During the mid-nineteenth century hair work became a popular drawing-room occupation as the Victorians used hair in jewelry. But modernity gave way to a different aesthetic, so that the work from Kerry Howley’s graduate project at Middlesex University makes us pause for the very reasons she decided to do the series:
My concept is a material exploration of attraction and aversion and how we can feel these seemingly opposing emotional responses simultaneously.
The necklaces are made of human hair, a material we are familiar with and take pride in. However once off of the body it becomes an innate source of aversion. I wanted to see if I could make discarded hair attractive again.
Through the familiar form of a necklace, and using patterns and symmetry that we instinctively find aesthetically pleasing, I hoped to create a delicate balance between the viewer/wearers feelings of aversion and attraction.
Howley’s medium was provided by one of her mother’s friends, a Japanese woman with hair down to her waist, who had not cut it in 5 years. Howley used broken saw blades to cut and then weave about 12 inches (30 cm) of hair. Each piece takes over 60 hours to create, and her patterns are inspired by wallpaper patterns.
The facts aside, her intention is clearly met, as her beautiful patterns draw us in to notice her disarming choice of material, and then question our feelings.