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.
Undergraduate students in the art history course Women in Art from the University of Wisconsin – Sheboygan visited the Arts Center in April for a curatorial presentation about Iris Häussler’s exhibition Apartment 4. After discussing Iris’ process and work, Professor Wendi Turchan assigned students two writing prompts: “Compare the two spaces in Apartment 4—how do they impact one another to create a sense of Florence’s identity?” and “Select one item from the installation and give it a story.” The responses below reflect a sampling of the students’ interpretations and experiences.
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1. Compare the two Spaces—how do they impact one another to create a sense of Florence’s identity?
Apartment 4 is an ordinary apartment: clean, inviting, spacious, orderly, and homey. At least that’s what Florence Hassard wants everyone to believe. Florence has moved to a new apartment in Milwaukee to resume her life alone, as a seamstress. Her needles and thread are neatly positioned at the ready for new or old clients. Her books are neatly stacked on the shelves. And she has plenty of dishes for a dinner party if she so desired. In her bedroom, her bed is made with a lace covering over her blanket and sheets, almost as if she has never used it and a bedside table with a letter and a Bible: nothing out of place.
What you wouldn’t know though is Florence has a secret. She is an artist. But how could she create art in her immaculate apartment? She has a room, in the back of her apartment, hidden away from all things normal. Polar opposite couldn’t be more accurate. Stained linens are displayed everywhere: in the tub, on the floor, hanging from the ceiling. Wax is dripping from canvases and cans. There are drawings of naked people displayed everywhere. And in the very back corner, almost hidden, is Florence’s bed—her real bed. It consists of a mattress that lays on the floor, with a sheet as the blanket and sits, unmade and unclean.
Her two living spaces, her two beds are what strike me most. Florence has the choice to sleep in a beautiful bed in her tidy, warm apartment but she chooses to sleep in her “mess” of an art studio. She completely immerses herself in her work, which she most likely cannot sell because she is a woman. Her whole world revolves around her art and she uses her sewing job to make ends meet. She chooses her passion over comfort in her own home. Her two beds are literally 15 feet away from each other, even a person half asleep could walk to bed and be more comfortable. Her comfort though lies within her art, in her own disorganized space filled with art and emotion and stability in her own way.
What her clients see when they come to get a dress tucked or their pants hemmed, is this utopian view of Florence’s perfect world, but her actual perfect world would seem preposterous to anyone who doesn’t understand art and passion the way Florence does. Her two beds juxtapose each other in the most perfectly imperfect way. -Hannah Coppersmith
After walking through and experiencing Iris Haussler’s installation, Apartment 4, I’ve come to realize how a space can impact one’s perception on another’s human experience by either disguising or reflecting the underlying truth. While Florence Hassard is a character Haussler manifested, the installation was incredibly detailed, down to the receipts from Florence’s alteration business. With the amount of detail and planning conducted on Haussler’s behalf, I’m certain this installation would accurately reflect both the inner psyche and projected image of a nurse during World War I.
As I walked through the front door of Florence’s apartment, the first things I noticed were a floral-patterned chair facing the door and a coffee table with a tipped over tea cup on top of a saucer. I then noticed that the light above the chair was left on, along with another light in the main room. It seemed odd that Florence would just leave a cup tipped over and the lights on even if she was in a rush to leave. After looking at some of the books and nursing supplies Florence had displayed in her main room, I made my way to her front room, where she ran her alteration business out of. As one would expect, Florence had a sewing machine, pin cushions, an iron and ironing board, stacks of receipts, and articles of clothing she was working on for clients at the time. The only peculiar item I noticed in this room before I made my way to her bedroom was a birdcage in the corner of the room.
Like Florence’s living room and front room, her bedroom seemed organized for the most part, and it was what I would have imagined a single woman’s apartment would look like from that era. As one would expect, Florence had a single bed, a night stand, and a nice vanity; however, I did notice that she didn’t have any personal items or keepsakes displayed; like pictures with family or friends. After reading the newspaper article the art museum provided us with, it mentioned that Florence’s land lord, Agnes Przybylski, discovered Florence’s bedroom the exact same way she set it up over fifteen years ago, even the bed had never been slept in.
