Offsite’s Launch Party was no ordinary celebration, though it offers all one could want from a party: exquisite signature cocktails, DJ Young Teesh, finger food, and pilsner from Steam Whistle Brewing. At the crux of the event was the fashion performance by Offsite’s ‘New Minimalist’ designers.
Offsite’s beautiful space was transformed into a runway for designers Brit Wacher, Som Kong, Sera Ghadaki, Ruzica, YYY and Alice Yujing Yan’s works to shine on. Models walked through the mesmerized crowd and posed in front of artworks by Vessna Perunovich and Ann Lin + Sabrina Shen.
The pre-party began at 7 p.m. with a long line outside of beautifully dressed people waiting to get in. Because the fashion performance ran all night, there was no shortage of eager and curious eyes at the windows.
The Launch Party was a celebration of Offsite’s identity as a multi-medium platform. And that the boutique looks to transform itself every 6-8 weeks with new themes, designers, and artwork is surely deserves continuous celebration.
Novella was invited to view Toronto’s contemporary artists at Surface Art II and I jumped at the opportunity. It was a chance to get a glimpse of the city’s visual talent in its kaleidoscopic abundance. Not to mention the promise of cocktails and a gift bag of small goodies (blue and red jellies, a pamphlet or two, a pin with artwork by Yoshi47, and a copy of an illustration by Christina Tjandra).
The exhibition, held at Artscape Sandbox in the Entertainment District, was geared toward artists, the art-loving public, and collectors alike. The atmosphere was relaxed and buoyant, save a few esoteric clusters of people quietly exercising their aesthetic judgments and purchasing powers. Skillfully avoiding these largely suited clusters, I moved from one work to another.
Surface Art is a collective exhibition presented by five independent art galleries: The Black Cat Artspace, Creative Blueprint, Graven Feather, #Hashtag Gallery, and Project Gallery. It showcased works by thirty artists and styles and mediums of far greater range. Although at first this may alarm disarray, their works were distinctive yet, put in the same space, somehow coherent. The effect was of being in a gallery run by a group of curators who lovingly bicker over their aesthetic choices.
Here are some works that I found to be exceptionally captivating:
‘Pomegranate Eater I & II’ by Toko Hosoya. Hosoya’s imagination seems both jovial and macabre: on the foreground, a scrawny but menacing Minotaur; three knights, horseback, with ‘Go!’ flags in the background; wagons of red, red pomegranate.
‘District 8’ by Manny Trinh. Trinh’s District 8 with its tin roof shacks stacked on top of each other like a tower draws the viewer in to examine its intricate, detailed line of pipes, antennas, and windows. Whether it’s a symbol, or just a creative rendition of a reality (one is reminded of images of the favelas of Rio, recently under spotlight), or whatever else, it is hard to turn away from.
‘Head #3’ by Christine McLean. From the moment it emerged out of McLean’s Lululemon bag by the artist herself, Head #3 caught my attention. Perhaps it was because the artwork was so unabashedly taken out of a plastic bag. Or perhaps because it seemed so industrial compared to the pretty painted potteries that were also being shown nearby. Or because it was made of concrete. Something about the misshapen head was thoroughly absorbing.
‘Family’ by Saskia van Kampen. Family is a collage of collected typographical and visual materials sewn together and hung from a few inches from the wall. I had the pleasure of briefly chatting with Saskia and she pointed out the shadows made by her work, which was beautiful: some materials being either thicker or thinner than others, made different shades of dark.
Vanja Vasic is the director of Fashion Art Toronto, an annual fashion event known to those in the know as the most inclusive and exciting in Toronto. Offsite, “a curated gallery, boutique & coffee bar”, is by no means a random venture into boutique/retail business. With its continually changing themes, integration of art, design, and coffee culture, Offsite is a physical space that makes FAT’s ethos a mainstay in Trinity Bellwoods.
When I arrived for the interview, Vanja was behind the bar, making herself a cappuccino in an unassuming black t-shirt. Even in her relatively new position as a barista, Vanja carries herself with confidence and openness. We sat over coffee on Offsite long communal table looking out to Dundas West.
Hoon: Did you grow up in a house full of art and fashion?
