Nina Arsenault is a critically acclaimed interdisciplinary artist who has worked in live performance, photography, video art, writing and popular national media to document and explore her continuing psychic and physical transformations. Her work is fiercely honest, unapologetically sensational, and crafted with a deep love of beauty and drama.
Nina’s gender transformation, her cosmetic metamorphosis through over sixty surgical procedures, and her personal life have been the subject of numerous national and international documentary television programs, radio interviews, and print articles.
In 2005, Nina took control of her own voice and image in a series of outrageous, touching and hilarious autobiographical columns in Fab! Magazine called T-girl. These stories chronicled her experiences with plastic surgery, life in the sex trade and romances with straight men amourous of transsexuals. Nina has also gone on to write for The National Post, Now Magazine and several other publications. Her articles are required reading at several Canadian universities in sexuality studies and sociology departments.
Simultaneously, to finance her surgical procedures she worked as a whore, a web cam girl, a stripper, a mistress, a reality TV star (Showcase TV’s Kink) and an occasional television actress and personality.
In 2007, Pride Toronto and Toronto’s mayor, David Miller, honoured Nina with the “Unstoppable Award” for continuing to challenge and illuminate our culturally constructed notions of sex and gender and for embodying the theme of that year’s Pride celebration –Unstoppable.
That year she was also offered a Honourary Fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Sexual Diversity Studies Programme. (She already had two graduate degrees in theatre.)
In 2008, Nina starred in theatre director/playwright Sky Gilbert’s Ladylike which was written specifically for her. The play ran in Hamilton (Hammer Theatre) and in at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Xtra Magazine’s David Bateman called it a “virtuoso performance.”
Subsequently, Nina was commissioned to create her own one woman show, The Silicone Diaries by The Saint John Theatre Company in New Brunswick. (2008) It opened to standing ovations.
In 2009, Nina also created and performed in the sold out show I Was Barbie at the queer comedy festival We’re Funny That Way (Toronto), Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Pride Festival (Toronto) and The Bus Stop’s Theatre’s Queer Acts Festival i(Halifax). The play is based on Nina’s real life experiences portraying Barbie, the much loved plastic doll, at her official 50th birthday party thrown by Mattel and L’Oreal Fashion Week.
Later that year, The Silicone Diaries premiered at Buddies in Bad Times as part of their official main stage theatre season. The entire run sold out after previews, and critics called the play “profoudly moving” (Toronto Star), “absolutely unforgettable” (Eye Weekly), “positively hypnotic (Globe and Mail) and “captivating theatre” (Xtra Magazine).
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Artist in Residency program remounted I was Barbie at PSi 16, an international conference which brings together artists and scholars, and at the Summerworks Theatre Festival in the summer of 2010. The play enjoyed more sold out shows and further critical acclaim. J. Kelly Nestruck, the theatre critic for The Globe and Mail called the autobiographical piece “gonzo-journalism that would make Hunter S. Thompson proud” and Richard Ouzounian of the Toronto Star called her “an amourphous Circe of ambiguous sexuality… a certain kind of star.”
In 2010, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre mounted a return engagement of The Silicone Diaries in Toronto as well as co-producing it in Montreal with Theatre Lachapelle. It has also played Canada’s National Contemporary Festival of English Theatre, the Magnetic North Festival in Ottawa (June, 2011) and the East Vancouver Cultural Centre (Feb, 2012.)
Nakai Theatre in Whitehorse, Yukon has also produced productions of The Silicone Diaries (Jan, 2010) and I Was Barbie (Jan, 2011) for their annual festival of contemporary performance, The Pivot Festival.
Nina is also a frequent speaker at Canadian universities participating in a range of disciplines that includes theatre, visual art, sociology, sexuality studies, fashion and media studies.
In 2010, she became one of the key note speaker’s at Moses Znaimer’s festival of avant-garde “thinkers and doers” Ideacity. Her speech, Metaphysical Object, contextualized her art practice and has been broadcast around the world.
Nina is engaged in the continuing practice of photographing her body, something she has done at all points of her physical metamorphosis. She has worked on these projects, which she calls ‘collaborative self-portraiture’ with fashion photographers and pornographers including Bruce Labruce, Peter Tamlin, Neil Mota, and inkedKenny. These photographs have been presented at the National Gallery of Canada in a lecture called Beauty, Art and the Female Form –the second of half of which was devoted entirely to Nina’s work.
In May 2012, Intellect Books will publish The Silicone Diaries with a selection of Nina’s photographic works in TRANS(per)FORMING Nina Arsenault: an Unreasonable Body of Work, an international volumne which will also include lengthy academic and intellectual analysis of her art and influence.
Nina is currently developing a number of video projects. The first, a short piece called Plane of Immanence is a collaboration with director Jordan Tannahil about the reconstructed body, alienation and the spirit of creation. It will show at Pleasure Dome’s New Toronto Works series in March, 2012. The second piece is a long term project-in-development, a graphic long form video called Ophelia/Machine about sadomasochism, obsession, sexual objectification and ageing.
She is also working with Istvan Kantor on a multi-stage work called The Crime of Embellishment / The Book of Neoism that involves video, photography, live performances and paintings.