Mona Hatoum, Hair Necklace, 1995
At first glance, especially through the window of an expensive jewellery shop*, Mona Hatoum’s Hair Necklace might appear to be delicate beads made of spun metal thread. A closer look – or knowing the name of the piece – would immediately give the game away though and this delicately beautiful necklace would immediately become somewhat less appealing. A single string of beads as a necklace isn’t exactly unusual. And the idea of carrying a lock of a loved one’s hair in a necklace, specifically a locket, is hardly new. Combine the two ideas though and you get something rather less commonplace and much more interesting. Hatoum’s hairball beads are undeniably beautiful. There is an extraordinary filigree delicacy to them. Nonetheless, those odd stray ends disturb. And the realisation that this is hair – real hair – inevitably offsets the aesthetic appeal.
Hair Necklace (detail)
There’s just something about hair. Beautiful as long as it stays on the head, detached – especially from the head of a stranger – it immediately gains the power to disgust. I’m generally fascinated rather than freaked out by hair; I’ve used it in work myself and don’t baulk at it in the work of others to the extent that many do. But its status as something we encounter on both sides of the desire and disgust dichotomy and its associations with fairy tales and spells gives it real power, power that Hatoum has used to great effect.
* I didn’t see it in this context, but the necklace was shown (first, I think) in Cartier in Bordeaux.