Though there were a few slightly odd items throughout the main part of Florence’s apartment, I didn’t notice anything alarming. However, as soon as I stepped into Florence’s studio in her back storage room, I felt a heaviness in the air, it felt as if there was a dark presence in the room. Unlike the first few rooms of the apartment, this room was a mess; there were strands of yarn and painted articles of clothing spewed across the room. Aside from the disorder that seemed to characterize the room, the first thing that caught my attention was a large armoire with all of its doors wide open, and some partially unhinged. The cabinet seemed to be Florence’s supply closet as it housed empty paint tubes, plates coated with dry paint, and piles of painted fabric.
While this room had an eerie feeling overall, what was truly disturbing was the back corner of the room. In this corner, a mattress fitted with white linens lay on the ground, which had clearly been slept in. There was almost a wall, so to say, to separate this area from the rest of the room. This area of the room was particularly dense with paintings of injured male bodies, likely reminders of patients Florence treated when she was a nurse back in France, most of which were either painted with or had deep reds splattered or running down them. In addition, next to the mattress, Florence had some photographs, possibly from patients she treated, as well as a cutoff braid, possibly her own.
With these things in mind, it is clear that there are two very different parts that constitute this apartment, which correspond to the two parts that make up Florence Hasard as a person. I think it’s a true statement for most people to say that there is a version of ourselves we share with the world and then there are parts of us that nobody knows about and may never know about. For Florence, this is demonstrated by the difference between the main rooms in her apartment, which would correspond to the Florence she showed the world—a seamstress that was previously a nurse during the first world war—and her studio in the back storage room, which would correlate to the dark parts of herself she never shared with anyone. From looking through her apartment and putting together the puzzle pieces provided by the handouts, I think it would be reasonable to assume that Florence could have had PTSD from her nursing days or may have had a mental illness she kept hidden. In addition, I think it’s possible that Florence may have been sleeping in her studio because she would try to escape from her demons in the main part of her apartment, and when her attempts were unsuccessful, she felt more comfortable confronting them in her studio, where she could express herself and wouldn’t have to hide behind the version of herself she projected to the world. -Erika Monson
As you enter the front room and main living space of Apartment 4, you are immersed in a sterile façade. Period items remind you of a war-time residence, untouched and left on display as if the occupant might stroll through the doorway any moment. A sewing machine and dress forms advertise the resident’s occupation. A radio plays cheery big band tunes, lending a contented feeling as you review the objects on display; you can easily envision being a comfortable customer awaiting a hem or a final ironing on your newly pleated skirt. The kept space is accessible, open for any viewer or patron who Florence may encounter. Dishes, nursing handbooks, and medical knick-knacks line the cabinets. In the supplemental materials, we read that the personal items contained in this space did not belong to Florence, but were provided by her landlord. A parallel can be drawn from this pristine living space to how she projected as a person. Her external appearance was likely just as neatly observed, although not true to her real self. Tidy, presentable, and less than noteworthy, her normal persona was used to fund her existence. As a single, middle-aged seamstress, her wellbeing depended on her own ability to financially provide for herself. The presentable living space is the smokescreen which afforded her the ability to survive.
As you exit the main living space, you are transported to a secluded workshop and makeshift living area. Deep red and crimson splatters of paint and wax are strewn across canvases, the floors, and textiles. The raw emotion expressed through the human anatomical sketches is undeniable. Their faces are seen cringing in emotional and physical pain, or hidden from view as though shameful or sad. Personal letters, photos and mementos are haphazardly arranged next to a small bed. Surrounded by her art, I can only imagine that Florence must have felt a deep chaos. Brought on through her firsthand witness of the ravages of war, this ex-nurse must have encapsulated feelings of rage, confusion, sadness, curiosity, and depression. Protecting the workshop space from public view allowed her to outwardly explore those emotions without exposing them publicly, like a manifestation of her outward appearance shrouding her internal dialogue.
