Sought-for Shivers: The Ekphrastic Poetry of The Darling Mansion
by Leslie Wexler and Diana Piruzevska
TORONTO – On the evening of July 1, three poets ventured to the Darling Mansion Summer Soirée, where designer in residence, Evan Biddell showcased his latest swimwear collection. Upon entering this mansion, in spite of its outward historicity as a grand Victorian mansion built in 1888 for one of Canada’s first female doctors, you pay a fare to gain entrance into a garish, sexy, and ultimately enchanting trip. The swimwear collection greeted and mingled with you in various states of undress at the party providing the guests’ first entertainment of Tanya Grossi’s Darling Mansion. Our intention, as poets, was to allow the artistry of each room in the house to speak through our own artistic responses in ekphrastic poetry. The idea behind ekphrastic poetry is the innate understanding that works of art, no matter how blatant in their messaging or crafting in their content, are silent, whereas poetry speaks the mind. The word ekphrastic, itself, comes from the Greek ek + phrasis meaning to speak out, to give voice to a work of art by speaking out ‘for it’, out ‘of it’, or in so many ways ‘to it’. The Roman poet, Horace’s even more celebrated observation that ut picture poesis (as in painting so in poetry) became widely used as a likening, but what was generally agreed was that a general sense of what we would call ‘vividness’ characterizes both representing in visual images and describing in narrating words. The visual spectacle of the mansion is a Daliesque pop-kitsch vision that inspired our poetry for a single evening.
Salvador Dalí, it has been said, was not a great artist, he just played the part until everyone believed it. Today that assessment seems both insightful and quaint: insightful because, to anyone not blessed with an extraordinary tolerance for kitschy self-aggrandizement, the work has not aged well, and quaint because the idea of the great artist has been as thoroughly dismantled, satirized, reassembled and dissected as to become something of a sepia-toned relic, a curiosity of intellectual history. It is in the surreal aspect of curiosity, where Grossi revels in the vintage, the estate sell off, and the garage sale sensibilities. She conceives of herself as a collector that creates larger artistic visions and a curiosity cabinet of inspiration within the rooms. The Baroque layering commands your attention with distinct references to the kitsch surrealism of David Lachapelle and Helmut Newton Saudeck combined with specially commissioned work by graffiti artist Birdo appearing in more than one room. The combination is what makes the place simultaneously so garish and yet also so much fun. Each room in the house has been specially curated as a particular experience that opens up a different universe in the world of a single room. In this respect, the inspiration of Dalí’s work can be a hell of a lot of fun, and what’s more, for inaugurating this campy, tongue-in-cheek, gauche and creative performance of art and artistry, Tanya Grossi, whose collection of rooms in, The Darling Mansion, remains in his debt.
As an introduction to the poetry, the first room, referred to as “The Opium Den” is described by Grossi as “a sinfully-indulgent sense of interior design” in order to evoke the surreal. That sense actually begins outside the door to your den of decadence as you find displayed the accoutrements of equestrian refinements: a saddle, helmet and crop. Upon entering the room the aesthetic transports you into a old world recreation of resplendence: a four poster bed, rich textiles and furs, ample taxidermy, antique brass cages, the skin of a cobra on the floor, and the witchcraft of dark spell-binding wall coverings – you are transported to the a deliberate and carefully crafted blasphemous sensuality. This will be a vision of the wild west where the artifacts of the house, its dust, and antique props are meant to refer back to the proprietress herself (self-styled as the house madam) who is present in the photographic art hanging upon the walls. What we hope to convey is the words behind the experience of the rooms in what follows. [LW]
Tanya Grossi is a Toronto businesswoman and entrepreneur who prides herself on living her life “like a work of art.” She welcomes those of like mind and creative impulse to her home in the Victorian Darling Mansion in the heart of Toronto’s trendy Queen West.
You can find “The Full Darling” experience on Airbnb at:
Leslie Wexler is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Toronto. She specializes in finding meaning through the insects of the Renaissance poetry, drama, curiosity cabinet and Natural History. For the last seven years she has pai red her academic work with the experiences of writing ekphrastic poetry which she shares with prose writers, poets and artists alike. She lives in Toronto with her partner and children. You can follow her poetry on Facebook: www.facebook.com/leslie.wexler.908?ref=ts&fref=ts
Diana Piruzevska searches for meaning and collects what she can. Music, film and poetry have helps her understand what she finds. She continues a strong family line of Macedonian readers, healers and visionaries on her Toronto based radio show Neon Dreamer. Listen and call from around the world
www.NeonDreamer.com. Poetry lives on Instagram: @in_electric_light