Vanja Vasic: Yeah, my mother is a visual artist. She does installations — this is her piece right here [points to the wall of the café]. She exhibits internationally and does a lot of installation-based art, works with lots of different materials and mediums like stockings and things like that. And my father, he’s a filmmaker and a photographer. So, yes, I’ve definitely grown up around art. But fashion, not really. Fashion was something I stumbled upon in high school. I said, I like clothes, working with clothes, I like working with my hands, art. I wanted to continue merging art and fashion. So when I went to university, I decided to go into fashion at Ryerson but it wasn’t exactly as I thought it’d be. It was more technical.
H: So when you went to Ryerson and afterwards to Westminster, you already knew you wanted to do interdisciplinary work, merging art and fashion?
V: Yes. When I went to Ryerson, it was very technically focused. So I thought about leaving the school and moving to London, but decided to do an exchange program at Westminster. I really loved London and their forward-looking approach to fashion and the way they merged it with design. It was much more interdisciplinary, performative, and pushed boundaries, which wasn’t happening in Toronto.
H: You studied visual art in Westminster. Do you do visual art yourself?
V: No I did study it when I was young but I don’t practice it. I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I do a lot of graphic design and photography and other visual work, but I wouldn’t say that’s my focus.
H: What are some of your earliest memories working as an event producer and a curator before FAT?
V: Probably the first event I ever curated was a show of my own collection in high school. I used muslin-type, blackout fabric to make pants and jackets. Then I painted on them and used them as a canvas. It was held at a gallery. I actually invited Fashion Television and they actually came, so that was really cool. I think that’s my earliest memory.
H: Do you remember how FAT came about?
V: Yes. It was out of my disappointment with the Canadian fashion scene. At the time, fashion in Toronto was very commercial, always super glamorous, exclusive and unattainable, and not very forward-looking or interesting. It was mostly just stuff you’d see at shops. And I wanted to bring more of a London attitude — where people were experimenting and pushing boundaries — to Canada. I also wanted to provide opportunities for emerging designers to show their work. Living in London inspired me but instead of moving away, I decided to bring those things here to Toronto.
H: And do you think there is a common thread to what you did with FAT and what you do now with Offsite?
V: First, Offsite is an extension of the three partners who came together to create the space – Siya Chen, Calder Ross and myself. We each contribute something of ourselves to the space. Secondly, Offsite is an extension of Fashion Art Toronto, in that it’s a curated vision of fashion. FAT is a five-day festival with a thematic approach to fashion. Every year we explore one overall theme, with a sub-theme for each night. Offsite is the same concept in the sense that we’ll be changing the art and fashion thematically every month to explore different genres and ideas in fashion — like technology and gender — and various mediums in art. In a way it is an off site to the festival, somewhere we can present artists and designers throughout the year.
H: How do you go about selecting designers? There must be differences between what you’d personally wear or like and what you’d choose for FAT and Offsite.
V: I have my favorite personal styles. But for FAT or Offsite, I try to think more about the quality and content and how the designer’s idea or approach fit with the theme or vision of the night, year, or season. So my selections for FAT or Offsite don’t necessarily reflect my personal style. FAT, for example, has such a broad spectrum of designers and it’s very inclusive. So you’re looking at styles from alternative, avant-garde, super experimental works to high fashion couture bespoke gowns to streetwear to androgynous collections to everything in between.
H: But considering the fact that Offsite is also a retail shop, your selection process must differ in some ways from FAT.
V: Yes, it is a little bit of a different approach. Offsite is going to be an ongoing experiment. We want to have pieces that we think are marketable but we also don’t want to be limited to those pieces. I still want to have pieces that are a little bit more adventurous, atypical. I also want to showcase what designers are doing and not always have the retail as a limitation. It should be a mixture of the marketable and the innovative and forward-looking.
H: Do you think there is a strict line you’d not cross for Offsite you wouldn’t necessarily think about for FAT?
V: I don’t know, we haven’t gotten to that point yet. There might be in the future.
H: Do you ever go back to your old work for inspiration?
V: No. I get bored of stuff I’ve done before and I want to move on to new things.
H: You travel a lot. Are there places that have been particularly inspirational?
V: Berlin. New York is always an inspiration. And London.
H: Tell me a bit about Berlin.
