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’.

Final Hair 3

Final Hair 2

Final Hair 1

Photographs by Stephanie Wagner and Andrea Zampitella

Installation__Summer In-Residence 2013



      Many of my fellow students and two of our visiting artists have encouraged me to continue to explore some of my personal iconography, to see how I can push the boundaries of their meanings within my personal lexicon. Artists have long considered hair to be an essence of being, an identifier, a self-portrait, of sorts. Here, sewing with hair is a performative act meant as a ballad to the women of my family, and one that works similarly to how memory is recalled time and time again. The pricking of fabric with the needle, the looping of hair, and the practiced hand’s motions at craft are never the same, yet somehow familiar each time the actions are carried out. Eventually, the pinch pleated line of hair becomes entangled into itself…much like a life experienced.

One professor described the video as “…a stitched scar line, stitching shut a wound that cannot be seen, disturbing a decorative space with a displaced hair, and refusing to reveal or sum up the full image, scene, or narrative.” At first, I refused the singular notions of “scar”, “wound”, “displacement”.  However in fact, these descriptors are true for everyone to one degree or another.  And now, after giving the whole of the summation deeper thought, I relish my professor’s wisdom and ability to reflect through the lenses of broad viewpoints about the affect of our visual subject matter.  The best of my experiences with my professors over the years have at times been akin to a surprising pinprick of knowledge!  My ears are ever turned in those good directions.

      Interested in memory and affect theory, I decided to explore the notions of covering and uncovering, forgetting and recollecting. I am most interested in what Brian Massumi calls “the charge of affect”. He describes an emotion as a partial expression of affect that draws on a limited selection of memories, and that only activates certain reflexes or tendencies. All the rest is still there, but as potential. The charge of effect most often occurs somewhere in-between the banal and the cathartic. A self-assigned very tall order. I am working to learn how to see and create inside of and about this ‘space’ in my existence. In this video sketch, I explored these notions with a spontaneous site installation I had created for our Installation class.

          In our first class Installation class session, we were asked to create an installation using the available materials sitting around in the graduate studios area on the fourth floor of MassArt’s Tower building. We could go outside to collect material for our installations, but we could not purchase supplies. We were challenged to conceptualize, gather materials, and create a site specific installation within approximately two hours.

While thinking quickly(!) about what I might create, I recalled an experience I had many years ago when I lived in Holyoke, Massachusetts. I used to regularly walk a sidewalk path alongside a hip-height rock wall. One day I noticed a small box tucked inside one of the concrete spaces where there had once been a large rock.  The box was folded Origami style out of lined notebook paper. I passed by that box day after day for over a week.  It remained undisturbed. Perhaps no one else had noticed it. I wondered if it was a secret message to a particular passerby. Was there something written on the lines folded inside?  Should I leave it alone out of respect to a private message meant for someone I did not know or should I give in to my compulsion to remove it from its nook, unfold it and see what was inside? These questions came to mind each day I walked by.  Finally, curiosity took over the best of reasons to leave it alone. I removed it from its space and carefully unfolded the crisp edges.  Inside, well, there was nothing except pale blue lines on paper and the rough-torn edge from where the sheet had been ripped from a spiral notebook. I was just as delighted to discover no words scrawled inside as I had been at the beginning of my discovery.  Running my fingers along the torn edge, I imagined the potentiality of the box’s meaning.

With this experience in mind, I created a sculptural sketch that was incorporated into a hole and the seam of the wall. My materials were mud made out of water and soil from Evans Way Park, wig hair, and three small green-leafed plants that had been trying to grow at the edge of the road.  After sharing with my fellow students my experience of discovering the un-discovered folded paper box, I asked them the  following questions: Which direction will your intrigue take you?  Will you leave it to see what happens over time or will you feel compelled remove the drying mud to discover what lies beneath the surface?

One student (Monica Mitchell) poked away small pieces of the mud.  No one else wanted to disturb it.  It was mutually agreed upon to leave the installation in place to see what might occur over  time.

Installation__Summer In-Residence 2013

Spontaneity and Site