Ensemble with the October 15 guest Icon. Lighting design and effects by Carl Elster.
Haus of Dada, Workman Arts, KC Cooper and Meek present Lisa Anita Wegner and Scott White’s electric, tantalizing and surprising Intangible Adorations: Experience the Icon as part of Workman Arts’ annual Rendezvous with Madness Festival, running in the Workman Arts Chapel. The multimedia performance piece is part film, part performance art, part social experiment—as it explores the allure of celebrity and its impact on celebrity mental health. Each performance, a different mystery celebrity appears as the Icon, disguised in a morph suit. Will they reveal themselves or choose to remain anonymous?
Featuring performers KC Cooper, Emily Gillespie, Amy Loucareas, Meek, Jane Smythe and Lisa Anita Wegner; and hosted by creators Wegner and Scott White, audience members are ushered into the space as VIP guests of a celebrity. You’re given a VIP tag with your host celebrity’s name (I was with Tilda Swinton’s group) and invited to be seated by group for a three-part immersive experience of performance art and brush with celebrity.
We’re introduced to the genesis of Intangible Adorations with a brief documentary film highlighting Lisa Anita Wegner’s history as an actor, producer and filmmaker; and the diagnosis of Complex PTSD that led her to set off on solo film projects and an exploration of identity, iconography and transformation—and to the genesis of the morph suit-clad Think Blank Human that served as inspiration for this current project. For Wegner, art saves her life every day.
Prior to the appearance of the Icon, an audience member is offered the opportunity to get a taste of celebrity by joining Wegner and White up front and centre, along with the ensemble. It is a strange and discomfiting experience for the volunteer, even though she’s an actor. We’re reminded that lots of celebrities and performers are actually quite shy of the spotlight when it’s focused on them personally, as opposed to when they’re in character or in performance. Many performers are, in fact, introverts.
Wegner and White move on to give us a few rules of engagement with the Icon. Hints are dropped at who the celebrity may be: a female pop star of great renown, a major celebrity. There’s some buzz in the audience that it’s Madonna. A respectful hush falls over the audience as White ushers her in; the white morph suit, worn with a deep purple costume over it, covers her from head to toe, making it challenging for her to see. We’re called up by group to line up for a photo and an autograph; and then invited to head across the hall, into the Red Chapel.
While it may have a Game of Thrones edge to the name, the Red Chapel is actually a place of celebrity adoration—the Church of Celebrity, if you will. Here, we may sit where we like as we watch the ensemble, now all dressed in morph suits and costumes, prepare the way for the Icon as they move and dance (music by Pink Moth) around the ornate wooden throne, set on a dais. It is here that we will have a brief audience with her.
The Icon arrives to sit on the throne; White hands her a microphone and, through voice modification to maintain her anonymity, she speaks to us. Sharing personal anecdotes of youthful adoration and a more recent fan girl moment with a famous actor she respects and admires at the Academy Awards, she is genuine, candid, vulnerable and circumspect. She goes on to share her experience of and response to being famous, including sessions with a therapist; her talk taking on a confessional tone. Humble, forthcoming and generous, she moves to reveal herself—and then, with apologies, decides against it. The second-hand celebrity gained by the audience at having spent time with her is less important than the revelation that we are all worthy and beautiful people in our own right.
And so our time with the Icon comes to a close. The buzz about her identity continues: too tall for Madonna. Katy Perry? Lady Gaga? As we head back into the first space to collect our coats, ensemble members, acting as reporters, ask us about our favourite celebrities and how our views may have changed as a result of this experience.
If you had any aspirations to be a celebrity, the experience may have you thinking otherwise. And the electric buzz about the possible identity of the Icon was, I’m sure, accompanied by skepticism about whether the guest was an actual celebrity at all. How does that change the experience? And how would a reveal have changed the experience? Were we more at ease, as she was anonymous, vulnerable—humanized, even? Come and see for yourself—you have three more chances.
Intangible Adorations: Experience the Icon continues in the Workman Arts Chapel until October 19, with performances on Oct 16 at 8:00, Oct 18 at 7:00 and Oct 19 at 2:00 (final performance to be followed by a Q&A). Advance tickets available online. Enter through the main entrance off of Dufferin St. (where the box office is located up a short flight of stairs); a member of the company will come to escort you to the performance space.
