The weird world of contemporary hair art

A British artist's hirsute necklaces have made a major splash. How else has the unusual medium been put to use?

Published July 13, 2011 1:01AM (EDT)

A moth made from human hair and glue. (Artist: Adrienne Antonson)
A moth made from human hair and glue. (Artist: Adrienne Antonson)

The work of 23-year-old British jewelry designer Kerry Howley -- who has fashioned a series of necklaces from human hair -- has been making the rounds on the Internet recently.

In an interview with Fashionista published Monday, Howley discussed the mixed feelings human-hair jewelry seems to elicit -- and cited her own Victorian inspirations:

[Hair is] a material we’re all very familiar with, and it’s something that we take a lot of pride in. We look after our own hair – we brush it and we wash it and we style it. But as soon as it’s apart from us it becomes very disgusting, especially other people’s hair. It’s a deep feeling of revulsion. Also it’s got a history in jewelry. The Victorians used to use it in mourning jewelry; people used to get commissions of hair jewelry using hair from their loved ones.

Although hair is certainly an unconventional artistic medium, it hasn't exactly been neglected -- nor have its uses been limited to the field of jewelry -- since the Victorian era. Contemporary artists employ the material for a wide variety of (often startling) projects. Here are some standout examples:

  •  Chinese artist Wenda Gu's "united nations project" -- a five-continent-spanning, multi-installation work begun in 1993 -- incorporated hair from "over 2 million people." The series' installations included "an entirely human hair made temple" and a gigantic "banner" made from 420 pounds of human hair (all sheared from the heads of members of Dartmouth College and the New Hampshire town of Hanover).
  • Kate Kretz has used hair embroidery to picture everything from closed eyes on a pillowcase to natural disasters (like the twister shown below). You can see more images of her work here.
  • Agustina Woodgate, who has made headlines recently for her efforts as a "poetry bomber," is also a hair artist. Her works include the striking "I Wanted to Be a Princess," which consists of castles fashioned out of you-know-what. [via WHATtheCOOL]
  • Adrienne Antonson makes two sorts of sculptures out of hair: "clothes" and "insects." Her collection of garment- and accessory-based hair sculptures includes hair-and-glue imitations of spectacles, gloves, boots, suspenders, undergarments, and a change purse; her "insects" collection includes a praying mantis (pictured below), as well as moths, beetles and butterflies. See her complete "look book" here. [via Flavorwire]
  •  London-based artist Rosie Leventon's hair art includes "The Front Room" -- a dramatic installation piece in which a wall "covered by thick and dense human hair" looms over a normal sitting room -- as well as "Mat," a welcome mat made from (you guessed it) hair that once graced human heads.

How do you feel about hair as an artistic medium? Let us know in the comments.

By Emma Mustich

Emma Mustich is a Salon contributor. Follow her on Twitter: @emustich.

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