Hair has been an important symbol as far back as biblical times – from childhood stories like Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel to modern day sideshows flaunting bearded women.
Hair Follies, the FOFA gallery’s first show of 2009, is a mixed media presentation using film, sculpture, drawing, collage and couture in homage to hair and the role it plays in our socio-cultural interactions.
The show consists of wide variety of pieces that have been carefully arranged within the gallery, each occupying its own space and simultaneously contributing to the greater atmosphere.
The works were assembled by Leisure Projects, an artist-curator collective operating in Montreal and run by Meredith Carruthers and Sussanah Weseley. Whether as subject or medium, every piece in the gallery involves hair in some way or another.
The inspiration for the collection was a set of wigs by Montreal hairdresser Bernard Perreault dating back to the 1950s. On display in five large showcases in the centre of the main room, these are wonders not to be missed. More than wigs, they are sculptures that seem to defy conventional physics.
In Champignon (trans. mushroom) hair dyed in streaks creates a mushroom-like disk around the head; it sits perfectly rigid as if it were a solid piece. Of the set, Orchidée is the most elegant, with the hair assembled in wide graceful loops. Perreault takes his sculpting abilities to the next level in Cheval d’Or (trans. Golden Horse) with a shapely horse-like mane adorned with gold coming off the back of the wig.
The exhibition’s other work in sculpture is Io Palmers’ installation Janitorial Supplies. Palmer’s meticulously crafted pieces are the product of a wide range of techniques including braiding and assemblage. Palmer uses real hair and other objects to make, as the title would suggest, various janitorial supplies (mops, brooms, etc). The installation fits naturally into the space, and because of the pieces’ scale, one can move around and take in Palmer’s hard work and dedication.
The pieces’ vivaciousness on the gallery floor is in direct juxtaposition with the modesty of the pieces adorning the walls, a few of which are from Fabienne Laserre’s La Chevelure series of four drawings of hair in graphite on paper. The format, which is more typical of studio studies, contrasts Laserre’s near technical mastery in the works. The pieces have no point of reference and so the depicted hair has a character of its own. Hair-done-Verdun, a video by Laserre, is also on display in the back room.
Maya Hayak’s diptych Hair Totem echoes the informality of Laserre’s work from the opposite wall. The piece is drawn in blue ink on butcher’s paper, which is hanging from a roll suspended from above. Like Laserre, Hayak has beautifully captured the spirit of hair, not an easy feat. Hair Totem seems to explore themes of culture, tradition and identity.
Beyond the individual pieces, Hair Follies wins points on its overall character. Curators Carruthers and Weseley have created an inviting space that lets one explore the pieces in their entirety. Hair Follies is well worth the visit, if only for the spectacle of Perrault’s intriguing and expressive wigs.
Hair Follies runs at the FOFA Gallery (1515 Ste-Catherine W., EV 1-715) until Feb. 6. Opening hours are Monday to Friday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.