Iris Haussler has been something of an underground phenomenon in Toronto for the past decade or so, an artist whose creation of fictive personae (she calls them "protagonists") has rendered her own artistic voice somewhat oblique. Her current exhibition at Daniel Faria Gallery, however, brings her into the light. A German émigré to Canada, Haussler comes with European baggage, most particularly the baggage of the war and a consequential distrust of authority, which her mises en scènes arouse also in her viewers.
In 2006, she created the character Joseph Wagenbach, who dwelled in a small Toronto bungalow producing heaps of sculptures and drawings, works that evoked the legacy of 20th-century German artist Joseph Beuys (rabbit imagery, wax, and a certain febrile quality to the drawings) and the low rumble of traumatic memory, congealed and stilled into form. ("He's not dead," she told me. "He's still living in my basement.")
A project at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2008 introduced the character of Amber (a.k.a. Mary O'Shea), an Irish housemaid at the Grange. A faux archeological dig at the site had visitors convinced of Amber's legitimacy as a historical figure, even as they puzzled over the oddity of her fetishistic fondness for bits of hair, deer bones and baby teeth, embalmed in balls of recycled candle wax. An air of forensic investigation hung over these relics, as visitors grappled with the mystery. Only at the end of the visit were they apprised of their gullibility, and left to contemplate their strange collective compliance with the irrational.
At Daniel Faria, we can for the first time see her sculptures and drawings lifted from these narrative contexts, and appreciate that, while Haussler is a marvellous teller of tales, she is also an evocative and skilled maker of objects.
Two trestle tables laden with her sketchbooks attest to the fluidity and expressiveness of her drawings – nudes, landscapes, and an array of cryptic observations that invite decoding – while a back room is installed with a handsome selection of the Wagenbach sculptures, a striking assembly of objects that emanate a sense of her artistic process.
"Joseph made this by squeezing a wet towel," she said to me with a conspiratorial smile as she picked up a small bronze-cast sculpture of an animal skull from a ledge in the gallery. Slipping her hand into the grooves, she added: "You can see where his hand fit here."
In another small gallery, Haussler is showing sculptures she made by pouring molten beeswax into holes in the ground. The results reveal the chance encounter of materials, but also the impression of her hands digging in the soil – fleeting, intuitive gestures now rendered in permanent sculptural form as raking protrusions arcing outward into space.
"The process of these inverted sculptures is so amazing,"
she said to me. "You can
never entirely control what will be."