Iris Häussler earned notoriety a few years ago when she invented Joseph Wagenbach, a reclusive German immigrant recently consigned to a seniors' home, filled a rented house with his artworks and belongings and posed as an archivist offering tours to the public. She intended to reveal herself eventually, but a newspaper outed her first.
Some felt deceived, but her installations' multi-layered, oddball charm sets them apart from those literary hoaxes that try to cash in on sympathy for recovering addicts, abused children or Holocaust survivors. The arts community, including the AGO, is smitten.
Now Häussler puts her name right upfront on Honest Threads, a show in a red-painted room at Honest Ed's. It's the first of a series of offsite exhibitions by the excellent Koffler Gallery, which doesn't get the traffic it should in its North York location (currently under renovation).
In this second-hand shop with a twist, photos and stories of the clothing's owners line the walls. By renting out garments for a short time, we can try to inhabit these people, as Häussler does her invented characters.
Some stories are quite moving. A man from Rwanda lends a pair of pants in whose waistband he hid money in case of arrest. A dress belongs to a young woman rescued from Sierra Leone whose hands were cut off by soldiers. Strange hats are mementos of the old country, while tailored suits symbolize immigrants' escape from poverty.
It's not only a portrait of the city, but a tribute to the wacky aesthetic of Ed's emporium and the newcomers who shop there.
It all seems sincere, so if this turns out to be a hoax, I'm going to be really upset.