First Year Experience: Hair Raising Perceptions

This first year Communication Design student was fascinated by the way that we present and preserve our material and used this to inspire a project about presenting different perspectives on hair. To see more of what our first year students got up to as part of their “Being Human” project, see a short video by Martin Clark here.

When I visited GSA Archives, I didn’t focus on any object in particular that we were shown, but I did really like the way some of them were displayed, for example precious objects were displayed on a pillow. So I started to look at how objects in general are viewed and how we present different things.  

From there, I looked at a personal archive, which was my Dad’s old family photos and I was trying to see what all of these photos had in common. I realized that almost all of my family members, including myself, went through a phase of having long hair! So I clung on to that idea and began to look at what I could do with hair. 

I started looking at the way we view hair in different ways, whether it’s on our head, on the body or off the body and detached, for example when you see hair like on the floor or in the sink or shower drain. Looking back at the archive, I was thinking about how I would display pieces of hair. I started doing sketches of what I thought hair looked like to begin with and then from there, I investigated what hair was associated with throughout history versus now. 

From there, I looked at DNA and family history and how hair can change through time. I looked at all these petri dishes in labs and how different things are examined and started to put bits of dolls hair into these dishes. I realized that depending on the colour, these all looked quite different. I wanted to display it in a clinical way, so I had all the petri dishes with each type of hair colour coded and labeled. This brought me to think about hair colour and our perception of different hair colours. My research showed that culturally, black hair sometimes represents dirtiness and grunginess, red hair represents mythology, blond is associated with iconography, and pink represents millennial culture. So I gave each hair a little story, some of them are true and some are made up, but it was so that you could look at each dish and go to the key and decide whether or not for yourself whether it was true or not. It was up to the viewer to interpret what they were seeing. 

Image courtesy of Stephen Keane, many thanks Stephen! We don’t currently have any images of this student’s work unfortunately, but if anyone does have any images we’d love to add them to this blog! Please feel free to get in touch by emailing archives@gsa.ac.uk.

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