“Ask the Frog,” says Iris Häussler in her new show at Daniel Faria Gallery and she’s right up front about it: A step inside the show, a white-lacquered amphibian perches resolutely on a column, a helpful stack of cards in its outstretched arms.
If you missed the hint, Häussler’s through talking, at least in the here and now. It marks a departure for the German-born, Toronto-resident artist. Over the past decade or so, Häussler’s immersive, affecting installations have been powered by the force of her tragic narratives: outsiders, struggling to leave their mark in indifferent worlds.
First, Joseph Wagenbach, the German immigrant found wandering his west-end Toronto neighbourhood, taken into care only to leave behind his home, packed full of tortured sculpture and drawing made in obsessive bursts but never shown to the world. Then Mary O’Shea, the Irish maid who more than a century ago tended the mansion on the Grange, now part of the Art Gallery of Ontario, leaving buried in its walls tiny sculptures wrought from the misery of her servile experience.
In time, we learned neither Joseph nor Mary had ever existed, but rather were Häussler pulling the strings of elaborately detailed fictions ushered to the very edge of reality. She meant to craft genuine emotional experience outside the cerebral realm of art, tugging at hearts before minds, and she succeeded. Anyone with half a soul who saw either one would remain haunted by them; Joseph, whose home I entered clueless in 2006 and left awestruck, lives with me still.
“Ask the Frog” is a step away from all that. “It’s sculpture, it’s concept, it’s playfulness, it’s experiment. It’s very freeing,” Häussler said recently, in her studio with the work before the show opened this week...