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, 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.
[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, 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, 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?