Here are some photos I took last night; lighting and FX by Carl Elster. Thanks to Scott White for the photo of me and the Icon. And thank you to the Icon for sharing her time and thoughts with us last night.
Described as a Transformation/ Projection/Live Art Making/Live Collaboration project, here’s what the Haus of Dada Laboratory had to say about this exhibit:
A one-of-a-kind event, Stardust: Life On Jupiter? incorporates the focus on re-birth, redemption, transformation, and search for truth through the adoption of personae that has been a key part of Lisa Anita Wegner’s art practice in her journey to reclaim her life from the personal darkness into which she was plunged six years ago.
Friends, family and Ziggy fans alike hung out together in an intimate, casual atmosphere, sharing a drink and chatting as Wegner’s transformation happened in the middle of the room as Ziggy videos played on the wall behind her. The hair colour came two days earlier, the eyebrow waxing that afternoon (along with a mani-pedi). Stylist Wanda MacRae (who freelances as a makeup artist and colourist, and just got a new gig at Parlour Salon at their Queen Street East location) used a straight razor to shape Wegner’s hair into a Ziggy mullet, then hair spraying to get the volume up front on top. After a break, Wegner returned to the chair, her white lab coat now covering her costume, so Wanda could do the makeup. Hair and makeup were followed by ceremonial milk consumption and a cosmetic dusting with white face powder – a nod to Ziggy’s diet of milk and cocaine.
Then, the reveal. It’s quite remarkable how much like Ziggy she is. Confetti and noise makers announced the emergence from the transformative process.
Here are some images from the STARDUST: Life on Jupiter? opening night event, transformation process:
Wegner will be at The Black Cat Gallery every day (from 2 – 6 p.m.) for the duration of the exhibit, as she continues to explore the project live and in real-time. The process will culminate in a closing night event (Aug 6 at 7 p.m.), featuring a special, one night only “Stardusted” version of Wegner’s Queen of the Parade installation (a collaborative work with fashion designer Vanessa Lee Wishart, which appeared during Toronto’s Nuit Blanche 2013 and ArtRageous in Motion).
LWMC: Hi Lisa and Vanessa. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview on your upcoming Queen of the Parade exhibit at Nuit Blanche. How did the two of you connect initially?
VLW: I met Lisa through my boyfriend Dennis Painter, who composed the sound for Lisa’s Pixel Paint the Night installation for Nuit Blanche 2012.
LAW: … He went above and beyond and created a breathtaking interactive soundscape to go with my live art making at The Revue Cinema. His music score tied Pixel Paint the Night together exquisitely. Dennis said, “You should meet” – and, boy, am I glad I did.
LWMC: Did you come to work together with a specific project in mind, or did your collaborative work evolve more organically after your initial meeting?
LAW: I had just met Vanessa when I had the idea of a huge dress with a screen on the front – about a year and a half ago. By then, I knew Vanessa’s fashion artistry, and liked her sensibility and her previous work. She had already taken home multiple Nuit Blanche Fashion awards in previous years. If there was anyone to make this gown, it was Vanessa.
VLW: The installation began as an idea Lisa had, where Disney princesses and Big Fat Gypsy Wedding inspired her. She originally wanted a gown to wear for Nuit Blanche 2013. I changed the design and suggested that we go bigger, and use various fabrics to get the “gypsy” feel.
LWMC: Tell us about the Queen of the Parade installation for Nuit Blanche 2013. What sparked or inspired the concept for the Queen of the Parade?
VLW: We wanted to explore the aspect of the role of females and the femininity within society.
LAW: I had been fascinated by the UK reality series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I was mesmerized by their fashion – I love over the top, huge, bright clothing and genuinely appreciated the sense that nothing was too much. I was horrified by the options for role models behind the clothes: Disney Princess or Pop Star or some combination of the two. I remember having this in my head and walking my dogs one night while listening to Lady Gaga. With the huge dresses dancing in my head and the song “Marry The Night” playing, I remember the moment this idea was born. I came home and did the two sketches that I sent over with the pictures. First working title was the obvious Marry The Night, second was I Fuck Like A Man (after I’d been told that) and the third working title (which we originally submitted to Nuit Blanche) was That Kind Of Woman. At that point, the video content on the skirt was going to be commentary based on my experiences of being told I was not a good example for women because I act like a man. That was the spark.
