In the Frame: I'm As Free As My Hair

Lady Gaga sang that she was as free as her hair, and she has been spotted in a dress that appears to have been made from her leftover wigs. It’s certainly a talking point, especially in light of her song lyrics which associate freedom with the choice of how you wear your locks. She’s not the first person to use hair as a form of artistic self-expression, as I’ve found four women who beat her to it. Let’s take a look at our hairstory…

Agustina Woodgate

four brushes whose bristles appear to be made from human hair
[Agustina Woodgate, Brush series, 2007]

Agustina Woodgate’s Brush series is a deeply personal collection of bizarre mementos made of real hair that she gathered from female family members. Each brush cannot perform its function as it has become the bearer of the object it tries to control, with strands flowing outwards instead of the spiny plastic tips that keep your hairstyle in order. This reversal of roles somehow works and there is a sense of affection in each object. The brushes make a little clan of different ages and types, from the silvery grey antique-looking piece to the short and stubby rounded one that seems practical and neat. Woodgate has injected personalities into each brush, and the result is very intense.

Mona Hatoum

two line drawings of what looks like clumps of hair
[Hair, There, and Everywhere]

This is one for serious conceptual art lovers who like their art oversimplified. (Personally I don’t think it’s as creative as the others, purely because it feels like it didn’t require much effort to produce.) Hatoum’s Hair, There and Everywhere is a series of soft ground etchings taken from an original cluster of 50 “lyrical abstract drawings using her hair.” There is perhaps an echo of Cy Twombly’s automatic writing in the squiggles and loops of the strands, but at the same time I can’t help thinking that she’s making money out of sticking down what happens to fall off her head.

Jenni Dutton

a sleeveless dress made out of hair

[Jenni Dutton, Blond Hair Dress, date unknown]

I came across Jenni Dutton’s work when I was sixteen and we studied her at school, under the direction of a brilliantly progressive art tutor who encouraged the entire class to use as many personal materials and unorthodox techniques as we could handle. Dutton’s Blond Hair Dress involved six months of collecting the raw materials from a friend who worked in a salon, then developing it into an item of clothing. It has a strong physical presence that feels a lot more striking than Lady Gaga’s fake-looking item, which resembles hair extensions rather than the real thing. When describing the reaction to the dress, Dutton said, “Some people regard it with horror when they realize the hair is human, some want to stroke it. Many men previously full of bravado are rather unsettled by the piece.” It’s clearly a divisive artwork, but I feel it really explores the amount of attention we pay to our hair and how seriously we take something that essentially gets discarded in salons across the world.

Julia Reindell

model walking down a runway wearing a short hair dress with a train
[Julia Reindell, hair dress, 2007 collection shown at 2008 London College of Fashion awards]

Fashion designer Julia Reindell produced this artistic-looking hair dress in 2008, and it went viral on the Internet after it hit the catwalk of the London College of Fashion awards. Not only did Reindell’s design get bloggers interested, but it also caught the attention of potter Grayson Perry, who named it as his favorite piece. She produced an entire collection of hair dresses, but this is the only image that has stayed in the public eye, which is unfortunate because the garment itself is quite straightforward and not the most provocative one that Reindell created—that honor goes to the dress with hair that “seemed to emanate from a normally private area,” as Trend Hunter subtly put it. Strangely, there are no other photos of Reindell’s work, and she seems to have gone silent despite the spate of recent hair dresses in fashion, led by fellow designer Charlie le Mindu and, of course, Lady Gaga. I hope that we hear more from Julia Reindell and that she continues to push the boundaries by mixing fashion with art.

I find it really interesting that these women have chosen to use such a throwaway by-product of human life as an alternative to fabric or drawing tools. It also subverts sexist attitudes like, “Women only care about hair and make-up,” by suggesting that we can look beyond hair as part of the beauty industry and see it as a way of discussing our femininity on a deeper level.

What do you think about using hair as a medium in the art world? Does it work, or has it fallen a bit flat after years of experimentation?

Previously: Nan Goldin, “One Month After Being Battered”; John Holmes’ Iconic Cover Art For the Female Eunuch

by Polly Allen
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Hey! Great post, feminist

Hey! Great post, feminist artists have a long history of working human hair into their works and its a really rich area of discussion (I've just started my master's degree and I'm working on that very topic)

I have to disagree with your explanation of Mona Hatoum though - she's a fantastic artist who is capable of communicating quite complex ideas using simple means. A large portion of her work involves hair, like 'Keffieh' from 1993, 'Recollection' from 1994, 'Hair Necklace' from 1995, 'Pull' from 1995, and 'Traffic' from 2002. She frequently works to complicate traditional associations we have about beauty and disgust, and the very very thin line that seems to separate the two. 'Hair Necklace' is a great example of that, it uses all the vocabulary of traditional and classic jewelry display but the pearls of the necklace are perfectly sculpted balls of hair - it evokes both beauty and disgust at once. Some of her non-hair-related work is really fantastic too, her most frequently discussed piece of art is a video installation called "Corps Etranger," you should check it out.

Another artist to check out is Doris Salcedo, she has a series of sculptures called "Unland" - they just look like normal tables at a distance but when you get close enough you realize that shes painstakingly sewn thousands of individual human hairs into the surfaces of each one. Her work is a response to the missing people as a result of the civil wars in her home country, Colombia, so in this sense it's perhaps less a comment on hair as it relates to industries of beauty and consumer consumption, but considering hair instead as a trace of a person that is no longer present. Hair is both extremely fragile and extremely durable (people shed it constantly but hair is as strong as bone, it wont disintegrate for a very very long time) - which is why its a really intense tool for remembrance. You'd even see people in the Victorian era who would keep locks of hair of dead loved ones wound into jewelry.

Also, I think it's important to also look at hair as a racialized concept - as hair obviously has different associations for women of colour in varied cultures than white women - these ideas come out in Mona Hatoum's Keffieh piece but there's also a Black American artist named Sonya Clark that I've been reading about a little bit who makes sculpted shapes with her hair. Mandana Moghaddam is an Iranian artist who also deals with notions of veiling and the notion of the hair that should be hidden, now spilling forth and becoming uncontrollable (check out her Chelgis series).

Anyway, I'm sorry for this massive post! I don't mean to pick on you, haha, I really really really think it's amazing that you've included this idea in your series because it's not something that a lot of people seem to talk about. The artists that you've chosen are really interesting too (I'm definitely going to have to look more into Augustina Woodgate). I just get overexcited cause I'm researching this stuff myself and my friends are getting sick of me blabbing about it all the time, haha!

So yes, thanks for your post, looking forward to the rest of your series :)


Victorian Hair Jewelry

It is really interesting to think about the fact that although we now find the use of hair in this way unsettling, during the Victorian era and earlier using hair to craft things, wreaths, jewelry, etc... was very very common, and actually downright trendy.
Hair in that context was often used as a means to memorialize loved ones who had passed away, and became engrained in the culture's ritualistic mourning practices. It is interesting to consider these pieces as a part of that larger history: women using hair to express grief, love, and mortality.
Great post, really enjoying the series so far!

Yes, I thought of this, too.

Yes, I thought of this, too. Thanks for putting it in a more articulate way than I probably could have. :)

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