Rui Mateus Amaral

Curator Scrap Metal Gallery

How concrete everything becomes in the world of the spirit when an object, a mere door, can give images of hesitation, temptation, desire, security, welcome and respect. If one were to give an account of all the doors one has closed and opened, of all the doors one would like to re-open, one would have to tell the story of one's entire life.

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

For the last 7 years, artist Iris Häussler has been unfastening doors from their hinges— bedroom doors, wardrobe doors, cupboard doors and closet doors. She releases them from their function as safe-keeping devices, leaving in their absence a tangle of memories, longings and secrets that disperse into the world. But Häussler reminds us that doors, too, absorb the histories they once guarded. Their layers of paint are bandages that conceal the effects of time and use; they are discoloured, bruised, and punctured. In her newest body of work, exhibited for the first time at Scrap Metal, Häussler presents a series of X-ray scans that uncover doors pregnant with expressionist paintings buried beneath coats of black wax.

The series may read as uncharacteristic for a German conceptual artist with formal training in sculpture but, much like the Portuguese writer and poet Fernando Pessoa, Häussler gives fabled, historical artists literary and visual form, even if it means challenging her own artistic abilities and objectives. As she describes her first attempts at painting, Häussler notes, “My hands started to paint almost on their own. It was the strangest feeling, as if somebody else would lead my hands, not my body, not my mind. It resulted in what looked to me like a mixture of folk-art, art brut and art deco iconography—infused by symbolism and orientalism.” She continues, “I felt very embarrassed as I could not reference these things in my upbringing, my education or my artistic aspirations before. It felt as if I was a tool for someone else, not the master of my studio practise.”

The paintings, accessible only through their scanned negatives, are gestural, corporeal, earthly and celestial. Mixing her own paint, Häussler experiments with a diverse range of natural, readily available materials such as crushed dried flower petals, mineral grindings, dead ladybugs, and blood. This blend of ingredients carries over to the capricious images she has composed. Female bodies interlock. Seashells and flower-petals fly into orbit. Nerve systems sprout into spiraling ivy. Nipples bloom from breasts. Rivers flow from orifices. Wombs swell into oceans. Although seemingly out-of-step with previous projects, Häussler’s undertaking nonetheless renews and expands her roles as author, archeologist and ethnographer. Guiding her practice is a sensitivity similar to that which has characterized the legacies of outsiders Joseph Wagenbach, Mary O’ Shea and Ted Wilson. It is a willingness to listen when those silenced, overlooked artists come out from behind their doors that confine them.

Since 2009, French artist Sophie La Rosière (1867-1948) has been reborn through Häussler’s hands, as well through research and testimonies provided by a community of active curators, psychoanalysts, art historians, art conservators and gallerists. For the first time in Häussler’s practice, one of her heteronyms unfolds through documentary-style videos, alongside a hyper-realistic reconstruction of La Rosière’s domaine, her artworks, drawings and writings. Working collaboratively with curator Catherine Sicot, Häussler documents interviews conducted by Sicot with scholars who each, by way of their own receptiveness and power, make room for La Rosière—shaping her life and enriching Häussler’s impulses with meaning and authority. Häussler further includes thorough documentation of visits to late French artists’ estates and national archives, lending to the project moments of stillness where history overwrites mythology and fact flirts with fiction.

Häussler’s project owes much to the history of art, and in particular its French iterations. Still, that history—and La Rosière’s place within it—is only one entryway into Häussler’s undertaking. Informing her vocation as a contemporary artist is her interest in the loss of language and the obsessively, naively produced art objects that stand in for silence. How quickly something that provides security and protection, such as a door, a lover or a father, can leave us cold and scrounging for love. In our search to find stability, we turn inwards, constructing universes for ourselves with signs and symbols that only we understand, in the hope that we might once again feel armoured.

Rui Mateus Amaral,
Director and Curator of Scrap Metal