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Tearing my hair out

A recent blog post by artist Kate Murdoch has made me revisit my own blog and now, looking back, I realise I never finished writing this post from earlier this year.

On 28th July 2014, 100 years after the start of the First World War, I began collecting my hair.

I had been thinking a lot about how the effects of war and conflict were still being felt through my own family, and particularly my Mum. The phrase ‘tearing my hair out’ kept going round in my head and in respect of how anxiety and depression had and still does affect my Mum, and the difficulties experienced when trying to deal with and manage her mental health, it was a phrase I often said out loud.

Tearing my hair out, in itself an expression of feeling anxious, worried, upset and distressed but also a physical manifestation of anxiety to actually pull your own hair out.

And so, on the centenary of the start of WW1 I began to collect hair that became caught up in my hairbrush, hair that had been torn from my head when I blowdried my hair. I made the decision that I would stop collecting it on 11th November 2018, the centenary of the Armistice. 4 years of collecting hair, 4 years of tearing my hair out. How much hair would be collected I had no idea but I knew I wanted to use it to explore ways of expressing the 4 years worth of anxiety and loss felt during the years of war.

During this time the growing collection of hair brought the fore other thoughts, other memories and I began to see just how cathartic the process was becoming.

Hair has been a difficult subject over the years for both my Mum and I realise now for me also:

My Mum lost a lot of her hair when it fell out as a result of a breakdown when she was in her 30’s. Her hair never fully grew back and as she grew older the fact that her hair was so thin made her self conscious of it’s appearance. Even now, at age 90, almost every time I visit her she asks if her hair looks a mess.

For me, having a hand that doesn’t function properly has meant that styling my hair has always been an issue. As a child I had long hair which my Mum would wash and put into a ponytail or bunches with those elastic bands with giant bobbles attached. How I loved bobbles in my hair! However, as I grew older and wanted to do my own hair I couldn’t manage it. So, at the age of 12 I had it all cut off to a short style that I could easily do. Curling tongs, straighteners, rollers – they all require both hands, but I could manage holding a hairdryer in my gammy hand. I have had short hair ever since.

Through examining the collected hair I can see the passage of time represented by the subtle changes to colour through both dying my hair and the seasonal affects of the sun bleaching and changing it’s colour through the 4 summers.

The resulting hair works have taken on multiple meanings for me and reference many aspects of my research; from memento mori brooches made of woven hair to the DNA contained in the hair follicles of the torn out strands, from stress, fear and anxiety to how our hair can effect our sense of well being and self esteem, from war and conflict to memory and memorial and time.

To date they have only been exhibited as part of another piece of work (see blog post) as I have still to figure out how I want them to be seen in their own right.

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