You might think Adriana Disman wants to give Little Italy a makeover. The 20-something Toronto-born, New York-educated performance artist has lived in the neighbourhood off and on since childhood but doesn’t connect with the strip’s highly sexualized visual culture.
“When I walk home on a Saturday night, I am surrounded by images that present themselves as sexy,” she says. “The clothing people wear to project their sexiness is most often related to biological sex, but often that don’t resonate with me.”
But Disman isn’t interested in dispensing fashion tips to halter-topped partygoers. Rather, she’s invited the public to do that for her. For her new performance, appropriately titled Sexy?, Disman is inviting the general public to dress her in clothes of their choosing that they themselves find sexy. The piece is being presented as part of the third annual Trigger Festival this week, alongside a bevy of other queer artists, including Alec Butler, Ill Nana and Mikiki.
Disman’s work aims to ask questions about what sexy is and can be, rather than to come to definite conclusions on the matter.
“The question of exactly what is sexy is what got me started on making this piece,” Disman says. “I’m still trying to figure out exactly what sexy means to me. The more I try to define that term, the more opaque the concept seems.”
“I was raised in a queer community, and so queer images of sexiness have always been part of my world,” she adds. “The juxtaposition of that with other sectors of society I’ve moved through has always left me with questions.”
The thought of having multiple strangers’ hands all over one’s body could be unsettling for some and titillating for others. But Disman seems undaunted by the prospect of group groping.
“I’m not fearful of people or of violation,” she says. “One of the ideas I posit in my work is that humans individually are good, and so I’m not afraid to make myself physically vulnerable in a performance.”
The bigger question is how she will react psychologically to the various apparel and accessories visitors bring.
“I can imagine people putting me in things that I wouldn’t identify as sexy at all,” she says. “But if the person sharing the space with me finds it sexy, I might feel like the sexiest person in the world.”
The other question is exactly how willing people will be to participate. Interactive performance is not a form everyone can access, and Disman admits she worries that people will show up and feel uncomfortable participating. But despite that, her commitment to her form of work is unwavering.
“My interest in one-on-one interaction is born from my constant struggle with aloneness,” she says. “One-on-one performance has the potential to provide genuine communication and transformation. It’s interesting to explore what it means to share space and time with another person at a time when we are doing that less and less.”
Disman says she is excited to be part of Trigger, which stands out among other Pride-related events for its highly politicized view of art making and its strong stance on accessibility and inclusiveness (all events are wheelchair accessible and most feature sign language interpreters).
“Creating truly political art can actually be very challenging,” she says. “I’m very interested in the strong, unapologetic stance the festival organizers take. My work comes from a deep personal need to explore things, and so in that way it is depoliticized. But on a larger level, when the female body is presented in art the questions of object/subject, gender roles and power relations come to the forefront, so it automatically becomes political, whether it’s your intention or not.”