A Question of Beauty

The Feminine Mystique"
The Jersey City Museum.
September 2007- February 2008

This work examines the nature of beauty – or more precisely, the loss of beauty and its resurrection. The faded memory of my infancy is overlaid with a year of hair loss, recast as doodles; object transcending the ordinary to the eternal. The photograph of me, taken by my father, is truly a lodestone of the beginning of beauty, and hence, marked by time.  It is a photograph of which I have no memory. The 365 individual hair doodles are stitched onto the photo triptych. Each doodle is dated on the day of loss.

The hair doodles, then, are a personal calligraphy of beauty and sexuality. Cultures expose or cover hair for this reason. Hair, as well, throughout history has served as a keepsake, before and after death, secreted into a locket or jewelry or pressed into a Bible or diary. Conversely, hair is repulsive. Consider the tendril on a dinner plate or a mass plugging the shower drain.

Abstracting my bounty of hair on a daily basis in 2006 became a way of exploring the attraction-repulsion dynamic of unsullied beauty and innocence of youth, and what enduring implies in this context. Surprisingly, an act that began as a documentation of the erosion of beauty ---- and all that it implies ---- became something else; a private and secret language tracking across time to ironically amplify the psychological question of self-esteem as age impacts physical beauty.

Photography was my father’s passion before he became ill with MS. I was ten. Although I never knew him well, I helped with his care for another 25 years. Using his image connects us ---- and, in a strange way, informs me.

“A Question of Beauty” is a continuation of the recent series “Fallout: Beauty Lost and Found,” although the connection of hair and beauty has been in my work for the past decade. My epiphany began in 1995 upon viewing the “Hair” catalog from the Kohler Center exhibition. I was drawn to its polar opposition --- a gorgeous head of hair equated to the wad plugging the bathtub drain. Hair remains a most powerful medium, both metaphorically and literally. It contains our complete DNA and lives beyond our death. Adrian Piper in her piece “What will become of me,” has willed her hair (collected since 1985) to MOMA for this purpose.

The societal stigma of age is paramount today, particularly for women who seek redemption in plastic surgery, Botox, fitness clubs and the like. As the huge segment of our aging population advances in the 21st Century, works like “A Question of Beauty” will seek further confrontation as revelation. In past shows, viewers, including several women whose chemotherapy had caused their loss of hair, commented that, although disturbed by the concept, the outcome was “ beautiful.” This is the irony I discovered upon embarking on this journey.