Certificate of Presence & A Hairy Event
Nature of the Work
The nature of the work is a crossover connection between photography, computer technology, performance and fashion, using Mail Art as the vehicle to gather all the information needed to create a body of work.
The project was divided in three different activities. One was a Mail Art piece with a network of 400 participants; an installation that stood as the record of the art by correspondence piece (I collected 164 responses); and an Action or Happening, "A Hairy Event" which concluded the Mail Art piece.
400 postcards were designed using photographs manipulated in the computer. The imagery was based on my perception of the appearance of my own hair (eyebrows, eyelashes, legs, arms, armpits, pubic, etc.) and the impact of those images on a public space while they were mailed.
The postcard was designed so the recipients could keep part of it, and the other portion (a hair inquiry) had to be sent back to me. The recipients were asked to send me a lock of hair and the option of sharing with me their thoughts on their/hair (an envelope and a stamp were provided). After collecting them, they were displayed in a gallery space arranging them so both, the locks of hair and the written response could be seen and touch by the audience. The piece concluded with a happening or action during which I shared my "Certificate of Presence" with the audience during "A Hairy Event".
"A Hairy Event", consisted on a three hour performance, during which I cut off all my hair (previously braided with 139 braids). I gave it away to the spectators of my installation, as they approached it and interacted with it. This event not only stood as a "give in return" circumstance; it was a symbol of sharing my history, a 25 year history condensed in each cell of my hair.
As a Colombian woman, I have experienced a radical distinction between genders, especially when femininity appears only as visual evidence given by the length of the hair. My mother has expressed constantly her uncomfortable reaction towards the idea of shaving my head. This action not only will stand as a sign of "loosing my personality" but also as a missing object that culturally serves our society as a sign of identification: "I will not longer have a personal identity".
My long curly hair is a clear sign of heritage. Starting with my great-grandmother, to my mother, all women in my family, with the exception of my sister, have curly hair. Sometimes this fact has been a reason of frustration, especially for my mother and my two aunts when in the 60's and 70's they had to iron their hair to straighten it. This genetic quality is a personal reliquary that I carry attached to my body, it also serves as a portable human quality that belongs to my mother's side of the family. I still remember how my younger aunt was always called by her nickname: Cachumbos Gonz´lez (Gonzalez's curls), and never by her first name. In 1986 the perm came to Colombia and girls started wearing them. The director of the school I attended then, El Refous, started calling them bad names like 'fatal women' because they were doing something artificial to their bodies. In various occasions I was punished publicly in the school because of my "perm", making my hair to be an object of guilt and shame, even though it was my natural hair. He used to pull my hair and scream at me in his French accent in front of everybody. Since then I always wore it tied to hide my fear of being disciplined in front of the class. It was in 1994 when I moved to Chicago, when people started complimenting my hair. At first I felt very disturbed and sort of insulted, but then little by little I realized that it was in fact beautiful. I started playing with it and braiding it and enjoying it, and this enriching process conveyed in a critical improvement of my self-steem. I finally gave a step ahead and started accepting myself the way I am.
The idea of cutting my hair short, not only has affected the way I might be perceived by my friends or relatives, but also is an unusual situation that has evolved into a series of questions about my identity. The possibility of cutting my hair for the first time in my life, became the core of this project, which will be materialized when I become the fount of a cultural shock based on scandal and dramatic tragedy rather than a personal experience of freedom, history and magic. This lunatic idea would soon become a expediential process that will remain in people's mind like the absurd idea of becoming the no longer "Colombian girl with long curly hair".
Conclusion: If I decided to shave my head I would loose 25 years of building a personal identity. My persona would be annulled by such an absurd and ephemeral act.
The impact was experienced in two different but parallel levels. One personal effect that has to do with my perception of the "new me", and the social impact that goes with it, encompassed with the significance of hair in my sub-culture: feminism/female (and in some instances matriarcal) traditions.
My head feels freed and sore; it feels little lighter than before.
The anxiety to confront the mirror.
Encountering my new appearance: solitude.
Social indicator of homosexualism
I consider myself as a Platonic Demiurge. In my art practice I built art pieces that are assembled by a third person. In Certificate of Presence more than 400 people from around the world participated in the completion of the piece. As a Demiurge I orchestrated a multiple event that has not a pre-meditated end. This time I asked for people's hair; I gave mine away, but it continues to grow, incarcerating our endless history.