Magazine article Artforum International

Iris Haussler: Art Gallery of Ontario

Magazine article Artforum International

Iris Haussler: Art Gallery of Ontario

Article excerpt

Iris Haussler's installation He Named Her Amber, 2007-2009--an ongoing project at the Art Gallery of Ontario--is an ingenious deception. Visitors are under the impression that they are simply taking a guided "archaeological" tour of the Grange, Toronto's oldest mansion (built in 1815) and the first home of the AGO's collection; a glass doorway connects the Grange to the adjacent, newly renovated museum building. The tour guide spins an elaborate tale about a young Irish servant from Kilkenny, Mary O'Shea, who resided there and developed the curious habit of making objects out of bees wax and hiding them within the building's walls and beneath its floors. The Grange's butler at the time, Henry Whyte, made a map of the house identifying the location of thirty-four objects hoarded by O'Shea (whom he nicknamed "Amber") between 1828 and 1857. This newly discovered document, the guide explains, sparked an investigation by Chantal C. Lee of the Anthropological Services of Ontario. But like O'Shea, Lee is a fictional character--yet she is functional, complete with business cards and a working e-mail address (she even responds promptly to exhibition-related queries). The tour provides glimpses of the excavation-in-progress and preparations for an O'Shea exhibition, allowing visitors access to previously off-limits portions of the house and to the compulsively crafted wax objects themselves--all in various stages of disinterment and institutional processing. The participants' sense of privileged access, the exacting attention to detail, and the complexity of information provided about Lee's intensive investigation contribute to making Haussler's illusion utterly convincing.

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The charade begins with a display case in the entrance hall containing a tiny pinch pot made of wax and unfired clay, found inside an interior wall--a lone and humble object that one can easily accept as an early O'Shea creation. Accordingly, there is little cause to question the validity of the museum label, which indicates that the pot contains blood--adding a dash of intrigue regarding the girl's folk traditions or mental state. Visitors are then led through a door to a wood-paneled library that serves as a makeshift laboratory, with unfinished display cases and Lee's diagnostic and imaging equipment arranged on worktables. …

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