The contrast of the two spaces leads the viewer to envision Florence as a functional, yet deeply troubled person. She wisely exhibits a clean, carefully crafted, tailored image to those she meets, while secluding the exploration of her turbulent history and resulting emotions to her private studio. The isolation of her expression to the workshop leads me to believe that Florence was an introvert, afraid of the consequences that may come from the exposition of her thoughts. This aligns with the period, where such open expression as a single woman would have been viewed with severe criticism.
The difference between the two spaces is unmistakable, and is not dissimilar from the modern day presentation of life digitally versus in reality. Apartment 4’s physical manifestation of the presented versus the actual may have been limited by its ‘age’ being set in the 1930s, but the behavior of masking the ugly bits of true life in lieu of displaying it remains a common practice today, especially through social media. The work as a whole makes me consider what version of reality I unintentionally portray to the world. Is there fault in representing ideals or a perception which is not representative of the whole truth? -Morgan Becker
When going to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center to view Apartment 4 by Iris Häussler and The Chipstone Foundation, many thoughts went through my head. What makes this apartment so special? Why is it such a breathtaking exhibit to so many people? Upon first arrival walking into the apartment, you can already feel like something isn’t right, something is out of place. Stepping into the space gives you a vibe and transports you back to the time period that Florence Hasard lived in the apartment, 1927. The overall essence of the apartment makes your mind wander into what could have been and the overall “why” question that forms in your mind as you’re walking through.
Everything looks so neat and put together at first glance, but changes drastically upon further inspection. The apartment has two main sections. The front, which houses the living room and bedroom, and the back, which is the bathroom and studio. The front of the apartment was very warm, normal, and inviting. In the front entryway of the apartment, Florence Hasard has many memorabilia from being a nurse in World War 1. She has many different sewing items and quite a neat book collection. Minus the spilled tea cup, everything is organized and clean. The spilled cup possibly indicates that she left in a hurry. The apartment manager claimed that it looked like Florence never even slept in the bed, that it was still made up with the same sheets and blankets from when she moved in. The welcome letter was still on the nightstand from when she first arrived to the apartment. Almost looked like the apartment was barely lived in.
When going into the studio part of the apartment, I was shocked. It was completely an opposite to what the first portion of the apartment looked like. The room was a mess, fabrics hanging everywhere, and many random art items in different places of the room. The room itself looks like a place that she struggled with her mental health and artistic practices. Since she was a nurse during World War 1, I personally believe that much of her studio and artwork resembled things she was struggling with in her mind. A lot of the drawings on the walls were of injured men, much like what she would come across working as a nurse for the war. She used moody, red undertones in her art around the room. She created her own designs on the fabric, a bunch of squiggly red lines everywhere. To me, it looks like she was trying to resemble flesh. There was a small mattress in the corner of the room on the ground. I think she slept there instead of the apartment bed because it felt more like a cot from the war, something she was used to. In my opinion it seems like she was struggling with something mentally, possibly PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Which then showed through her dark studio, in her art and in the clothing she created.
Apartment 4 definitely had two different sides to it. The apartment living side is the side of Florence that she recreated. She was trying to move on from her past trauma. The studio side is her past and the trauma that she was working through. There are always two sides to every story and person. Something I found true when wandering through this amazing exhibit. -Sabrynn McMurray
2. Select one item from the installation and give it a story
Needing to express her emotions in order to sustain soundness, Florence had to create something. A couple minutes passed as she fell deep into thought, and while meandering through her memory, she remembered that one specific man. The man that seemed so desperate, so beaten up, so confused, that he needed all four limbs just to hold himself up. His arms located the wall and his hands pressed firmly against it, his head was too weak to hold up, or maybe the sorrow which filled his thoughts were too heavy that keeping his chin up was not a possibility. As he looked down, he was not looking at the floor, but looking past it and appeared to be picturing the recent, tumultuous events. He cried softly and wept tears of desolation, uncaring for those who saw his fragility. He was weak and he knew it, everyone around knew it. Florence watched as the tears fell slowly, splashing on the floorboard, one after another. She saw many terrible tragedies during her duration as a nurse, but this moment was a permanent memory that she will forever remember.
