Work Reviewed
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Globe & Mail
Naomi Carniol

Everyone in the city knows Honest Ed's as the bargain-bin warehouse where you can find almost anything, from kettles to graters to Elvis clocks. Now you can add rented clothes to the list.

It's all in the name of art. On Jan. 22, the Koffler Gallery is opening an exhibition by Toronto artist Iris Häussler, Honest Threads, at the beloved discount store. A room at the side of the men's department will be transformed from a small shabby space to something opulent, painted deep red, carpeted in crimson, and decorated with candelabras borrowed from Honest Ed's furniture department. It will showcase a display of racks of donated clothing, all of it for hire.

Ms. Haussler is known for her quirky installations. In 2006, she transformed a house near Trinity-Bellwoods Park into the former abode of an elderly, ill German now said to be living in a nursing home. Archivists led tours through the house, packed with his sculptures. The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach was revealed to be an art installation.

With the new exhibit, art-goers will see a rugby jersey, a coat dating to the 1930s, a dark blue suit: Items that have tremendous sentimental value.

Miki Uhlyarik, 62, gave Ms. Häussler his beloved rugby jersey. Weeks after moving to Toronto from Romania in 1985, the information-technology consultant was taken with a jersey he spotted at the Canadian National Exhibition. It caught his eye because it was the shirt of his favourite team - the Irish national side. But the shirt's $40 price tag was too high - "groceries for a week," he remembers - and he left the Ex empty-handed.

Years passed, but Mr. Uhlyarik's family never forgot his longing for the jersey. On his 50th birthday, they bought him an identical one. Now he wears it once a year - on St. Patrick's Day.

Vito Mola, 44, plans to lend his dark blue suit. He wore the suit on Jan. 14, 1989, at the last function his family celebrated together. Six months later, Mr. Mola's father died from a brain tumour. In a strange twist of fate, Mr. Mola's daughter, Amelia, was born on an anniversary of that family celebration: Jan. 14, 1998.

Artist Stephanie Rayner, 62, promises to lend Ms. Häussler a coat from the 1930s. The coat speaks of the love between her parents. Her father kept his wife's wardrobe, including the coat, after she died. "He was in love with her clothes. They were a part of her."

These three items, and many more, may be borrowed from the exhibit for up to five days. To help visitors choose, two walls of the room will be lined with photographs and explanations about the garments' significance.

"It's a psychological experiment," says Ms. Häussler. If a donor's piece of clothing has sentimental value, he or she may be reluctant to entrust others to wear it.

"So you have to overcome this hesitation . . . and be ready to share."

About 60 people have promised to lend Ms. Häussler clothes. She hopes that by Jan. 10, the deadline for submissions, several hundred people will have stepped forward. Together, the clothes will highlight the city's complex history, Koffler Gallery curator Mona Filip says. The exhibit is the first in a new series of offsite installations organized by the Bathurst-Sheppard gallery.

Outside Honest Ed's, Ms. Häussler points to a photograph of the store's late founder. Ed Mirvish, 13, is wearing a navy suit purchased for his bar mitzvah.

The suit is too big and the late Mr. Mirvish looks uncomfortable. Ms. Haussler loves the picture. "It was a milestone for him when he got that suit," she says. "It didn't fit, but it was loaded with symbolic power. It's a garment connected to his biography."