Hair Follies ~ La Perruque


Leisure Projects is pleased to present Hair Follies as the first exhibition of 2009 at the Concordia University FOFA 1 gallery. Sometimes beautiful and ornamental, other times abject and grotesque, hair is an unassuming yet powerful personal agent. In the spirit of “perruque” 2 the Hair Follies exhibition claims the head as a site for the creative analysis of personal décor.

Hair Follies was initially inspired by a group of wigs buried deep within the archival storage of the Musée d’art de Joliette. The wigs were created by the Montreal hairdresser Bernard Perreault in the 1960s and 1970s. This series, entitled Hautes Fantaisies, was presented at various hairstyling galas across Canada and Europe and was exhibited under the title La Belle époque at the Musée de Joliette in 1983. Labels attached to the base of each work give us a glimpse into the world Perreault imagined for the wearers of his wigs – a world that combines old Hollywood glamour, futurism, myth and reality in titles such as “Spartiate,” “Galaxie” and “Orchidée.” Perreault’s wigs take the quest for “big hair” to another level; over-scaled and super-structured they resemble miniature architectures for the head. Personal, suggestive and strange, they represent a unique extension of subjective fantasy.

The manicuring of hair has long been a way for people to publicly demonstrate their subjective beliefs and desires. Functioning on the margins of seductive allurement on the part of its wearer and escapist fantasy from the point of its voyeur, hair has also functioned as a personal signpost for cultural and political affiliation. It has carried veiled messages, concealed urgent secrets, and undone social hierarchies. Aristocratic women in the late 18th century, for example, wore monumental decorated wig creations that were both a combination of high fashion and one of the few public means they had to express their political beliefs. Within a very different context, black women in North America have had a complex relationship with hair as an expression of self, from cornhusk braiding patterns that carried messages in the Underground Railway, to the multi-faceted culture around creating “good hair,” and the more recent political statement of “natural” hair. The works collected together in the Hair Follies exhibition engage with charged, often contrary and personal hair fantasies. Ranging from dandy-ish artificial transformations which disrupt expected or “natural” conventions, to the political power of decorative hair display, to obsessive and illusive hair worlds, the works in Hair Follies all evoke hair as a platform for expression.

Matthieu Gauvin ’s intimate and strange drawings of tiny faces dwarfed by their coiffures lead the viewer to wonder if the figures imagined the hairstyles or vice-versa. One senses that perhaps these characters exist on the fringes of society demonstrating their eccentricity through their unusual lacquered hairdos.

Maya Hayuk ’s intricate hair totem drawings depict intertwining braids and reference sensual relationships. Twisting and turning in and out of each others space over time and generations, they represent the intimacy and sensuality of hair.

Fabienne Lasserre ’s anthropomorphic drawings of hair masses evoke shifting, form-changing beings of fantasy or science fiction, which challenge what is and isn’t natural or possible. Lasserre’s drawings raise the binary and often conflicting qualities inherent to hair – beauty and abjectness, dead and living, temporality and longevity, while also acknowledging its metamorphic possibility.

In the double mirror of the Leisure Projects video Hair-done Verdun, a seemingly endless supply of hairpins pass from the hands of the hair salon patrons to the hairdresser, disappearing into mounting piles of hair. The mirror in Hair-done-Verdun reflects anxious smiles as casual hair is done-up for some unspecified event.

Encrusted with hairpins and bobbles, cleaning tools become monuments in Io Palmer ’s Artstars: Janitorial Supplies. These works refer directly to the labour involved in the taming of hair into ornament, while also alluding to social hierarchies of domestic help and janitorial labour. Palmer states, “My work points to the symbiotic relationship between public society and private identity… [It] offers both a thought-space and an open-ended critique meant to propel participants into new forms of imaginative (and literal) space that plays with history, gender, race and expression.”

In the photomontage series Bouffant Topiary, landscape architect Ken Smith grafts elaborate French topiary designs to the heads of city dwellers in a playful commentary on the style driven preoccupations of “landless” urbanites. According to landscape architect Ken Smith, “Hair design and garden design have similarities. They are both organic, grow and are manipulated. They have to do with style, fashion and pretence.”

With the exhibition Hair Follies, Leisure Projects investigates the capacity of elaborate coiffure to perform as an amplification of personal identity – an exterior expression of self that occupies physical and social space.

1. In an unsubstantiated stub definition, Wikipedia defines a “Fofa” as a type of hairstyle, short to medium length on the sides and back, with a receding hairline from the forehead back due to a natural baldness. Usually found on distinguished gentlemen and derived from the style of monks.

2. In his theoretical analysis of popular culture and language, The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau investigates “perruque” as a transformation of economy. Loaded with double meaning the word “perruque” refers on one hand to wigs and the altering effects of decorative hair, but also to a more transgressive anti-establishment action of using official work time to slyly work on one’s own projects – a pervasive practice which results in a quiet socio-cultural rebellion from within.

Leisure Projects and the FOFA gallery would like to extend their special thanks to the Musée d’art de Joliette and Art Solution Services inc. for their help in the realisation of this project.