LWMC: The Parade exhibition for Nuit Blanche subverts the traditional notion of “parade” in that it is the spectators who are moving through the spectacle, as opposed to the parade moving past the crowd – and the audience becomes part of the exhibit instead of passive observers. How, if at all, did/does this curatorial vision for the exhibition influence the work as you’re preparing for Nuit Blanche?
LAW: When we were brought into the vision of Patrick McCauley’s Parade, we simplified the idea. The content on the screen became walking legs to give the illusion of the parade moving. And the dress got bigger. Originally, I thought I would be on the ground with a three-foot screen. The Queen is now 20 feet tall and the screen is 10 feet tall. For [the] look, we researched parade queens from all over the world.
VLW: Through the use of projections, the “Queen” will appear to be moving, even though she is stationary. The viewer will have an impression of a traditional parade, while experiencing something new.
LWMC: The Queen of the Parade explores depictions and perceptions of femininity, in particular, regarding the concept of “the queen,” a traditional/historical position of power across cultures, but often viewed as being a lower status than a king. Since this is your first collaboration together, how did the two of you navigate the process of envisioning, then executing, the work?
LAW: Once we were brought on to the Parade, we both did separate research on Parades, Parade Queens, Queens and wedding gowns from all cultures. We shared research and the same images resounded with both of us, and I was happy with the very first sketches that Vanessa showed me. I felt like we are on the same page and I trust her creatively. We found the same virgin/whore theme in the parade queen research.
VLW: Lisa and I researched the role/history of the Queen within parades. We found that they are the highlight of the parade, the ultimate of feminine ideal. Kings within parades are usually of little or no importance. The Queen is symbol of royalty and power. Within North America, the Queen represents the most beautiful, pure and innocent. In South America, the Queen represents not only the most beautiful, but female fertility and sexuality. The Queen is an ideal many women try to attain.
LWMC: Lisa, when we were initially in touch to book this interview, you mentioned that you have a special part to play in the exhibit. I’ve seen your photos and sketches – and they look amazing – but I’m hesitant to put any spoilers out there. What can you say about it – or do you want folks to be surprised when they see it?
LAW: I kind of like that people – even after seeing process photos – really don’t have a sense of what this is going to be. And let’s keep it like that. The City chose, for PR, only to use a corner of my mock-up image. So as to not spill the beans.
LWMC: Vanessa, did you engage live models for the exhibit – or do you want that to be a surprise on the night? Will visitors have a chance to speak with you at the exhibit?
VLW: There are two live performers for the exhibit. I will be at the installation at various times during the evening. I would love to hear from the public.
LWMC: What do you hope folks will take away with them when they see the Queen of the Parade?
LAW: I hope the experience of the Art Parade will feel as exciting as a parade did for me when I was a kid – I am very interested in experiential art. The absurd proportions and playfulness of the installation, I hope invite the audience in – and from seeing our installation, people might reflect on why in 2013, with all the choices for women, two images offered repeatedly are a princess/bride/virgin and starlet/vamp/whore.
VLW: We want the crowd to feel that they were “in the parade” and involved.
LWMC: Any plans for continuing with this project or remounting it? Any plans for further collaboration on other work?
LAW: We are intending to take this Queen to other Nuit Blanche; we are keeping her afterward. I would love to take her to New York and Vanessa would love Paris. I feel certain that Vanessa and I will continue to work together. An upcoming installation of mine (working title) is Neverwet on White and it requires a white dress, and Vanessa is the one I want to make it. Vanessa also made me a nifty Wonder Woman corset to wear when I did the “Art Saved My Life” talk as part of WonderFest past year.
VLW: I would love to work with Lisa again, and I hope that this exhibit will be remounted in the future.
LWMC: Cool! Any other upcoming events/exhibits that either of you want to shout out?
LAW: Vanessa is opening a show the same night as Nuit Blanche, she can tell you about it. I have a whole array of installations in the works, but the Queen is my current focus.
VLW: I am currently working on Night of the Living Dead: Live! at Theatre Passe Muraille, as well as Evil Dead: The Musical at The Bathurst Street Theatre. Come see it! If you would like to view more of my work, please visit my website. Please contact me at email@example.com
LWMC: Thanks again, ladies! Looking forward to seeing The Queen of the Parade on Saturday night.
