The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach - The Curator's View
Opening statement for the panel discussion
Goethe-Institut Toronto, September 20 2006
Approximately 2 years ago, Iris and I discussed the possibility of developing a project in Toronto working collaboratively in an intense artist-curator dialogue. Iris told me about an idea for a work titled The House of the Artist; however she had not yet developed it due to the scale, intensity and logistics of the project, as it necessitated a unique situation. Her idea was to create an immersive installation based on a fictitious narrative of an artist who filled his home with sculpture. She emphasized the importance of this project as it would be the first time in her work that the fictitious character would be an artist, anticipating what would become a series of firsts for this project. Basically that was it, a single idea of immense proportions. I immediately knew we had to make this happen and that it would be an extremely significant project. I was well aware of her previous installations that dealt with fictitious narratives, all of which were outstanding, however I knew this project would be different. In a short period of time we conceived the life story of Joseph Wagenbach and began the most multi-layered complex project that I have worked on to date.
I am sure you are familiar with the expression “it’s all in the presentation”, a whimsical statement that has taken on a life of it’s own in this project. Presentation is the defining context in The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach. Thus began a string of circumstances that has molded our perceptions and initiated an incredible journey that we never would have anticipated.
The project was first presented to art institutions, galleries and key art individuals in Toronto, in the hopes of linking the project to a contemporary art space that would facilitate access to the house by providing the key to the installation. As in Iris’ previous installations of fictitious narratives, individuals would pick-up the key to the site and experience the art installation without mediation, left alone with the work, before returning the key back to the facilitating art space. You may have already surmised that none of the Toronto art spaces or individuals were able to facilitate the project; hence we were left holding the keys to the installation, literally and conceptually speaking. This situation became a defining point in the project, whereby we decided to explore the presentation of the house outside the frame of the contemporary art world, effectively presenting us with the opportunity to challenge how art is presented. The fiction of Joseph Wagenbach and his environment would become the reality for the first month of the art project, enabling visitors to 105 Robinson Street to experience an unfiltered and unhindered discovery, with the intention to reveal the house as a contemporary art project for the following two month period. Visitors who left email addresses were sent a postscript conceptualizing the project. To my knowledge, the presentation of The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach in a situation that was hidden and then revealed and outside the framework of the art institution is an unprecedented installation in contemporary art.
The next step was to locate the house of Joseph Wagenbach. This was not an easy task and it was months before we decided to rent the house at 105 Robinson Street. At first we thought it was too small, originally having envisioned a multi-storied home; however we soon realized that the size and location of 105 Robinson Street would be ideal for the project. At this point, we faced our next challenge, how were we going to facilitate access to the house in order for visitors to experience the project. We knew that someone would need to be on-site at the house at all times due to the density of the installation and for safety reasons. We needed a mediator, an access or entry person, a guide to the life and work of Joseph Wagenbach to tour the visitor through the house without revealing that the house was actually a contemporary art project. Who or what would seem plausible given the circumstances? Joseph’s work, once revealed to the public, would naturally have to be assessed and categorized, as to the "value" of the work in art historical and commercial terms. An archivist would be hired by Joseph’s guardian to provide a thorough assessment of the work. Iris Haeussler would be the head archivist, marking the first time she would participate in one of her installations, interacting with the visitors to 105 Robinson Street. She and her team of junior archivists would present the legacy of Joseph Wagenbach to the visiting public. Likewise, this presentation enabled us to experience the project through the visitors and "archive" the responses from the public in a comment book.
One final note, to the people who visited The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach before it was revealed, I believe you had a very unique experience, full of wonder, suspension and shifts in perception, which I doubt you would have experienced had you known it was a contemporary art project.
© Rhonda Corvese