Odette Sculptor-in-Residence explores the mystery and value of an artist’s life and work

Iris Haussler in the Joseph Wagenbach house
Sculpture by Iris Haussler
Image: JW (Joseph Wagenbach) -06-#033 (doll)
Mixed media, 17 x 22 x 23 cm. 2006

On a website for a foundation bearing his name, Joseph Wagenbach’s official biography alludes to a mystery. A recluse, Wagenbach laboured away on a slew of projects in his Toronto residence with windows covered by newspaper. Neighbours reported strange noises at odd hours emitting from the house on Robinson Street.

When Wagenbach became ill following a stroke, visitors and then “municipal curators” venturing into his house uncovered a startling collection of artistic works. Later, it was revealed that Joseph Wagenbach was in fact a fictional protagonist for a hyper-real installation of artwork by German-born, Toronto based conceptual and installation artist Iris Häussler. Wagenbach never existed. The revelation brought with it some controversy and drew worldwide attention to Häussler’s work creating immersive, unsettling installations.

Häussler is the 2014 Louis Odette Sculptor-in-Residence at York University. On May 22, she will discuss her work and Joseph Wagenbach in a public lecture titled “Joseph Wagenbach’s Dream is Iris Häussler’s Nightmare”. Joining her in the talk is guest curator Axel Jablonski, in his role as director of the fictional Joseph Wagenbach Foundation, will discuss the value of art in relation to Häussler’s work.

Admission to the talk is free. All welcome. The talk will take place from 2 to 4:30pm in Room 312 in the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts on the Keele campus. It is sponsored by the Department of Visual Art & Art History in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University and is free and open to the public.

Häussler has exhibited her work in Canada and internationally for more than two decades. She is best known for detailed, hyper-realistic installations that explore the fragile boundaries between fiction and reality. Building material evidence of the obsessive lives of invented characters, she creates installations that invite the visitor to decode them as narrative stories.

Iris Häussler as the "Archivist" in one of the rooms of her installation "The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach" (2006).
” Iris Häussler as the “Archivist” in one of the rooms of her installation “The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach” (2006).

During her residency at York University, Häussler is casting works in bronze from the Joseph Wagenbach collection. Her residency runs May 5 to 30 in conjunction with the Intensive Sculpture Workshop, a fourth-year course offered by the Department of Visual Art & Art History.

“Häussler’s artistic work raises challenging questions about the monetary and market value of cultural contributions such as art works, and our society’s need and desire for cultural context and historical heritage,” Jablonski said. “Her fictional legacies ask the viewer: ‘Is that art that you have in front of you?’  Is the self-made and publicly-made definition of art by an interested audience, art in itself?”

Jablonski is an independent curator and writer. He also works for Mai 36 Galerie, a leading gallery in Zurich, Switzerland, focusing on international contemporary art. His curatorial credits include Ausstellungsraum Balanstrasse, Lothringer 13, and the Goetz Collection, an internationally renowned private collection of contemporary art in Munich, and the art space Remise Bludenz in Liechtenstein.

His research and creative work focus on the meaning of art, both as a mirror of humanity and as a profession in its own right.

The Louis Odette Sculptor-in-Residence program is made possible with the generous support of the P. & L. Odette Charitable Foundation. The program strives to create a dynamic learning environment which supports the advancement of the art of sculpture, and where students benefit from participation in and observation of professional studio practices. The residency provides the opportunity for upper-level undergraduate visual arts students to develop an enhanced working understanding of sculpture techniques from the perspective of eminent guest artists.