When I was a little girl, I watched my mother, after cutting my hair, place a lock of it inside an envelope, and into her dresser drawer. Somewhere along the line, the practice of placing it inside pages of the bible had been lost or abbreviated. My mother’s habit, so unpretentious and casual, was passed on to me – as it had been passed down to her from her mother, who had learned it from her mother and so on. I took this to heart and began my own lifelong habit of saving hair and other material tokens of my experiences. I also became interested in the cultural inscriptions of the body / mind relationship and, eventually, my practice of signifying hair found it’s way into my studio.Using my own body as source material, I began collecting and using my hair as both form and concept in my work. I drew from my own as well as a collective history – physical and intellectual and cultural as I researched the associative power hair has held across cultures through several lenses:
1) PSYCHOLOGICAL, MAGICAL and MYTHICAL POWER Virtual powerascribed to hair can be found in many cultural mythologies. The Egyptian story of the Goddess Isis tells of her ability to unleash violent storms by simply untying her hair. Early Christian dualistic thinking cast carnal hair as metaphor for spiritual depravity, along with the rest of the body [especially the female]. This belief initiated and continues to fuel the mind / body dichotomy.
2) CULTURAL CONSTRUCTIONS Many cultures hold contradictory definitions of hair as both physically disgusting [body by-product], and sexually potent [seductive signifier]
3) HAIR as RELIC or RITUAL FETISH The ancient Christian practice of collecting ‘relics’ or ritual fetishes – [small body pieces of hair, bone etc.] from the dead to keep as a lasting connection between the living and the departed. In the not so distant past, the Victorian period in England recalls this belief through the tradition of saving hair from a loved one who has gone off to war or who has died. The hair was then woven into a piece of jewelry or tucked into a locket and worn in remembrance of the departed person – or until they returned.
4) EMBODIED KNOWLEDGE and CONSCIOUSNESS The liminal, elusive, and transient nature of embodied knowledge and consciousness is often sited in hair.
The hairisies pieces allow these associations to interact and overlap. The sculptures function as ‘ironic / iconics’ They ‘pierce’ the wall and emerge into the condoned social space of culture reserved for the traditional religious icon and re-insert the body into this complex space. This project, started in 1984, is ongoing.