Review date
Hamilton Arts & Letters
Martha Baillie


Iris Häussler is a master storyteller, that is to say, a skilled manipulator of intensely evocative narrative. She knows that listeners love to feel privileged. She takes them in small groups to encounter a story in the making, and asks for their participation. She knows how important it is to leave a great deal unsaid, to invite the listener to engage, to invent.

Words are apt to rush in, to tell all, to give away the ending; while objects are patient. Objects contain an energy that cannot be argued with, an energy that finds its way inside whoever touches them, sniffs them, feels their weight and texture, sets them down, goes back to merely looking. Iris, the maker of objects uses all of our senses to seduce us. If the story told by the guides at the Grange were written down on paper, it could be torn up and the objects, sculpted and hidden, would continue to speak.

The story put into words by the guides at the Grange is, however, neither written down nor uniform; it changes subtly from one guide to the next, evolving with every telling. It is alive, as is memory.

Iris’ art defies fixity, a singular point of view. When Mary O’Shea, the maid who hid in a pantry, possibly naked – so as not to muddy her clothes while digging a hole deep as her arm, in the soil beneath the brick floor – is stripped of her qualifications as real, when her existence is avowed to be false and her actuality collapses, a new story emerges from the rubble, the story of a German-born artist, an immigrant to Toronto, crouching in a pantry, possibly naked, digging in the ground, determined to express what she cannot put into words and possibly does not even want to reveal....