V: I think I’m always really drawn to the ‘edge’, the rawness of a city with a bit of grime. That’s always been my approach to everything — not keeping things super clean and tight. And I think Berlin has a lot of that. You go to Berlin and lots of art festivals and fashion events are held in these old super cool buildings and it’s like you’re going to some crazy rave with an illegal feeling [laughs]. There’s something cool about that. For instance, they’ve repurposed these old buildings and created these massive art installations in them. There’s a sense of freedom and experimentation. For me, that’s the most interesting thing in New York as well. I go to Brooklyn and things are happening in these grungy streets — You’re walking about and all of a sudden you see a fashion show happening in an alleyway.
Here, Calder Ross and Siya Chen, Vanja’s partners of Offsite, joined the conversation. Much like Offsite, the three are distinct parts that have somehow become a coherent and beautiful sum. They have an amused and easygoing manner that belies their bent for precision.
H: Nice to have you all here! How did you guys meet?
Calder: I supposed to a degree we all met through FAT. Vanja and I are partners in life as well as business, so we met at FAT and I quickly became involved with it. I played as a musician at FAT.
V: Calder is also the stage manager.
C: I do the stage management and the tech and production side.
V: We also met Siya through FAT, who was working as a journalist at the time. She was reporting and doing some photography for a Chinese magazine.
C: That was about eight years ago. Then she had this space and the last tenants left. Siya asked us if we wanted to do something with the space and we saw it as an opportunity.
Siya: Yeah, it was all because of FAT [laughs]. After the festival, I called Vanja to ask if I could do an interview with her. That’s how it happened.
H: Do you think there are aesthetic values unique to Canadian fashion?
V: If you’re looking across Canada, it’s difficult to pinpoint. Montreal’s would be more minimal, more relaxed. In Toronto, it’s hard to say because it’s so diverse. I think it used to be more conservative. I think we still are compared to other fashion capitals of the world. But it’s definitely becoming more experimental and interesting. There’s an androgynous thing happening now, which is cool. What’s exciting about Toronto now is, representing: wearing the Toronto logo, being proud to be from Toronto. Which is a really nice change from the past when we kind of used to be afraid to say that we are from here.
H:Are there any difficulties in curating only Canadian designers?
V: One of the difficulties I think we might see in the future is that people are expecting to pay a certain price for clothing now. They go to big box stores and expect to pay x amount for a t-shirt, etc. Probably prices will be higher at Offsite, because the designers are doing almost everything themselves, making small runs and producing work in Canada.
H: How would you describe your current collection?
V: The focus is on simple cut, not too much fuss, minimal minded, and unique design details. Very wearable versatile pieces.
H: And if you had to pick one designer that you’re most excited about from the collection, who would you pick?
V: Let’s all pick a different one [laughs]. Personally, right now in this current collection, I’d say Brit Wacher.
S: I really like Sera [Sera Ghadaki]. I like how she uses different materials: the overall style is so simple but the materials somehow work really well together. I keep asking people, Oh, do you want to try this one with a staple piece? And it always, always works.
C: I think I’m into Som [Som Kong] because I like Som’s construction. It’s super flawlessly put together. Also, he’s got a nice set of overalls that I think will look great on everybody.
H: Are there any Canadian designers you are really excited about?
V: Yeah, we were actually talking this morning about one of our favorite designers, Mic Carter. He has a line called L’Uomo Strano, which means ‘strange man’. What he’s doing now is really exciting: all of his imagery and how he plays with sensuality, dress, and race. I think he’d be really exciting to showcase. He has impeccable craftsmanship and tailoring but his approach is more experimental.
H: Tell me a bit about the Coffee bar aspect of Offsite.
C: Coffee is a big part of our day-to-day. We recognize that it’s a community building material. People come together in the morning and it’s a ritualistic practice, so coffee shops become a sort of a hub or a neighborhood center. And to integrate it with clothing, we thought that the two could benefit from one another. We have a background with the fashion community, so the idea was to pull from that and integrate it with the coffee community, and thereby connect those two dots together.
V: It’s a continuation of the concept of FAT, which is a curated vision for different mediums.
H: And finally, which deisnger, dead of alive, would you invite to your launch party?
V: I love Hussein Chalayan. He’s my favourite and has always been an inspiration, so that’s who I’d invite. Siya?
S: I want whoever was behind Maison Margiela [Martin Margiela].
V: For Calder…[Calder is attending to a customer]
S: Drake would be cool. He’s a designer.
