Sec­ond­hand sto­ries

The Kof­fler Gallery’s lat­est exhibit em­ploys used cloth­ing to tell tales of the city

National Post (Latest Edition) - - Post Toronto - BY ALI­SON BROVER­MAN

Most art in­stal­la­tions don’t let you try on the pieces dis­played. Or take home other peo­ple’s cloth­ing. Then again, most art in­stal­la­tions aren’t lo­cated on the sec­ond floor of Hon­est Ed’s, in full view of the men’s depart­ment, right next to the hair sa­lon.

But un­til March, Toronto’s most idio­syn­cratic depart­ment store is play­ing host to Hon­est Threads, an in­ter­ac­tive sar­to­rial his­tory of the city’s pop­u­la­tion.

Close to 100 Toron­to­ni­ans have vol­un­teered items of cloth­ing for the exhibit, and are shar­ing the sto­ries be­hind the clothes. Hon­est Threads is equal parts art in­stal­la­tion, bou­tique and lend­ing li­brary: Vis­i­tors are en­cour­aged to sign out any item of cloth­ing that catches their eye and wear it for a few days. “You will have the op­por­tu­nity to try a dif­fer­ent iden­tity by wear­ing some­one’s clothes,” ex­plains Iris Häus­sler, the artist be­hind the exhibit. “You will lit­er­ally be walk­ing in some­one else’s shoes. Then you bring it back and, we hope, add your own story to our guest book by writ­ing about your ex­pe­ri­ence in the cloth­ing.”

Hon­est Threads is the first of what will be many off-site in­stal­la­tions from the Kof­fler Gallery over the next two years as its home at the Bathurst Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­tre un­der­goes a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion.

“This exhibit re­ally was de­signed for Toronto,” says Häus­sler, who moved here from Mu­nich in 2001. “Peo­ple here are will­ing to tell their sto­ries.”

Häus­sler at­tempted a sim­i­lar in­stal­la­tion in a small town in east­ern Ger­many in the mid-’90s, but it was marred by a dis­tinct lack of par­tic­i­pa­tion. “In East­ern Europe at the time, peo­ple weren’t so open,” she ob­serves. “And maybe it’s more dif­fi­cult to de­fine your own story when you’ve lived in the same place for your whole life. In Toronto, every­one is from some­where else.”

The im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence was the what at­tracted the gallery to Hon­est Ed’s. “Ed Mirvish was an im­mi­grant who made a huge im­pact on Toronto’s cul­tural and busi­ness scenes and the store is such a land­mark,” ex­plains cu­ra­tor Mona Filip. “The store is not just a unique ar­chi­tec­tural pres­ence, but it’s of­ten where re­cent im­mi­grants come to fur­nish their first homes. It’s like the El­lis Is­land of Toronto.”

Häus­sler has col­lected gar­ments and ac­ces­sories from an as­sort­ment of Toron­to­ni­ans, in­clud­ing a few of the city’s more prom­i­nent cit­i­zens, such as the Mirvish fam­ily and restau­ra­teur Jamie Kennedy. “We’ve re­ceived a huge va­ri­ety of things,” she says. “Sev­eral wed­ding dresses, shoes, chil­dren’s pieces — even an old kit bag from [the Sec­ond World War].”

And any­one on the look­out for a pair of white satin wed­ding shoes should stop by. “It would be nice if some­one else wanted to get mar­ried in them,” Bry­don Gom­bay says of her con­tri­bu­tion. “I’m not sure how they sur­vived all of the times I’ve moved, but they’re still here, and I’ve been mar­ried for over 50 years now!”

For some donors, Hon­est Threads of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to re­flect on fam­ily his­tory. “When I sat down to write about my grand­mother for the exhibit, I re­al­ized what a tragic life she had had up un­til the time she met my grand­fa­ther,” says Kris­ten den Her­tog, who has of­fered the pair of gloves her grand­mother got mar­ried in. “They were mar­ried for more than 60 years — a feat that seems to be be­com­ing more and more rare — and I felt the gloves were sym­bolic of that kind of bond. For that rea­son, I am thrilled at the prospect of some­one wear­ing them.”

Even Häus­sler will do­nate some­thing: a pair of her sig­na­ture cargo pants, which she’s worn for 20 years. “They’re not ex­actly beau­ti­ful, but they’re mean­ing­ful to me,” she says.

Hon­est Threads runs to March 8 at Hon­est Ed’s (581 Bloor St. W.).

COUR­TESY KOF­FLER GALLERY

Ge­or­giana Uhlyarik’s yel­low hat, which her mother made for her in 1972, the year Uhlyarik was born.

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