Prototypes For Dirty Laundry
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Prototypes for Dirty Laundry are sculptures resulting from studio-explorations with microcrystalline, paraffin, beeswax, tar and textiles. They are based and defined by their geometrical footprints, but their surfaces mutate into organic compositions that might remind of lava, magma or obsidian.
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Iris Häussler is a conceptual artist best known for experiential installations featuring fictional characters brought to life through the evidentiary traces she places in the intricately imagined lives of a growing family of alter egos. These installations are often punctuated by more focused experiments that prototype techniques and materials that may eventually find their way into a major work.
Wax-encased clothing is deeply rooted in Häussler’s practice, dating back more than 30 years and spanning her artistic output both in Canada and Germany, the country of her birth. Just as a musician will often compose studies as part of the conception of a larger work and to dive deeply into a singular technical aspect of a larger body of work, so too Häussler stretches herself through these self-contained works in tar, paraffin and clothing.
As the title suggests, these works are prototypical wax-encased fabric pieces transmuted in meaning and substance by the presence of tar. The alchemical process of making is elaborate: each second-hand garment is worn once, then soaked in tar. Once dry, the dresses, skirts, and blouses are pushed through a layer of molten wax, which immediately releases the blackness of the tar into the liquid paraffin. Paradoxically, this reaction creates a hue that uncannily resembles the natural color of beeswax, inviting us in to beeswax’s connotation of purity and wellbeing. The final sculptural castings evoke natural formations—caves with waxen stalagmites and stalactites, or the complex underwater microcosms of coral reefs.
The title of the work, Prototypes for Dirty Laundry, draws a direct line between the naturally occurring tar sands that are the accidental graveyards and preservation medium for prehistoric animal life, to contemporary fossil-fuel dependent civilization in all its toxicity. The artist’s 2018 visit to the La Brea tar pits in California directly inspired this experimentation with tar. Paraffin, with its snowy whiteness, is a less overtly toxic but similarly refined petroleum product, no less ubiquitous.
The objects, once transferred from the studio into the art gallery, are installed in a classical way: as paintings on walls or freestanding sculptures on pedestals. The works may be seen as art objects unto themselves, but also as foreshadows of the rich dark narratives of Häussler’s elaborate conceptual works.
Text by Beth Kapusta