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Human hair in contemporary art: conservation issues and solutions

Amélie Pirotte

Abstracts

This study explores the use of human hair in contemporary art threw several artworks from the Belgian artist Hélène de Gottal. She employs the traditional techniques used by spindle lace makers, as well as hairspray, to create masks using her face as a model. Human hair is a fragile organic material, which is sensitive to light,temperature and relative humidity.

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Introduction

1Artefacts containing hair are present in numerous collections especially in natural science museums. A typical example is hair of mummies, but human hair is also present in contemporary art. Artists like Kiki Smith, Mona Hatoum, Krystyna Piotrowska, Isabelle Plat, and many more have experimented with hair during their career. In this ongoing study, a specific interest is taken in the Belgian artist Hélène de Gottal, which has used human hairs for many of  her artworks.

Fig.1 Hélène de Gottal's work

Fig.1 Hélène de Gottal's work

3D form consolidated with hairspray.

credit: Mathilde Leroy ©

Fig.2 Spindle lace

Fig.2 Spindle lace

Spindle lace technique by Hélène de Gottal

credit: Mathilde Leroy ©

Conservation issues

2Human hair is a fragile organic material, which is sensitive to light, temperature and relative humidity.

3The most representative problems that occur on the studied artworks are:

  • Lack of adhesion

  • Discolouration of the fibre by UV

  • Triboelectric effect

  • Sagging of the mask

4Other common degradations are: abrasion / breaking / undulation / infestation by lepidoptera and dermatophytes

Research

5The use of hairspray as an adhesive by the artist could bear a solution. The study therefore aims to evaluate the adhesive properties of different hairsprays and their capacity to protect the hair against light. The ongoing research also aims to adapt adhesives which are commonly used in conservation and use it in the form of an aerosol. Additives such as UV absorbers, often used to stabilise varnishes, could protect the hair from discolouration. Adding electrostatic precipitators could help to avoid the displacement of hair by triboelectrification.

Conclusion

6Modifying hairsprays and using adhesives in form of an aerosol introduces conservation directly in the artist's practice. Hairsprays are used as an adhesive in other artistic fields such as pastel drawing. Conservation issues need to be studied. The aerosol technology has already been proven to be a valuable tool in conservation.

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Attachment

  • Pirotte (application/pdf – 1.5M)
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List of illustrations

Title Fig.1 Hélène de Gottal's work
Caption 3D form consolidated with hairspray.
Credits credit: Mathilde Leroy ©
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/5071/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 128k
Title Fig.2 Spindle lace
Caption Spindle lace technique by Hélène de Gottal
Credits credit: Mathilde Leroy ©
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/5071/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 85k
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References

Electronic reference

Amélie Pirotte, « Human hair in contemporary art: conservation issues and solutions », CeROArt [Online], HS | 2017, Online since 30 May 2017, connection on 25 July 2017. URL : http://ceroart.revues.org/5071

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About the author

Amélie Pirotte

Master student, ESA Saint-Luc de Liège. Study supervised by Nico Broers, Professor at the Département de la Conservation-Restauration d'œuvres d'art, Ecole Supérieure des Arts, Saint-Luc Liège, Belgique. ame.pirotte@gmail.com.  

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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