It's no secret that I've inherited my artistic inclinations from my parents and grandparents. Even my great-grandfather was an artist. I think some of them are still hoping my little sister will major in neuroscience or something, but she's got her heart set on becoming a candy critic and even that requires a creative mind and an appreciation of artistry.
So this year, instead of wandering aimlessly around Nuit Blanche like I usually do, I made a beeline for the one exhibit I knew would be amazing: PEEP, presented by Theatre PANIK a.k.a. My Parents.
(For anyone outside Toronto who may not be familiar, Nuit Blanche is an annual all-night art event that features performance art and installations all over downtown and lasts from 7pm to 7am.)
PEEP was a mix of live performance, drag, photography, and projection. Performed in the windows of Tiger of Sweden on Ossington, Theatre PANIK and their collaborators took some of the most iconic images of the 20th century and reinterpreted them in a gender-bending piece of performance art that lasted from dusk until dawn.
Iconic photographs are projected on the store windows...
and viewers are invited to PEEP through the cracks to see what's going on inside...
In the first room the performers get ready. Here you can PEEP at Amelia Earhart get ready to take off.
Above, Drag Queen Jade Elektra becomes Billie Holiday.
Next, the performers move to the store's central window to recreate their gender-bending version of the original iconic photo. Everything is done live (and photographed by my father, Paul Lampert), while audience members peak inside.
It was amazing to hear people's responses to what they saw, and their responses to the very act of "peeping". Some people felt like they were intruding on something private and felt uncomfortable in their role as voyeurs" It felt strange even for me at first, and I had an idea of what to expect. I found that the longer I "peeped" the more comfortable I became... It feels a little strange and intrusive at first, but then you can't get enough!
It was also interesting to hear people debate about the gender of the performers. As the crowd came and went throughout the evening, many people didn't see certain performers getting ready in the first window and argued with their friends over who exactly they were "peeping" at.
"That's definitely a woman."
"No, I'm telling you it's a man."
No, dude, it's a woman dressed as a man, dressing as a woman."
It was amazing to see how important it is for some people to need to categorize what it is they're seeing. They might be open to all possibilities and be fully supportive of gender-bending, but they still desperately want to know what they're looking at.
In the final room, the performers remove their costumes and readjust to life outside the limelight. Viewers are invited to ponder what happens when your fifteen minutes in the spotlight are over and gone.
Once they've captured the perfect shot, the new image is projected on the front of the building so that the whole street can see history reimagined. Below you can see Drag King Flare as Charlie Chaplin.
So much of Nuit Blanche is about the community experience of running around the city in the dark and participating in conceptual art. What I loved about this piece was that it required engagement from the audience to fulfill its potential, and every audience member had a truly unique experience. Everyone saw something a little different depending on when, how, and where they chose to PEEP.
Nuit Blanche won't roll around again for another year, but check out www.theatrepanik.ca if you like what you've seen here!