This series is made from clothing worn in mourning. Inspired by a personal experience with a dress I wore to my mother’s funeral and could never bring myself to put on again, I asked family and friends whether they too had clothing too tainted by association to wear. Slowly I began collecting clothes–sometimes decades old–that had languished unworn in the backs of closets, too distressing to wear and too sentimental to just throw away. Handling these testaments of loss is a powerful experience, as every garment comes with a story. Joining them together allows for the creation of a symbolic location in which otherwise esoteric griefs become public and communal.
This series takes the Victorian women's practice of sentimental hairwork as its jumping-off point. For the Victorians, mourning was a very public act. Rather than a esoteric emotion or an embarrassment, grief was a popular motif for the arts and fashion. What strikes modern sensibilities as mawkish and overly sentimental behavior was, at the time, considered proof of a person's sincerity and morality. Ornamental hairwork, painstakingly crafted from the hair of loved ones, was a fashion that insisted the wearer embodied these virtues. This work plays with the tension between sincerity and emotional performance, imagining a contemporary practice in which moderns might socially engage with death's physicality. The dissonance of the craft (when
That the hair must be severed from the body to be worked in this fashion is a compelling aspect of the practice for me. With few exceptions, the provenance of antique hairwork is now unknown. As a result, it loses its essential quality of referring to a specific person, while still being a distinctively “personal” object. In a sense, the story of hairwork is a testament not of our capacity to remember our lost loved ones, but of our ultimate inability to hold onto them.