V: That’s true! He’s our neighbor and it’d be nice to have him here.
Offsite is on 867 Dundas Street West (two blocks East of OVO) and their Launch Party + FASHION Exhibit is on Friday, September 23rd, featuring a fashion performance with designs from Brit Wacher, Som Kong, Sera Ghadaki, Ruzica, YYY and Alice Yujing Yan and an art exhibition featuring photography by Ann Lin & Sabrina Shen and installations by Vessna Perunovich and Michael Boehm.
In Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Nutshell, a fetus in its third-trimester assumes the role of Hamlet as he bears witness to an affair between his mother, Trudy, and his uncle, Claude. The licentious pair plots to kill John, the father of the baby, who, following years of silent marital unhappiness, has been banished from his old childhood home in stately Hamilton Terrace to Shoreditch. He visits regularly and is put up with. Claude, too, visits regularly, stays overnight, scheming. Can the narrator stop the would-be murderers — or is he helplessly party to heinous patricide? If he cannot prevent the murder, can he avenge his father’s death?
The narrator of this compact and eerily convincing novel has the verbal skills of an old-timey aristocrat, a taste for trochees, an appreciation for Keats, a penchant for fine vintages, and a tendency to ruminate on the future of the world he will soon inherit. And what depressing projection that is in Trudy’s womb, often dangerously close to Claude’s penis inches from his nose.
Nutshell begins with the following epigraph from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space — were it not that I have bad dreams.” And the fetus grows as he speaks and has plenty of bad forebodings that constrict him. Much like Hamlet, the novel turns on the fetus’s solipsism — both forced and self-induced — in the face of a murderous plot. John’s murder, like Claudius’s, is told offstage: what occupies the stage is the narrator’s existential struggle with the umbilical cord, the paradoxical amalgam of his genome, and, strangest of all, his desire to be born.
The novel is worthy of recognition if only for McEwan’s genius with the literary gymnastics necessary to bring the fetus — his all too reliable but often limited perspective — to life. The unusual perspective and McEwan’s knowledge of science intrigue time old questions of philosophy. “I’m immersed in abstractions, and only the proliferating relation between them create the illusion of a known world,” states the narrator. “…I am, or I was, despite what the geneticists are now saying, a blank slate. But a slippery, porous slate no schoolroom or a cottage roof could find use for, a slate that writes upon itself as it grows by the day and becomes less blank. I count myself an innocent, but it seems I’m party to a plot.”
In Act V, Hamlet returns to rotten state of Denmark and dies midst four bodies of varying degrees of culpability. Not so for our narrator, though he too tells his tale from a rotten “Georgian pile”. No spoilers here — let’s just say that our storyteller acts.
Ian McEwan is the author of Amsterdam (Man Booker Prize, 1998) and Atonement (National Book Critics Circle Award, 2002), among many others. Though best known for his novels, his prolific career includes plays, a libretto, screenplays, an oratorio, poetry, and short stories. McEwan has also written extensively on science, religion, and culture. Nutshell is his latest novel.
Say Goodbye to Summer and Hello to Fall (and the Autumn blues and family drama à la Thanksgiving) with These Ten Incredible Books.
Nathan Hill — The Nix (Knopf, Aug. 30th 2016) FICTION
In Nathan Hill’s debut novel, The Nix, Samuel Anderson-Anderson, a stalled writer, embarks on a long and winding journey in order to save his estranged mother who has committed a serious and much-broadcast crime. The panoramic novel spans from 1940’s Norway to 1968 Chicago riots to 2011, and explores the relationship between mother and son. And to oversell: there’s word that Meryl Streep and J. J. Abramsare to team up for a TV adaptation of the novel. It’s not everyday that a debut novel gets such a star treatment.
Ian McEwan — Nutshell (Penguin Random House, Sept. 13th 2016) FICTION
An unborn baby is the chilling voice behind Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Nutshell. As Trudy plans the murder of her separated husband, John, with Claude, John’s brother (Hamlet, anyone?), the unborn baby bears witness to details of his father’s possible future from an unexpected inward vantage point. McEwan inverts literature’s long-standing trope of desperate and lost messages from fathers to sons and creates a chilling narrative of murder and revenge.
