‘ A matter out of place ‘
September 24, 2010, 2:22 am
Filed under: BLOGS, Emilie Collins

1) ” The title comes from anthropologist Mary Douglas’ assertion that dirt, when understood as ‘matter out of place’ simultaneously implies both the existence and the contravention of an established order or system and that this in turn establishes dirt as symbolic. Further, Phyllis Palmer has written that dirt is ‘ a principal means to arrange culture ‘ “

Hair has through times and cultures bore many usages and significations. From the intricate hair styles in so called ‘primitive’ civilizations, the elaborate wigs of the XVII th and XVIII th century, the Victorian 2) Memento Mori hair art to the use of hair in contemporary art and encompassing the symbolic value of hair in the collective unconscious ; hair as a social institution never ceases to both fascinate and repel.

Viewed as a powerful seductive asset when attached to the body, hair becomes assimilated to dirt once separated from it. It is its ambivalence between the universal and the intimate which first drew me to use it for the ‘ Down in the Basement ‘ project.

As mentioned previously, my current work mainly revolves around the form of site specific art, basing itself on a first reaction or thought regarding a given place. Milkwood’s basement provided me with matter to work upon, as it is at the same time cold, damp and at times creepy, reminiscent of childhood fears or anxieties similar to that of being afraid of the dark, whilst being situated under Roath’s friendly, community orientated gallery. It was this ambiguity which I chose to play with, bearing in mind the idea of creating a piece of work that would evoke and provoke various issues and emotions in the viewer.

The short introduction above established the ambiguity of hair in the collective unconscious, fallen hair which troubles the viewer because of its association with dirt – specifically hair that comes from an ‘other’ – but equally as it throws back the viewer to its own mortality and absurdity, its evocative power suggesting at the same time the presence and absence of a body.

I chose to collect hair from a local hairdresser, from friends and included my own to incorporate it into a rug found in a local charity shop, needle felting it by hand following a simple pattern made of circles. In my mind, the act of recuperating and modifying a found object would tie in with the spirit of the gallery which offers vintage and hand made items, often based on ‘recycled’ materials. At first glance, the rug appears to be an everyday object, devoid of any other signification, until it is looked at more closely. I wanted there to be an element of surprise, shock or bemusement once the viewer realized what had been used in the rug. The pictures on the wall would add to the theme of this presence and absence of the body, only enhanced by the use of black and white which can itself play with the idea of mortality, as black and white pictures may be evocative of a time long gone.

I also wanted for the viewer to physically interact with the installation by inviting them to walk onto the rug barefoot, experiencing the feeling of hair in the hope of yet again provoking in them conflicting feelings. The idea of the hair becoming part of a functional object rather than an ornament in the vein of Victorian Memento Mori also appealed to me as well as associating an object assimilated with cleaning to ‘dirty’ fallen hair.

1) Wical, Carol. “Matter Out of Place: Reading Dirty Women.” M/C Journal 9.5 (2006). 24 Sep. 2010 <

2) ‘ Remember you will die ‘ or ‘Remember your mortality’, latin


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