Iris Häussler: The Sophie La Rosière Project – Chapter III

March 9 - April 29, 2017

In Fall 2016, The Art Gallery of York University and Scrap Metal mounted two complimentary presentations of the project: the former was intimate and archival, while the latter was restrained and bordered on the forensic. In its third exhibition form, Iris Häussler’s project invites audiences to edge closer to Sophie La Rosière’s work— to experience paintings, drawings and sculptures that have been dislodged from the fanciful artist’s early twentieth century studio and released more openly, but thoughtfully, into the present.

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For the last seven years, Häussler, vis-à-vis La Rosière, has been unfastening doors from their hinges— bedroom doors, wardrobe doors, cupboard doors and closet doors. She releases them from their function as safe-keeping devices, leaving in their absence a tangle of memories, longings and secrets that disperse into the world, now untangled and analyzed by art historians and psychoanalysts. Through her singular art-making process, Häussler reminds us that doors, too, absorb the histories they once guarded. Their layers of paint are bandages that conceal the effects of time and use; they are discoloured, bruised, and punctured. In 2016, Häussler presented this pivotal series through x-ray scans that uncovered doors pregnant with art nouveau paintings buried beneath coats of black wax. For this exhibition, wax has been melted and stripped away from several of these works; viewers will come face to face with a bold and textured expressiveness that moves between love and loss.

The series may read as uncharacteristic for a German conceptual artist with formal training in sculpture, but, much like the Portuguese writer and poet Fernando Pessoa, Häussler gives fabled, historical artists literary and visual form, even if it means challenging her own artistic abilities and objectives. As she describes her first attempts at painting, Häussler notes, “My hands started to paint almost on their own. It was the strangest feeling, as if somebody else would lead my hands, not my body, not my mind. It resulted in what looked to me like a mixture of folk-art, art brut and art deco iconography—infused by symbolism and orientalism.” She continues, “I felt very embarrassed as I could not reference these things in my upbringing, my education or my artistic aspirations before. It felt as if I was a tool for someone else, not the master of my studio-practice.”

The paintings, some of which are now fully undressed, are seen as more gestural, corporeal, earthly and celestial than in their previously-seen x-ray form. Mixing her own paint, Häussler experiments with a diverse range of natural, readily available materials such as crushed dried flower petals, mineral grindings, dead ladybugs, and blood. This blend of ingredients carries over to the sensual images she has composed. Female bodies interlock. Seashells and flower-petals fly into orbit. Nerve systems sprout into spiraling ivy. Nipples bloom from breasts. Rivers flow from orifices. Wombs swell into oceans. Although seemingly out-of-step with previous projects, Häussler’s undertaking nonetheless renews and expands her roles as author, archeologist, and ethnographer. Guiding her practice is an acuteness similar to that which has characterized the legacies of outsiders Joseph Wagenbach, Mary O’ Shea and Ted Wilson. It is a willingness to listen carefully when those silenced, overlooked artists come out from behind their doors that confine them.

Informing her vocation as a contemporary artist is her interest in the loss of language and the obsessively, naively produced art objects that stand in for someone like Sophie La Rosière’s silence. How quickly something that provides security and protection, such as a door, a lover, or a father, can leave someone cold and scrounging for love. In our search to find stability, we may turn inwards, constructing a universe for ourselves with signs and symbols that only we understand, in the hope that we might once again feel armoured.

The Sophie La Rosière Project was created by Iris Häussler in 2009. It was undertaken with Catherine Sicot, Artistic Director of Elegoa Cultural Productions from 2013 to 2016. The AGYU exhibition was curated by Philip Monk and The Scrap Metal exhibition was curated by Rui Mateus Amaral. A book on the project will be co-published by the AGYU and Black Dog Publishing, London.


Iris Häussler studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. Her work has been the subject of solo shows, including He Named Her Amber at the Art Gallery on Ontario, Toronto (2008-10), and more recently The Sophie La Rosière Project, a three-part exhibition shared between the Art Gallery of York University (2016), Scrap Metal Gallery (2016), and Daniel Faria Gallery (2017). Group exhibitions include Groupe Mobile, Villa Vassilieff, Paris, France; Somebody Everybody Nobody, a group exhibition including artists Miroslaw Balka, and Danh Vo at Scrap Metal, Toronto (2015); Kunst Oberschwaben 20. Jahrhundert: 197- bis heute, at Museum Villa Rot in Burgrieden, Germany; More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, and SITE Santa Fe, USA (2013); and All Our Relations, The 18th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2012). 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).