When Kat Leonard introduced me to multi-talented, muti-faceted, multi-media working artist Lisa Anita Wegner, what struck me the most was that Lisa credits art with saving her life. You can read her story here. And when I visited her blog site, I was blown away by the imagery in her pixel paintings.
I had a chance to interview Lisa over email – here’s what she had to say:
LWMC: Hi, Lisa. I was looking at your WordPress blog site and the Mighty Brave Productions site to get a sense of the work you do – and was amazed at the multi-faceted aspect of your work overall, and how it all boils down to authentic storytelling, and using story to make interior and exterior connections. You’ve worked as an actor, producer, writer, filmmaker and visual artist. What else? What came first for you and how did the media you work in evolve?
LAW: I have always made stuff with whatever I have access too. My first project idea to put on a Mary Poppins play didn’t fly because no one responded. I was five years old.
When I was little, I was shy but when I had an idea for a play, I would become bold. I got permission from the school principal to produce an all-grade two production of Little Orphan Annie and perform in the auditorium for the school. I played by myself a lot, and I would envision fully formed plays and then did my best make them happen. I really was just following instincts, moving toward what felt good. And when I was performing, I felt like it was doing the right thing.
I stuck with theatre mostly because I had no video camera and was good at making costumes. In grade nine, I got the lead in the high school play and played Catherine Sloper from Washington Square on a proper stage with older kids. I felt like I’d arrived home. In high school, I produced and performed several other plays, including a racy version of The Rocky Horror Show. I continued to produce plays of larger scale and after three years at York U theatre, I left to start my acting career. For several years, I dabbled in commercials and print work, with a string of small parts in local theatre eventually playing some meaty roles on stage (Mephistopheles, The Wife in Rashomon, Joan of Arc). With good reviews, I was happy, but far from creatively fulfilled.
With Mighty Brave Productions, I started my creative team, some of them still with me, all these years later. Each year, I would do one play in another city and one play in Toronto – I liked to do theatre in non-traditional spaces (church, radio station, dance studio) and here started to become obsessed with authenticity. If something was phoney, I lost interest immediately. I raised money, begged borrowed and bartered, and paid for stuff myself if necessary. I decided never to let money stand in my way of making anything.
In 2004, I produced my first full-scale short film, union talent, 50-person crew, two-camera set up. A veteran TV director, John Bertram (Degrassi Jr.High), and some of his seasoned team joined me. From then on, I was hooked indie filmmaking. I realized that this storytelling eye was more intimate and personal – and so up my alley. I set up the project, organized the team, dream the story and then be an actor on my own set. It is heaven on earth.
I nurtured my creative family and now have produced 47 film and video projects – from 10-second interstitials, to feature length films.
In 2008, I fell sick and basically couldn’t function (collapsed at Cannes, how romantic). Once I was home, I started making small video projects on my laptop while lying in bed, because that was all I had access to. Figuring out who I am through these videos was a big part of my healing. They are all based on what was going on inside my head at the moment. For example, I found a typewriter on the street and I shot a series of kitchen sink dramas about a woman who wanted to be a writer. I played both husband and wife in the series. Here is a playlist of some of these videos: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB10F738DB74E612E
So Who Am I Anyway?, a short where I put on my own outfits and listened to music, I knew I used to like to see if it was still suited me. This simple little video was chosen as part of Selection 2011 at The Phoenix Art Museum and I was honoured to be there at the screening.
2008/2009, I could barely wash and feed myself, but if I got an idea for a video I would get up, set up, shoot, cut, post it and fall back into bed. I knew I was in the right job because no matter how sick my mind and body, that I couldn’t stop making stuff. When I was sick, I created as much content as when I was running two small production companies. This personal work really was me trying to figure out who I was after my mind stopped working properly. These little no budget, lo-fi videos affected more people and did more for my career than any other film I’d produced.
While for me, performing is the icing on the creative crack cake, but dreaming up a project and communicating the story are something I will never be able to stop doing, it’s the actual crack.
Someone called me a folk artist, because I make do with whatever is available to me.
LWMC: Do you still act?
