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.
Florence Hasard, Iris Häussler’s fictional resident of Apartment 4, seemingly lived two separate lives. In the public areas of her apartment, she operated a modest alteration business. As visitors walk further into her apartment interior, through the eerily vacant bedroom and into the storage room, they discover her true living quarters. Inside this hidden space, visitors are confronted with the bloody artwork that Florence created about the traumas she experienced as a World War I nurse in France. While the intense contrasts between this dual life appear to create two contradicting material worlds, they are in fact mirrors of one another, peppered with clues for the perceptive visitor to find and connect.
Objects behind a glass cabinet in her public living room reveal the porous boundary between her nursing and alteration work. The Red Cross nursing cap and armband rest next to Band-Aid tins and the nursing kit that she used to administer pain medication. Camouflaged on this shelf are sewing tools. A sewing kit, in its green velvet case, mimics the nursing kit in its green felt case. Next to the Band-Aid tins, a set of sewing tweezers and buttonhooks are transformed into menacing surgeon’s tools. On the shelf below, large fabric scissors next to nursing books look instead to be for bandages. The alterations that she completed in the adjacent sewing room recall her nursing practice, when her stitches repaired clothing in the human form.
The intersections of these two elements of Florence’s life, sewing and nursing, fueled the artwork that she created in her private living quarters. Florence’s two workrooms—the sewing space and her studio—are reflections of one another. Where she mended clothing in one area, she ripped and dyed it in the other. Dress forms that show off her sewing skills in the public work space are instead covered with tattoo-like text in her studio. An electric fan rests neatly in front of her sewing machine, while a similar fan is on the floor in the chaotic private living quarters. The radio filling her public rooms with popular songs of 1940s America, is replaced with a radio intermittently broadcasting important news segments from World War I and World War II in the private interior.
Florence’s inescapable past is embedded and reflected everywhere in Apartment 4, which was perhaps the reason she left. While one outcome of this material repetition is an uncanny experience for the visitor, it also more fully realizes Florence’s character within the apartment. After seeing Florence’s living quarters, visitors must then travel back through her more public areas. During this second trip, guests may begin to recognize some of these connections, and maybe other clues, to better understand Florence and the histories she embodies.
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.