Although Florence witnessed many men fill up with despair and grief, this man was different. He had an almost indescribable emotion attached to him and in that exact moment, Florence felt time stop, and his desolate, indescribable feeling floated around in space, surrounded Florence and forever ingrained itself within her. The emotion was powerful, so powerful that Florence herself felt succumbed. Each day, gravity pulled her own chin down more and more, making it hard to look forward. She could not walk vibrantly, optimism abandoned her, and all the suffering took color away from her life. As the wounded men were persistently hauled in and out, they left behind gruesome anecdotes, echoes of their moaning and whimpering, but the most distinguishing thing they left behind was their blood. Oh, how Florence never disremembered the amount of blood.
That vivid memory sparked an idea through Florence’s mind, and she took that creative spur to her canvas. As she carefully recollected that early memory from her stint as a nurse, her idea took form and she began. She spent much time, pondering and thinking about how she wanted to portray the man and his emotion. That moment was not to be inaccurately represented, and so Florence drew that man over and over again before becoming content with the body posture and sentiment being evoked. After completing the man, she now needed to display his lamentation. In order to be fair, accurate, and brutally honest, the only color to include would be red. As she thought back to his tears hitting the floor, one after another, she came to a fruition on how she will complete this piece. She spread out a dark red, starting from his knee and did not stop, going completely off the canvas. As the dark red climbed down the canvas, Florence stepped back, placed her utensil down, and looked at her piece with a thousand-yard stare. The tears started and did not find a finishing point, for in Florence’s mind those tears were not his to own, she too had a right to those tears. -Jordan Meyer
The Dirty Teacup on the Sink
Florence Hasard owns a beautiful ceramic tea set that was handed down to her from her mother. They were handcrafted in France with care and kept neatly on her shelves in her sitting room. There is one teacup and saucer missing on her shelf. The rest of the set rarely receives much use except for when the occasional customer comes by to pick up their clothes from the seamstress. The seamstress will politely ask them if they might care for a cup of tea, but they often decline for they have other responsibilities they must tend to that day, picking up their newly designed clothes as one of them.
The artist is happy that they do not stay long, however, as she has grown old and tired of formalities. As soon as her customer leaves, she continues her art in the backroom and paints until late into the evening. Florence will often not notice how late it gets until she must stand up and stretch her old bones. She will realize she is tired and pick up her brushes and old teacup with paint dripping down the side. The artist takes her tools to the sink in the other room and washes her brushes. She leaves the dirty teacup on the sink as she decides she may get up in the night to continue her painting. She does not. -Jamie Prinsen
Despite there being an abundance of interesting items, one that I believe was a big clue to Florence relocating was the note back in her living space that was inside a book on page(s) 228/229. The note was in French and translated to “I am sorry”. On page 228, there was a section on the page talking about a character in the book being stuck with two parts of themselves. The one side of them felt like their usual self, but the other was stuck with negative attributes about them and how they almost couldn’t escape something. I believe her note “I am sorry” was for someone to see, possibly the same person whose name was on the letter in her other room beside the bed.
As we could clearly see from her paintings and her surroundings within her living space, some part within Florence had ahold of her, and she couldn’t let it go. I believe soon after she placed the “I am sorry” note in the book she left from her apartment. After reading about the character’s problem with having one side of them that is holding on, Florence knew that she herself was in a very similar situation. She quickly gained the strength to leave her darker side behind and move someplace else, probably New York where she was lastly sighted forever. –Kain Pearson
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.