Iris Häussler: Ask the Frog

June 11 – August 15, 2015

In German-born, Toronto-based artist Iris Häussler’s new solo exhibition Ask the Frog, the domestic becomes physically suspended in space and time, and overlooked elements shift between everyday life and poetic forms. Rather than weaving a narrative or becoming the vessel for artists such as Joseph Wagenbach, Ellen Stanley or Mary O’Shea (some of Häussler’s most well-known heteronyms), Häussler’s recently completed objects are a reflection of her conceptual experimentation with wax, prosaic remnants and space. This new body of work is abstract, yet familiar.

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In Häussler’s’ previous exhibition with the gallery, articles of women’s clothing, both cherished or abandoned, were encased in wax slabs that were framed and placed on the wall. The artist’s new wax sculptures combine curtains, bed sheets and blankets that Häussler has collected over the last thirty years. They bear the traces of the many lives that have inhabited them. Set into wax slabs, these mundane surfaces lose their utilitarian function, but gain a lyrical dimension, becoming useful as metaphors for assurance, withdrawal and protection. Häussler heightens the feeling of domesticity and memory in the way that the fabrics, unlike the previous works, slip out and drape over the wax slabs, as if the viewer is encountering an unmade bed, or a washing machine that is spilling its load. These new sculptures are messy and lived in, as disorderly as they are graceful.

Häussler pushes the possibility of her wax forms by setting them off the wall, allowing them to fully inhabit the gallery space and be observed from various viewpoints. A few of Häussler’s wax objects are dominated by the collected materials. Häussler extends these superfluous materials to the gallery’s rafters where the sculptures become suspended and outstretched. For the most part, the wax in these suspended works hovers just above the ground. Placed throughout the gallery, the sculptures simulate architectural columns, forming an abstract path within the space. Viewers are invited to meander and to pause.

Receiving the viewer to the exhibition is Häussler’s sculpture of a white male frog—an oracle-like figure that provides only hints and warnings in response to our questions about life. Häussler’s frog resembles those charms and divine figures that pervade our homes. Much like her collected materials, the sculpture projects impressions of safekeeping, comfort and affirmation. The viewer is invited to inquire with the frog, shuffle his deck of cards and choose one as a response. Both front and back of the cards offer viewers an answer, one that may be meaningful in that moment or reveal its meaning over time. Spanning numerous cards, the replies range from precise to ambiguous and from humorous to burdening, echoing the uncertainty of our lives.

It is this notion of questioning, but never fully knowing, that interests Häussler – the ambiguities of life reflected in the way the wax holds and lets go of form and information, while the frog provides us with no definitive answers.

Iris Häussler studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. Häussler was recently the Louise Odette Sculptor-in-Residence at York University, Toronto. Her work has been the subject of solo shows, including He Named Her Amber at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2008-10). Group exhibitions include More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, and SITE Santa Fe, USA (2013); All Our Relations, The 18th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2012); and Somebody Everybody Nobody, a group exhibition including artists Miroslaw Balka, and Danh Vo at Scrap Metal, Toronto (2015). Häussler has been the recipient of numerous grants including the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts. Häussler was a stipendary of the Kunstfonds (Bonn) and the Karl Hofer Prize 1999 (Berlin). Her works can be found in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Städtische Sammlung in Lenbachhaus (Munich), Goetz Collection (Munich) and the Collection Opitz-Hoffman (Bonn).

Iris Häussler wishes to acknowledge the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council.