LAW: Yes. I am performing in my current projects and once I am finished with my medical leave, I will act in other people’s projects again. I feel like I am 10 times the performer I used to be. Now, with the experience of putting my brain back together, I feel like I have a deeper, more complex, intimate understanding of my own emotional system, and the inner workings of my brain and heart. I am very much looking forward to getting back on other people’s sets again. Did I mention that being on set is like being at the most fun camp in the universe?
LWMC: I wanted to ask you about your pixel painting. How do you approach storytelling in this medium – and are there any similarities with the other media you’ve worked in?
LAW: Pixel painting started as a therapeutic measure when I had a lot of anxiety. If I would do digital art, it would quiet my mind and calm my body. I rarely planned what I was doing. I would often start with a webcam shot of my face and I tried my best to convey where I was at. When I was finished, it was often a surprise to me what I created. I tend to use images from my life – if I’m watching a movie, I might grab a screen capture as my canvas and a picture of my face and go from there. The story or the message is revealed, but not planned.
After doing this awhile, I realized how much story one can convey in a moment. What stays in what is out of the image. And also in the creation of the image (I started filming me making them) Jane Siberry’s video “When We Are a Vampire” is one example of this and the current work I am doing with musician Benjamin Boles (both on YouTube).
LWMC: Your image appears in a lot of your pixel paintings – and though your style is influenced by the Dada movement, using yourself as the subject brings to mind the (surrealist) self-portraits painted by Frida Kahlo. Has your work become more personal, more autobiographical, since your work in art therapy?
LAW: At first, I was surprised that I used my own face so much. But it was always there right in front of my on the webcam. These self-portraits have evolved into something that is now a part of my life. I make them every day. I consider it a lifelong project to try to be more and more authentic in everything I make. Now, I am an authenticity junkie. I feel like my story is being told in everything I make, from pixel painting to feature film. I blushed when you included me in the same sentence as Frida.
LWMC: There’s a really cool sense exploration, playfulness and intensity in your work – and the imagery can be dark, whimsical or erotic. Do you set out with a theme in mind, does an idea come in a flash…do you just go for it? What sows the seed of a project for you?
LAW: Thank you. I feel creatively very free. I just put it all out there. I was surprised that the happier and more balanced I feel in my life, the creepier and darker my work gets. I can’t help making erotic stuff because it’s a part of me. I post that on deviantART.com and not too much on Facebook. I do think there will be more work in that direction.
LWMC: The juxtaposition of images and text is especially thought-provoking. Does the inclusion of text happen organically during the creation of the piece – or does the text come first and the piece gets built around it? Where does the text come from?
LAW: I’ve always liked words in pictures. I found my grade nine art project and I had already that basic style going. The words just pop out of me and into the image as part of my pixel painting trance.
LWMC: What are you working on right now?
LAW: I pixel paint every day, and I recently set up a studio so I can also paint with paper, paint and brushes. I’m working on an ongoing video series to Benjamin Boles’ one-man band improv set up (there is a YouTube playlist of all these) he creates music and I create videos based on the moment we are in. I have been calling this endeavour The Moment Factory. I have started layering all the performance videos together, so there is a visual echo of each prior performance in the current video. Here is a playlist of these:
I am also currently working on a multimedia project called The Interface Is The Message, a feature film called MY FAVOURITE MISTAKE and an larger scale art/video/fashion/performance installation with The City Of Toronto, which will be announced soon (keeping secrets is hard for me). I have also been working on some commissions and album art.
LWMC: Any upcoming exhibitions, installations or screenings?
LAW:One Desert Two Desserts will be screening in Phoenix, Arizona this month. You can see my pixel painting as part of Elvis Mondays when Benjamin Boles is playing at The Drake Hotel (dates tba). I am also speaking at WonderFest about How Art Saved My Life and showing some visual art pieces as part of the concert at The Gladstone Hotel.
LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?
LAW: Figure out what it is you love doing and never stop. I never imagined my creative path taking the route it took, but I didn’t buck the current. I flowed with it and now I wake up happy every day. I can’t believe how lucky I am that I found my voice, and now I have the freedom to create what I want every day and see where it takes me. I learned to keep my reactive tap open. Everyone can do this, and I encourage everyone to find what it is for them and go after it with gusto. Pierce the mundane to find the marvellous inside you. You are worth it!