantly transformed into the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite/Venus.
Transformation‘s composition, which has Arsenault’s body sitting on a chair in a pool of blood, visually references Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which depicts Venus on a shell, emerging from the sea. The portrait thus links the Classical images of violence, conflict, castration, and blood, which gave birth to the goddess of love and beauty, to the surgical procedures and traumas that gave birth to Arsenault’s beautiful feminine form.
In Transformation, Arsenault’s penis is also visible, denoting that she was born into a male body. The presence of the penis signals that Arsenault’s feminine form, like the Greek myth, Classical/ Renaissance sculpture and painting, as well as the other forms of femininity that she has emulated, is the creation of a “man” within patriarchy.
Transformation powerfully suggests that Arsenault’s embodiment of feminine ideals cannot be divided from her experience of being born with a male body, nor the trauma she underwent to achieve them. Rather, its tense and bloody beauty ironically posits violence, hatred and pain as inseparable from tenderness, love and pleasure.”
– J. Paul Halferty
(reprinted with permission of the author)