Iris Häussler

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Iris Häussler
Iris Haeussler (2006)Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach 01b-Archivist.jpg
Iris Häussler as "Archivist" in one of the rooms of her installation "The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach" (2006).
Born (1962-04-06)April 6, 1962
Nationality Germany
Education Academy of Fine Arts, Munich (Heribert Sturm)
Known for Conceptual art, Installation art
Notable work ou topos - Wien (1989), Pro Polis (1993), The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach (2006)

Iris Häussler (German pronunciation: [ˈiːʁɪs ˈhɔʏslɐ]; born April 6. 1962) is a conceptual- and installation art artist of German origin. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Many of Iris Häussler's works are detailed, hyperrealistic installations that visitors can decode as narrative stories. Recurring topics in her work include social origins, such as family ties and relationships, and physical origins, such as biographies or emigration.


Häussler studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts under Heribert Sturm with a focus on sculpture and has shown widely throughout Europe before her move to Toronto in 2001. Recognitions received include a scholarship of the German National Merit Foundation, the Karl-Hofer Prize of the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts and a Kunstfonds Fellowship. Besides sculptural work and sketches, Häussler is currently best known for her immersive installations. With these installations, she creates "synthetic memories" by presenting the living situations of fictitious protagonists who have arranged their lives somewhere between obsession and art.[1]

She has taught at the Munich Academy and delivered academic lectures in Germany, Sweden, the USA and Canada.[2]


Häussler was trained as a sculptor, but her work is not easily classified by method or genre: she has had solo-shows of sketches and drawings, large and small sculptures as well as participatory, interactive pieces. However her most notable works are large, immersive installations, a synthesis of visual arts, media, installation, approaches in the tradition of social sculpture, and performance. Philosopher Mark Kingwell notes: "It is an example of what we might label haptic conceptual art: the art of ideas that functions by way of immersion, even ravishment."[1]

In that sense, a common theme in her work is an invitation to participate in an exploration of the human condition.

Early sculptural work and sketches[edit]

"Archivio" - shelf, on the third day of the project

Students at a German academy of fine arts in the 1970s followed a loosely structured curriculum that emphasized studio work. There were few mandatory courses, rather an emphasis was placed on exploration and experiment, practice and critical discussion. Häussler's experiments were influenced by artistic positions of Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Joseph Beuys; she herself names Medardo Rosso as her most important inspiration[citation needed].

  • Archivio (1991) was created within Milano's annual festival of the arts, Milano Poesia, curated by Gianni Sassi. Häussler had begun work with wax, exploiting its translucency by encasing objects or documents, an act of protection and removal. "Archivio" was an exhibition of process, a performance in which she collected daily newspaper clippings for the duration of the show, carefully cast them into thin slabs of wax on-site, and ordered them into a large steel shelf. Visitors browsed through the slabs, rearranging them, even breaking some; over the duration of the show the archive was transformed into a collection of disorder. Archivio was reinstalled only once, a year later in Prague,[3] but the act of encasing objects in wax remained a theme in her work. Examples are stacks of wax-tablets that encase the laundry of children and adults, arranged into constellations of family relationships, or panels of gauze-curtains and dresses in which the fabrics' color and texture shimmers through the enclosing wax matrix; they appear as large, ethereal paintings.[4]

Sketches and drawings are part of many of her group and solo shows.[5][6][7][8] More recently, they were also integrated into site-specific installations.[9][10]

Gallery- and interactive projects[edit]

Häussler brings a subtle irony to many of her contributions in solo and group shows. Even where she uses established presentation forms, she challenges conventions with objects, materials and circumstances that would not normally be considered "art". However, her goal is not to confront her audience but to engage it; her work invites to participate in an exploration of the human condition. This discourse between artwork and viewer complements the positions of interactive art (responding to the participant) as well as relational art (focusing on inter-personal relationships).

