TOWEL HAG - Scenes from a bathhouse

An installation & performance
Curator Ian Amell

Show runs: July 4 - July 30, 2009
Installation & performance, Performance video & audio, Aftermath

Curator's Statement: What makes an artist make art? It is a question that has intrigued me for years. Two things seem to be the main components; desire/need and opportunity. Philip Hare came to realize both while working as a bath house attendant. It created in him the need to do something to while away the hours in this darkened environment and the opportunity to do it during the long hours of isolation. This installation recreates the components seminal in the creative process of one artist.

Utilizing the space offered by the elementalness of the OTM gallery a sense of time and environment are examined; the theatre of life, of sex, of desperation, of grot, of need and desire and also of banality. What could be more banal than paper doll cut-outs, to spend the night creating? Philip takes this simple idea to create his art. In them he embodies the separation of person from environment, the separation of mind from body, the separation of life from art; these are things that become evident on examining Philip’s creative endeavours. His cut-out dollies with penises in circle jerk formation are avatars of the lives of the bath house patrons.

Towel Hag is an opportunity to view and interact with the environment of the bath house and the gallery itself, both of which engender the creative process.

Ian Amell, Curator

Artist Statement: Everybody has a story about the lowest point in their life; the time when they hit rock bottom.  My stint as a towel hag was the unequivocal nadir of my life.  I have never experienced such despair, nor do I hope to ever again.   Of course, my decision to work in the baths didn’t happen in a vacuum.  A horribly dysfunctional relationship helped to cloud my judgment.  Depression can make you do some crazy shit.

 The Barracks was known as “Toronto’s Leather and Denim Bathhouse”.  It occupied 26 Widmer Street from 1974 to 2005.  I worked there in the late 1990’s as a towel hag (or bathhouse attendant to the uninitiated).  I used to tell people I did it for the glamour.  12 hour shifts in a smoky, windowless hole, up to my armpits in spunk-splattered sheets and drunken louts.  Very glam.

 The endless shifts, the mind-numbing repetitiveness of the work and the abject squalor of the place were unbearable.  I spent much of my time at the Barracks in a small room we called “the cage”.  It was a cramped space surrounded by black wooden bars and offered absolutely no privacy.  It was the perfect manifestation of how I felt trapped in my life.  Caged.

 I turned to cutting out paper dolls.  Not your typical chains of little people, but half-pint paper circle jerks of winged warriors, crowned princes and flying phalli.  Each night I would sit inside the cage and cut up scraps of paper.  I created dozens and dozens of them. They were my salvation, my paper vale of tears. 

 Why paper cutouts?  Well, the tools were readily available.  And there was something quietly calming, almost meditative about the process.  I would fold, cut, unfold, then inspect my latest creation.  I would marvel at their simple intricacy.  They were like tiny fireworks illuminating my dark night of the soul.

 People will use any means necessary to cope with adversity.  I chose to make paper cutouts.  The act of creating, no matter how banal, can be restorative, even transformative.  For offthemapgallery I’ve created a remembered fragment of The Barracks.  The skeleton of a bathhouse hangs in a dark, oppressive void.    You are invited to step in, pick up a flashlight and look around.  If you so choose you may even enter the cage, have a seat, and put scissors to paper.

Philip Hare, Artist
Philip is an artist that lives and works in Toronto, Canada.


Performance video

Audio (mature content)
Performance video & audio, Aftermath, Installation & performance