Apartment 4 is the first in the Open House Project series, an ongoing Arts Center initiative providing a platform for emerging and underrepresented artists and art forms. Artists and organizations are invited to collaborate and experiment with new ideas and original content in exhibitions that use the galleries in the John Michael Kohler home as a place for artistic inquiry. The home, built in 1883, is a unique setting for the generation of new curatorial explorations of topics ranging from the familiar to the phenomenal.
Apartment 4 explores the mysterious circumstances of Florence Hasard, a character developed by Toronto-based artist Iris Häussler. Through diary entries, archive research, and object studies, this site proposes possible biographical clues in our investigation of Florence Hasard.
This website currently features the Apartment 4: Iris Häussler and The Chipstone Foundation exhibition, on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center until June 16, 2019. It takes visitors back to that moment of discovering Hasard’s disappearance and invites them to uncover clues to her life.
On October 1, 1942, Milwaukee landlord Agnes Przybylski discovered an unusual scene in the apartment she had rented to a French immigrant fifteen years prior. Everything in the space appeared eerily untouched—just as it was on the day it was rented. However, a storage room in the back was crammed wildly with her tenant’s things and filled with works of art and altered clothing. The tenant, Florence Hasard, was nowhere to be found.
Little is known about Hasard, and she arrived in Milwaukee under mysterious circumstances. It has been up to Häussler, in collaboration with the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and The Chipstone Foundation, to piece her story together. Häussler believes Hasard was born in 1882, the only child of her unmarried mother, Jeanne Hasard. Florence grew up under modest circumstances and left her hometown of Nogent-sur-Marne, France, at the age of sixteen for Paris. There she modeled in painters’ studios and at art schools. It is believed that during WWI, Hasard worked as a nurse at a military hospital. Confronted with the cruelty of war, she likely experienced extreme measures of trauma and depression. Although we lose track of her around 1918, records indicate that in 1927 Hasard registered for immigration to the United States. She arrived in Milwaukee that same year and lived a modest lifestyle for fifteen years.
Apartment 4 investigates aspects of Florence’s life in Milwaukee leading up to her disappearance in 1942.
As a conceptual artist, Häussler’s creative process includes blending biography, fiction, and her own art practice to build immersive installations. Häussler inserts herself into the timelines of art history and regional history, often under the guise of one of her characters, as a method of embodying her character. Oscillating in and out of her invented figures, Häussler asks questions related to her findings, offering an invitation for other parties to get involved.
In developing Florence Hasard and in imagining her home, Häussler said, “I equipped her with resilience, curiosity, self-confidence, and an ability to adapt to any circumstance. I made her into a passionate lover, artist model, and self-taught experimental artist much ahead of her times. In Milwaukee, her oeuvre speaks of the vulnerability of the human body, deeply informed by her traumatic experiences as a nurse in WWI. Her work reveals the inevitable resurfacing of creative energy, that art can be a vehicle through which trauma is processed, and that process does not conform to any societal norms.”
Through this immersive experience, Häussler brings to life Hasard’s lower-class status, her social life, her employment as a model and seamstress, her immigration status, and her private artistic practice.
This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Chipstone Foundation, Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., and the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.