  • Paidi (1994), a gallery show at the Kunstraum, Munich, Germany contained more than 200 passport-size images of infants, taken between 1905 and the present, juxtaposed with 280 samples of mother's milk the artist had collected from nursing mothers. The installation explored "the emergence of particularity within the anonymous, almost industrial process of having children today".[5]
  • Huckepack (1995: Piggyback) was a hotel intervention in which Häussler installed the personal belongings of a traveling woman into a room of a downtown hotel in Leipzig,[loc 1] Germany. Guests were offered an upgrade into a larger room, if they agreed to share their space with a fictitious person. They were confronted with one of the beds being unmade, one of the towels having been used, an open suitcase with personal items on the dresser, all conspiring to create a virtual, yet tangible physical presence. Although the piece comes with a disclaimer - the guests realize that they are part of an artwork for a night - the intrusion is disorienting and sidesteps confrontation; in the words of curator Klaus Werner: "All attempts to unveil the mysterious stranger lead into autobiography.[11]"
    "On Loan" - Installation view
  • Leihgaben (1995: On Loan) presented laundries, pillowcases and bedsheets Häussler collected from institutions - an orphanage, a hospital, a prison - to remove them for a short while from their cycles of use. "Acceptance and the appearance of a human dimension came [...] from an unexpected direction, when the bedridden inhabitant of a nursing home stated: I am proud to have my nightgown shown in an exhibition."[12] - such engagement of participants through their unique biographies is characteristic of many of her works.
  • Xenotope was a small series of projects that provided temporary overnight accommodation. The first Xenotop in Leipzig furnished a spartan room with bed, desk, TV, towels and bottled water, all painted in a uniform light-grey. Visitors registered at a gallery and received the key for one night, to be spent without further direction or observation. "The only cost is to absorb the emptiness.[13]" Variations of this theme were shown in Bonn, Munich and Friedrichshafen.
  • Repla©e (1997) - a piece of Institutional Critique - was a response to an invitation to a "Blind Date" with another artist, by curators Susanne Gaensheimer and Maria Lind. Häussler sent a non-artist substitute in her place, who filled the large studio at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, Stockholm, with chalkboard drawings. The project generated significant controversy, "...because it was made suddenly obvious how tightly the acceptance of an artistic work is still bound to the guaranteed authorship of an artistic personality.[6]"
  • Honest Threads (2009) was a boutique installation in one of Toronto's most idiosyncratic venues: Honest Ed's Department Store, curated by Mona Filip of the Koffler Centre of the Arts. A lush, theatrically furnished boutique held row upon row of framed photographs and very personal stories relating to some piece of garment, contributed by Torontonians.[14][15] Visitors were able to borrow the garments and wear them for a few days, experiencing both literally and psychologically what it is like to "walk in someone else’s shoes".[16] This piece loosely built on an earlier project (Transition coat, Übergangsmantel/Płaszcz Przechodni), 1999), collaboration between Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, and Słubice, Poland, two cities on opposing banks of the Oder river. But while "Honest Threads" was proclaimed to be "one of the hottest art exhibits in town",[17] the earlier piece had had "no audience".[18]

Major off-site installations[edit]

"ProPolis" - View through the door of room #42 - covered with a thick layer of industrial wax.
"The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach" - View of the house's living room.

"Synthetic Memories" is a tag Häussler applies to her major installations; she sees "synthetic" as opposed to "analytic" in the artistic process of creating memory from ideas and action.[12] These works are examples of "slow art". Often more than a year in the making, they derive much of their credibility from painstaking attention to site-specific detail. They are also invariably off-site works: especially her later installations have avoided to be labeled as "artwork" - or even to be associated with the artist's name - as the first step to open the viewer for an unconventional dialogue.

Similarities in form may be found in works of artists including Ilya Kabakov, Christoph Büchel, Mark Dion and Mike Nelson.

