He Named Her Amber

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Detail of Object #17 in its clay matrix beneath the basement floor, undergoing excavation. This solid cone of beeswax was cast on site in The Grange basement. It contains a deer's shoulder bone, a human braid and woven fabric. © Photo: Edward Burtynsky
He Named Her Amber
Curated by: David Moos

317 Dundas Street
West Toronto, Ontario M5T 1G4
November 14th, 2008 - June 25th, 2010
Opening: April 1st, 2011 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Chinatown / Kensington Market / The Grange
Toll free: 1-877-225-4246
Thurs to Tues 10am - 5.30pm, Wed 10am - 8.30pm, Closed Monday
installation, performance, conceptual, sculpture


Fiction and Fact

"He named her Amber" spans the space between fiction and nonfiction. Where there is an initial construct of reality, it must be followed by revealing the fictitious aspects of the project. The passage between these two realms, between the historic narrative and the context of a contemporary artwork is an important part of the work. Before revealing it, the work is not complete.

Of course, much about the fiction is actual fact.
•  The history of The Grange is the same it has always been.
•  The history of Canada too.
•  The history of the maid's homeland - Ireland, too.
•  The history of Canadian immigration in the early 19th century too.
•  The maid's biography ? Her servant's life in Canada - similar stories happened many times. Amber is a patchwork of historic facts.

The biographies of Henry Whyte, of Ying Yi Chu and Chantal Lee are as unique as they are average, they are shaped by human conditions, by history, politics , society, economy and the individual struggle of survival and "a better life" .

The artifacts are real: one can look at them, get more X-rays, order a CAT-scan: none is "empty". Each holds an item of daily life, each works as a time-capsule of discarded little things. Each is handcrafted, kneaded or cast. Object #17 was cast on spot, hands dug their fingers bloody breaking nail by nail, spreading the sweet smell of molten beeswax - 15 litres in all through the old houses veins.

The excavation took place: in the summer of 2008 a team from Historic Renovations Ltd. was called into The Grange to open up the brick floors and jackhammer through the concrete slabs underneath the Pantry. Then, Ben Needham worked there for a week to shovel out dirt, layer by layer, side by side with Iris Häussler, who excavated in parts the Object #17.

However this all does not change the simple fact that the work as a whole is a fiction.

The discussion about "Truth" and "Fiction" and labelling one thing as the other cannot be about what is right and what is wrong. I respect visitors who feel annoyed, or hurt. If they are alarmed by the fact that they have extended their trust to us and have encountered an unlabelled fiction, I may point out that they are probably very often in similar situations, without learning the truth. But this does not make our position "right" and theirs "wrong".

However, if the work is to allow a change in perspective, from fiction into reality, experiencing it in this order - first fiction, then revealance - is the only way it can work. It can't be turned around because we can't unknow the context, once we are aware of it.

Two positions exist, they contradict each other. There is no right and wrong here, just an opportunity for dialogue.


Iris Häussler, Toronto, 2010