Hair is becoming a more central subject of contemporary critical exploration and engagement. I for one, and many others, often think of it as a source of frustration and ambiguity. But beyond our daily experiences with hair, artists and theorists from the viewpoints of numerous contexts are exploring its dynamic role in histories and cultures. They are beginning to make important contributions to our understanding of hair not only as a superficial socially influenced expression of our daily physical presentation, but how hair for many is significant and interrelated to our experiences with identity-shaping, memory, ritual, performance, and personal histories, as well as its significance for some as memorial, ethereal, and mystical.
Through their works many artists have engaged with concepts about hair through investigations concerning its role as seen and unseen, public and private, embodied and disembodied, life and death, hetero- and homosexual, sacrosanct and unhallowed, religious and political, relic and memento, as well as many more singular and intertwined subjects. For this installation I was interested in ideas about disembodiment and the potential for psychological re-genesis with regards to the cycle of life and death, and what can be our perceptions from an embodied viewpoint towards hair unattached to a head. After seeing the slightly crimped long strands incorporated into fissures and cavities of the brick-walled “face” of the decaying fountain, hair slowly sinking into the stagnant algae-green water, and hair wicking that water from the fountain onto the bricks below, some viewers made comments about beauty, nature as female, the supernatural, the uncanniness of it, and the grossness of so much unattached hair.
For me, when I finally stood back after having been immersed in the actions of selecting and placing the hair, I was surprised by my own reactions to the whole, and then how my perceptions shifted toward each tuft of hair as it was attached differently either into a rupture in the wall surface or at the base of a plant, knotted or left loose on the ends, next to or entangled with another color, and moreover how the experience was altered if the hair hung motionless or was caught in a breeze. The whole of it was somewhat unsettling since we are, naturally, used to seeing hair on the body. Yet in fact, it was not unseemly or threatening, but continued to strike me as entirely unnatural being wig hair incorporated into a manmade structure. The installation even though represented as decayed and disembodied called back to portions of my identity-shaping as it is intertwined with memories from my youth. At times I went with my mother or grandmother to their beauty salons where women sat in rows under hair dryers with their hair wrapped around purple and pink colored rollers, their bare skin in-between dented by white nub-ended roller picks. For some reason, the scent of Juicy Fruit gum always comes to mind.
As I slowly walked back and forth in front of the fountain or sat on one of the concrete benches, my thoughts meandered between scenes of myself pulling dry hair from my brush, wet hair from the tub drain, or mixed hair (human and animal) from the bristles of my vacuum carper sweeper attachment. I thought about that tiny tuft of white hair on the chest of my now-deceased golden and blue-black coated Terrier, and how silvering gray hair sheens in sunlight. I remembered the precise moment while standing high on a rock outcrop in the middle of the desert that my partner and I released our cut and tied together hair into the wind to mark our decision to be bonded for life. And too, frustratingly, I was reminded how a single unruly hair can pester and pester, and how when it is plucked out to preserve sanity that single strand becomes ‘in-between’.
Photographs by Stephanie Wagner and Andrea Zampitella