  • Her earliest apartment installation, ou topos - Wien (1989), recreated the situation of an aged man in a large, turn-of-the-century social housing project[loc 2] in Vienna, Austria. Focus of the installation was the bedroom that had been filled with thousands of tin cans of food and preserves, stacked in crude, wooden shelves, each wrapped in thick lead-foil and labeled with their date of expiry.[19] Visitor's obtained a key at a downtown gallery and explored the space on their own and unsupervised. "[The work] sensitizes for the circumstances of others, without trespassing on their intimacy or dignity. In order to create an authentic representation, [Häussler] has lived in this apartment for half a year. She immersed herself deeply into this unfamiliar space, absorbed the odors of the house, listened to its sounds and adapted her routines to those of the other inhabitants. When the apartment was opened to visitors, fiction and reality appeared superimposed".[20]
  • ProPolis (1993) was Häussler's first hotel intervention, staged in a three-star Hotel near the Duomo in Milano,[loc 3] Italy. The walls, floor, window and all amenities of a guest room were covered with a thick layer of wax; the installation could be decoded as the activities of a stranded guest, a salesman in industrial materials perhaps, the room abandoned under obscure circumstances. Visitors obtained the key at the reception for an unsupervised experience of the space.[21] With this work Häussler "reverses the canon of sculpture, in the spirit of the revolutionary sculptor Medardo Rosso, [ she ...] raises the question of overcoming its intrinsic limitations".[22]
  • Monopati (2000), featured two apartments in two separate cities - Munich and Berlin, Germany. These were transformed into different narratives, but remained connected through a single picture of a school class, taken in the 1930s that could be seen in both cities. Visitors were able to obtain the key to the apartments at nearby galleries and proceed on their own into the installation.
  • The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach (2006) was Iris Häussler's first major work in North America and her largest and most complex installation at that time. Curated by Rhonda Corvese and widely reviewed and acclaimed nationally and internationally,[23] this multilayered installation in an entire house in downtown Toronto[loc 4] recounts the life of an aged, reclusive artist, through the mediation of an on-site archivist (often Häussler herself).[24][25] Initially, the project was not publicized as an artwork but presented as an assessment by the fictitious "Municipal Archives". Häussler intended to facilitate an unfiltered and unhindered experience of discovery. The subsequent disclosure sparked controversy on the ethics of engaging uninformed visitors in an often emotional encounter with a fictional narrative that is initially presented as fact.[9] Canada's National Post ran the frontpage headline "Reclusive downtown artist a hoax"[26] which prompted Mark Kingwell to deconstruct this "miniature narrative of outrage" and to clarify that the transformation from fact to fiction in the visitor's experience was indeed central to the work.[1] Novelist Martha Baillie visited the assessment, trusting in the veracity of the presentation. She published an essay on her experience, noting that: "She'd had no right to lie to me", feeling anger and loss, yet finally conceding: "The Joseph Wagenbach I’d created in my mind, [...] nobody could take from me, not even Iris Häussler. He was mine".[27]


  1. ^ a b c Kingwell, 2007
  2. ^ Häussler, 2009
  3. ^ Meyer-Stoll, 92
  4. ^ Fuchs et al., 2001
  5. ^ a b Erdmann Ziegler, 1994
  6. ^ a b Fuchs, 2001 (p. 19)
  7. ^ Werner, 1995 a
  8. ^ Awarded the Joseph- and Anna Fassbender Prize for drawing (German) in 2000
  9. ^ a b Whyte, 2006
  10. ^ a b Adler, 2009
  11. ^ (Werner, 1995 b) Alle Versuche hinter die Geheimnisse des/der Fremden zu kommen enden autobiographisch.
  12. ^ a b (Kumlehn, 1995) Die Akzeptanz und das Aufscheinen des Humanen trafen [...] aus einer unerwarteten Richtung. Die bettlägerige Bewohnerin eines Altersheims sagte: Ich bin stolz, daß mein Nachthemd in einer Ausstellung gezeigt wird.
  13. ^ (Werner, 1995 b) Sein Preis dafür ist die Absorption der Leere.
  14. ^ Broverman, 2009
  15. ^ Campbell, 2009
  16. ^ Koffler Centre of the Arts, 2009
  17. ^ Goddard, 2009
  18. ^ Frankfurter Kunstverein, 1999
  19. ^ Gockel, 1999
  20. ^ (Gockel, 1999, p. 275) Um ein möglichst authentisches Bild enstehen zu lassen, hat sie selbst ein halbes Jahr in der Wohnung gelebt. Sie ist tief eingetaucht in die ihr fremde Welt, hat die Gerüche des Hauses aufgesogen, den Geräuschen gelauscht und ihren Lebensstil dem der Hausbewohner angepaßt. Als die Wohnung für das Publikum geöffnet wurde, schienen sich Fiktion und Realität gleichsam zu überlagern.
  21. ^ Jäger, 1993
  22. ^ (Avogadro, 1993) [...] rovescia i canoni della scultura sull'onda della rivoluzianarie sculture di Medardo Rosso. [Häussler] si pose il problema di superare i limiti intrinseci alla scultura.
  23. ^ cf. project press review
  24. ^ Carson, 2007
  25. ^ Medicus, 2007
  26. ^ George-Cosh, 2006
  27. ^ Baillie, 2007
  28. ^ cf. AGO site-tour information
  29. ^ Milroy, 2008



External links[edit]

See also[edit]

Conceptual art
Installation art