Get Ready for Power Ball XVIII

Each year, Toronto’s lakeside contemporary art gallery, The Power Plant, is transformed to host the city’s influencers and innovators for a night of art, music, gastronomy and fashion. And this year, it’s all about pleasure. Running with the Pleasure Principle as the theme of the event, the organizers have curated an immersive experience that will target guests pleasure receptors: house music DJ Mark Farina’s mix will entice the ears, food overseen by chef Matty Matheson will please the palate, and art installations by Karen Tam, Laura Kikauka, and Jordan Söderberg Mills will stimulate your sight.

“I believe that the arts play an integral role in our community and that they should be accessible to all,” honourary co-chair Belinda Stronach told me. “The Power Plant is a unique organization that helps to nurture and foster the next generation of patrons and artists by providing an open and well-curated space for everyone to enjoy…This year is shaping up to be one of the best yet!”

This year’s Power Ball’s other co-chairs are Jennan Phelan and Jennifer Bassett. And not only do the two Jens share a nickname, but they also share a long-term friendship that has made working together on this event such a pleasure for them—pun intended. “Jen and I have very similar visions and similar ideas, and we work really well together,” Phelan told me over the phone a week before the big night. “Her energy is incredible…she’s a dream to work with.”

Bassett recalls being immediately enticed when The Power Plant approached her to take on the role of co-chair when they told her that the theme was the Pleasure Principle. “That was actually one of the selling points, because I knew it would be fun and probably a little cheeky,” she explained. “I mean the Power Ball has that reputation as sort of pushing the limits and really being a creative, crazy, fun party…And with this theme, I was like ‘yup, done, awesome.'”

And how will these ladies be incorporating the theme into their event ensembles? While Phelan has decided to don a dress by Max Mara—the luxury fashion house has sponsored the Power Ball for the past two years now—she did toy with the idea of taking the theme to a whole new level. “Jen and I thought about going in lingerie…But that might be a bit too much…Or how about we just go naked?” Phalen recalls, laughing over the phone. “We joked that we were going to show up body-painted,” added Bassett, who is currently deliberating over wearing something she had made by Greta Constantine, in order to support Canadian talent.

Speaking of Canadian talent, Bassett is looking forward to seeing how the art installations at Power Ball all come together. As the Power Plant’s biggest fundraiser and chance to promote our country’s incredible arts scene, the installations will definitely be a highlight at the event. “I mean you can plan it, plan it, and plan it, have these meetings, but for something like Tam’s opium installation, until you actually see it, you can’t really appreciate it.”

We caught up with Tam just a week before the event as she was putting the finishing touches on her opium den installation. Read on, and be sure to check back for our post-party coverage!

S/: Tell us about the installation you’re working on for the Power Ball.

Karen Tam: So my installation is called Opium Den…and it is an installation of an opium den [laughing]. It’s an installation project that I had started in 2007 or so. It was commissioned for a museum in Victoria. It’s in a way a response to the persistent stereotypical representations of the Chinese in the West in popular culture—Hollywood movies or television series—which depict Chinese men as asexual or effeminate, who spend their waking hours smoking opium, gambling, and running houses of vice.

Where did you get your inspiration? 

I took my inspiration from Hollywood films like Bitter Tea of General Yen…comic books and literature such as Fu Manchu or Sherlock Holmes. But for the actual aesthetics and visuals of my opium den, I’ve taken it from Hergé’s Tin Tin, which is set in 1930s Shanghai, and part of the story takes place in an opium den. So if you look at the comic books and the setting of the opium den, there’s an orange wall, mats, screens, lanterns and opium smokers lying down. So basically, my opium den looks like that, for the most part… So it’s kind of looking at the whole idea of the opium den and it being exotic.

What drew you to wanting to confront Chinese stereotypes in your artwork?

In my whole body of work I’ve always been interested in it, and I’ve looked and explored how cultures misrepresent or misinterpret one another, and specifically the dichotomy between the West and the East. And not just how the West has represented and interpreted them from afar, but also contrasting how the Chinese communities in Canada themselves have been treated and are viewed historically up till now. For some of my previous installations, I’ve recreated the interiors of Chinese restaurants, to see how the Chinese communities have represented themselves. So they might actually play off the exoticness. And other ones I’ve done are a karaoke lounge, and recently a China Town souvenir shop. That’s what I’ve been exploring and that’s why I was working on producing an opium den, because I thought that that was another space where there is a meeting of the two communities or cultures.

So how are you working the theme of Pleasure Principle into your piece?  

It’s inherent to the installation that there is this component or this idea of pleasure and exoticness. It’s in a way inviting people to come, and in a way role play, but at the same time, hopefully, realize that there is a critical side to the piece. But then in the end the event is a fundraiser so people should be having fun and enjoying themselves.

What are you excited about most? 

What I’m excited about is to see what it actually looks like because what is really, really nice about the Power Plant is that they’ve been helping me source materials in Toronto, so it actually will look similar to my previous opium den. I’m excited to see how it all comes together, and then I guess I’m excited to see how people respond to the event itself.