Margaret Atwood — Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare, Oct. 11th 2016) FICTION
Multiple award-winning author Margaret Atwood retells Shakespeare’s The Tempest in her much anticipated Hag-Seed. It revolves around Felix’s fall as an artistic director and his return as a vengeful mastermind behind a nearby prison inmates’ production of The Tempest. It’s full of enchantment, mischief, and grief, the stuff of Shakespeare’s and Atwood’s best.
Lore Segal — Shakespeare’s Kitchen (The New Press, 2007) FICTION
Fall is an obstinately academic season and as such calls for a good academic novel. In Shakespeare’s Kitchen Lore Segal takes the reader to a quiet unnamed university town in Connecticut where Ilka Weisz — neé Weissnix in Segal’s seminal 1985 novel, Her First American — finds friends, love, gossip, death, and the persistence of communal memory. Those familiar with Segal’s earlier works will no doubt also find Segal’s narrative Easter Eggs.
Marjorie Liu — Monstress (Image Comics, issue # 7 on Oct. 12 2016) GRAPHIC NOVEL
Marjorie Liu, writer for Marvel’s X-Men and Black Widow series, describes her series Monstress as “Game of Thrones meets Miyazaki meets steam punk meets Godzilla.” The original fantasy epic centers around Maika, who has survived a cataclysmic war, and her attempt to control her psychic link with a powerful ancient monster. Liu imbues the long male dominated medium with fresh approaches and strong female leads. Monstress not only partakes in comics’ long-standing history of using the Supernatural as the Outsider but also expands its boundaries.
David Cay Johnston — The Making of Donald Trump (Melville House, Aug. 2016) NON-FICTION
Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a fact of our cultural and political life today. David Cay Johnston’s The Making of Donald Trump, a culmination of over thirty years of covering Trump, chronicles Trump’s rise to power, history of litigations, and ties to organized crime. Backed by solid documentation, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist makes a searing and entertaining case against the Republican presidential nominee.
Brit Bennett — The Mothers (Riverhead Books, Oct. 11th 2016) FICTION
In a small black community in Southern California, Nadia Turner, whose mother’s suicide looms over the seventeen-year-old beauty, becomes pregnant with a pastor’s son. The teenage romance and its secrets have consequences that span over their adult lives. Brit Bennett’s debut novel is to be published in October but it has already garnered much attention and many followers brandishing much-sought-after galley copies. From its first pages, Bennett’s lyrical prose justifies the hype, grabs your attention, and does not let go.
Robert Kanigel — Eyes on the Street (Knopf, Sept. 20th, 2016) BIOGRAPHY
American-Canadian journalist and social activity Jane Jacobs is best known for her seminal work on urban planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), and her legendary opposition to Robert Moses’s destructive urban projects in Greenwich Village. Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street,new comprehensive biography of Jacobs, chronicles her life from her childhood to contrarian teenage years to a grass roots organizer and author. Kanigel has penned a book that shows Jacobs as the provocative, iconoclastic, mischievous, and complicated economic and urban planning theorist that she was.
Michael Ondaatje — Running in the Family (McClelland & Stewart, 1982) MEMOIR
There is nothing like other families’ history of instability and unhappiness to get one prepared for Thanksgiving’s headaches and disappointments. Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family is a fictionalized memoir that often tells stories that belong to the author only at an arm’s reach — stories of family and far removed relatives and their lives and deaths recounted by unreliable narrators. The book transports the reader back to Sri Lanka in the 70’s. The pleasure is in accompanying Ondaatje through the tremendous history of his sprawling family and also on his personal journey to reclaim his cultural and family roots. You will never forget Lalla, a shamelessly hilarious matriarch, or Mervyn Ondaatje, the author’s flamboyant dipsomaniac father.
Lucia Berlin — A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories (FSG, 2015) FICTION
Lucia Berlin wrote stories based on her own turbulent life. As such, the stories are full of incident —a child pulls out all of her grandpa’s teeth; an inflatable bra explodes midair; an alcoholic hides from her sons; an emergency nurse finds a battered jockey. Berlin’s humor is understated and her descriptions are detailed. It is only later, perhaps even after the story’s ended, that the one can fully appreciate the darker side of her humor and the details’ sinister links with troubled pasts of failed marriages, dysfunctional families, illness, and long term effects of loneliness. The collection is now available in paperback.