Heide Museum of Modern Art explores the significance of hair in contemporary culture with Hair Pieces

Heide Ulay Marina Abramovi? Relation in Time 1977Exploring the complex significance of hair in contemporary culture through a selection of Australian and international works of art, Heide Museum of Modern Art presents Hair Pieces.

Hair Pieces brings together historic and recent works encompassing a wide array of media such as painting, photography, video, installation, sculpture and recorded live performance.

For millennia hair has been a resonant and compelling site of meaning, transmitting ideas about gender, mythology, status and power, the body, psychology, feminism and notions of beauty.

At once radiant and repellent, and often richly symbolic, it has always assumed a particular importance in relation to the self, history and society. Hair Pieces examines the myriad ways in which artists utilise hair to investigate themes encompassing growth, empowerment and transformation.

Spanning five decades and nine countries, the exhibition features works of art by 40 artists from Belgium, China, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, and Australia.

Highlights include Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendieta’s work Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant), which documents the artist methodically glueing individual strands of her friend’s beard to her upper lip.

The work forms part of Mendieta’s important experimentations during the early 1970s that involved the artist altering her physical appearance through a range of cosmetic interventions. These intimate private actions and live performances often employed hair and wigs to question and rupture gender constructions and stereotypes.

Also on display is Relation in Time by renowned collaborators Marina Abramovic and Ulay, a physically demanding performance work that saw the artists seated back-to-back, with their hair bound together in a tightly formed coil for 17 hours.

One of many iconic works that the duo performed together throughout their 12 years of collaborative practice, Relation in Time utilises hair as an intimate extension of the self, an indicator of time and the dynamic impermanence of life.

Other performance works featured in the exhibition include British artist Sonia Boyce’s Exquisite Tension, and Bahamian-born artist Janine Antoni’s Loving Care, for which the artist dragged her ponytail saturated in black hair dye across a gallery floor like a brush.

From Belgium, artist Edith Dekyndt’s video work Indigenous Shadow shows what appears to be a shredded and torn flag raised on a makeshift pole. Created from long strands of black human hair, the ‘flag’ was filmed in Côte du Diamant at the burial place of radical poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant.

Not far from Glissant’s grave, in 1830, a clandestine merchant ship carrying enslaved people from Africa went aground. Moving in the wind, the seemingly shredded flag performs as a marker of this historical event, and a spectral trace of the millions of individuals from around the globe whose lives were stolen and remain largely unrecorded.

Preeminent Australian artist Christian Thompson’s three channel video installation Heat portrays the hair of three young female protagonists hypnotically floating, free of gravity. The work explores Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in Central West Queensland, capturing the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.

Another video work by cross-disciplinary artist S.J Norman titled Magna Mater documents 12 First Nations people who identify as men, having their hair brushed 100 strokes each day over the same moon cycle.

Occupying the Kerry Gardner & Andrew Myer Project Gallery is the work of early career Australian artist Christina May Carey. Carey’s installation resembles a chaotic, precariously balanced home office setup of mobile telephones, and laptop screens, asynchronously showing the same sequence of video of hair being braided and upbraided.

Titled Hypnagogia which refers to the sensation of slipping in and out of control of the body, between wakefulness and sleep, Carey’s project is a response to a contemporary feeling of disequilibrium, as boundaries between work and leisure dissolve, and the distinction between screen spaces and the physical body blur.

“Intricately socially coded, materially rich and symbolic, hair is everywhere in art and life,” says Heide Museum of Modern Art Senior Curator and Hair Pieces Curator, Melissa Keys.

“Rather than tracing a series of narrow themes the Hair Pieces exhibition samples a wide array of ideas and approaches and reflects on the uncanny, strange and alluring presence of hair and its importance to us.”

A publication will accompany the exhibition with essays by Senior Curator Melissa Keys, Wiradjuri cross-disciplinary artist, writer and curator S.J Norman and Zambian-born Australian journalist, author and filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe.

Hair Pieces
Heide Museum of Modern Art, 7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen
Exhibition continues to 6 October 2024
Entry fees apply

For more information, visit: www.heide.com.au for details.

Image: Ulay / Marina Abramovic, Relation in Time, 1977 Video: 73’53”  (Black and white, sound) Performance: 16 hours without the public – Last hour of the the performance with the public present, Studio G7, Bologna, Italy © Marina Abramovic and Ulay – courtesy of the Marina Abramovic Archives and LIMA Amsterdam