How does your garden grow?

If you’re the least bit skittish around human hair (especially isolated from its source), you will be made very uneasy indeed at this exhibition liberal in its use of the material-sinuously curled, coiled locks glued to pages, thick bristly explosions from various openings on clay vessels, unseemly, wildly overgrown entanglements that entirely subsume identity and individual and object (this facial elision engenders a vertiginous, disorienting effect in the viewer, the central marker for recognition removed). Hair is celebrated and consecrated, is both artefact and ornamentation. Culturally and socially, hair has always held a ceremonial prestige, linked to position, class, statements of personal style and intent, an accompaniment to wardrobe and fashion. By appropriating everything from royal and commissioned portraiture to Old Masters to engravings to postcards, truly intervening, Bowles at once honours and subverts the past, a dialog that yields both a playful twist and kinky kick to enduring themes. The adornment of hair, its sexual and aesthetic allure, spills forth from and across the surface of her works, volatile and charged.Structured as a three-act narrative, you move from the domestic (family portraits in which hair, like a manifestation of blood, courses from one member to the next; decorative vases sprouting surging tufts from every shaft, upon close inspection built upon a constructed chaos of various limbs and body parts; and a television set from which a humming, Lynch-like figure onanistically dreams of coiffures) to a lo-if, but highly impressive, reproduction of a stately home, produced with mere plywood, a few wonderfully chintzy props and photocopied pages that brilliantly fool the senses with scale and dimension-you stand within this space that cuts the main gallery room and are transported into a grand hallway, on the walls of which hang grand portraits, those signifiers of wealth and privilege-and finally to the museum, in which vitrines hold records of cherished objects, a cabinet of pileous curiosities. The side room hosts Bowles’s video installation Obsession, a looped sketch of a woman, her back to the camera, scarlet-gloved, fetishtically running her finger through a strand of hair, the sound of the coarse drag amplified to disquieting effect. This might be the moment when the less inclined to be comfortable around abrupt proximity to such a personal aspect of the body may bolt. Hair, especially estranged from the body, has the paradoxical quality of seeming alive and dead simultaneously-Bowles, with great alacrity, is delighted to chase after this through the far, far fields, referencing the entirety of art history and mediums while on her merry way.


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