Tuesday, November 25, 2008

99 cent dish towels! 5 dollar shoes! And art, art, art!

Well, this sounds interesting. Toronto artist Iris Haussler caused a stir a couple of years back with her project The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach, which transformed a Toronto house into a repository of sorts for a fictitious artist resident. (The project garnered lost of media attention, summarized here.)

Now Haussler's looking to reconstruct the experience of another Toronto house--this one our metropolis's house of deals and lights, Honest Ed's.

For those who aren't in the know--or who've never had to track down a cheap shower curtain while living in Maggie Atwood's Annex nabe--Honest Ed's, named for its founder, the late Ed Mirvish, is a massive mazelike discount store at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor streets in Toronto. Its signage is a Toronto psychogeography icon, while its deals attract students, new immigrants and generally rent-poor Torontonians alike.

Haussler's upcoming project at the store, called "Honest Threads", promises the following:

"Honest Threads will display garments and the memories they carry. Lent by Torontonians, each item holds a personal story revealing a glimpse of the many threads that weave our identity over time. Visitors will be able to borrow the garments and wear them for a few days, experiencing both literally and psychologically what it is like to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” At the same time, they will add new layers to the clothes’ history. Trading experiences on both tactile and narrative levels will enrich our collective perception of the place we call home. As pieces of a vast puzzle, these individual stories will render a fragmentary portrait of the city, attesting to its complex history."

This project is facilitated through the Koffler Centre of the Arts, and information about how to lend clothes to the project can be found here. The Koffler, which focuses on Jewish culture, says that "Honest Ed’s is no ordinary store but a museum in itself, blurring the boundaries between commercial, public and exhibition spaces. The place equally attests to the inspiring story of its founder, Ed Mirvish, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Austria..."

A few other notes on Honest Ed's and art: Ed's son, David Mirvish, owns Canada's largest art bookstore--or at least the only one to sport a massive Frank Stella painting above its shelves. The bookstore itself was created in 1974 as an outgrowth of David Mirvish's gallery, which exhibited abstract artists and colour field painters and sculptors including Helen Frankenthaler, Hans Hofmann, Jack Bush and others. Though the gallery has since folded, David continues to hold a large collection at his warehouse, where a show is currently taking place for British sculptor Tim Scott. This year David also commissioned Ed Burtynsky to photograph the Royal Alexandra Theatre, which he and his father helped revive.

On a different tack, I discovered a contrasting, and very relevant, view of Honest Ed's via the short stories of prizewinning Toronto author Austin Clarke. In his tales of Caribbean immigrants, Clarke draws a picture of Honest Ed's that I read as a desolate place, a kind of flourescent beacon of false hope for those from abroad. The collection Choosing His Coffin is worth a look if you're interested in exploring this theme.

Also, I've noted elsewhere about Barr Gilmore's appropriation of the Honest Ed sign for this year's Nuit Blanche. And when Ed Mirvish died last year, I took a look at his wacky window displays as a strange kind of art in themselves.


lhasa said...

"It works on sooo many levels" is the only cliche coming to mind ... and speaking of mind: Iris blows your mind with her ideas and installations. Will definitely send a clothing item and will definitely go to see the show.
Cannot wait to see what else Iris will come up next.

Clay said...

Yeah, she definitely sets a standard in Toronto for new ways of doing work!