“A Question of Beauty” Exhibited in the “The Feminine Mystique” at the Jersey City Museum, 2007-2008.
Fallout: Beauty Lost and Found” and “A Question of Beauty,” series examine the nature of beauty — or more appropriately, the loss of beauty and its resurrection using my hair loss. The connection of hair and beauty has been in my work for the past two decades but I was initially drawn to its polar opposites — a gorgeous head of hair equated to the wad plugging the bathtub drain. The first works with human hair from salons began in the nineties and in 1998 I began to collect my own daily hair loss due to thyroid disease.
After saving my hair for years and wadding it into jars by year I decided in 2005 to precisely record my daily loss of hair. Each day, I collected it from the shower, my brush and any other place I noticed it. Each day, I manipulated the hair into a doodle, which was then placed in a ziplock bag and dated. To further document the loss of my beauty I began with a series of large graphite drawings each depicting a precise rendering of a month of the daily hair loss doodles. These drawings were titled “Fallout: Beauty Lost and Found – Hair Doodle (dated by month and year)”.
In “A Question of Beauty” the faded memory of my infancy is overlaid with a year of hair loss, recast as doodles; object transcending the ordinary to the eternal. The photograph of me, taken by my father, is truly a lodestone of the beginning of beauty, and hence, marked by time. It is a photograph of which I have no memory. Photography was my father’s passion before he became ill with MS. I was ten. Although I never felt like I knew him well, I helped with his care for another 25 years. Using his image connects us — and, in a strange way, informs me.
The individual hair doodles are stitched onto the photos. Each doodle is dated on the day of loss. The hair doodles, then, are a personal calligraphy of beauty and sexuality. Cultures expose or cover hair for this reason. Hair, as well, throughout history has served as a keepsake, before and after death, secreted into a locket or jewelry or pressed into a Bible or diary. Conversely, hair is repulsive. Consider the tendril on a dinner plate or a mass plugging the shower drain.
Abstracting my bounty of hair on a daily basis and forming a doodle each day became a way of exploring the attraction-repulsion dynamic of unsullied beauty and innocence of youth, and what enduring implies in this context. Surprisingly, an act that began as a documentation of the erosion of beauty — and all that it implies — became something else; a private and secret language tracking across time to ironically amplify the psychological question of self-esteem as age impacts physical beauty.
Hair remains a most powerful medium, both metaphorically and literally. It contains our complete DNA and lives beyond our death. Adrian Piper in her piece “What will become of me,” has willed her hair (collected since 1985) to MoMA for this purpose.