Jan 27, 2019

Hair Highway

In 2014, the art collective Studio Swine (Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves) created a project called Hair Highway.

The project documented the billion-dollar hair market in Shangdon province of China using video to show the assemblage and processing of hair for the global market. Studio Swine then used hair from that system to create a collection of polished, resin-based luxury design objects. These included vessels, decorative boxes, combs, and furniture.

To create these items, strands of hair were laid in a thin layer and colored pine resin was poured over them. When the resin hardened, carpenters cut the material into sections and glue the colored pieces back together to fashion the items.

"Hair is one natural resource that is actually increasing globally," Groves said. "We knew that China imported the most amount of tropical hardwood from slow-growth forests across Africa, and we wanted to explore the possibility of using Chinese traditional crafts with a sustainable material."


On Studio Swine’s website, the intention for Hair Highway is made explicit.
“Hair Highway explores the potential of human hair beyond its wildly expanding role in the beauty industry. As the world’s population increases, human hair is re-imagined as an abundant and renewable alternative to diminishing resources such as tortoise shell or tropical wood.
Based around the notion of the ancient Silk Road, which transported not only silk but also technologies, aesthetics and ideas between East and West, Hair Highway explores the ideas of modern day cultural cross-overs in a collection of objects inspired by Qing dynasty and 1920’s Shanghai-Deco era.”

Employing hair for design work is not new, with one famous example being its use by Victorians to craft items as mourning jewelry and sentimental wreathes. However, given the problems of hair collection in countries like India (1), this project feels a bit naïve in its straight celebration of the hair trade. That being said, the resin hair objects are quite beautiful and certainly evoke the aesthetics of the Deco-era.

Is it possible that if the atrocities conducted during the process of hair collection are resolved it could be used as a regenerative and ecologically sustainable material in this age of diminishing natural resources?

1. “There’s no shortage of stories of women and children being attacked for their hair — robbed by gun or knifepoint in Venezuela, India, South Africa, Ukraine, Myanmar, and elsewhere — and held down as thieves forcibly cut off their ponytails.” Refinery29 06/2018
or see “Hair, Devotion and Trade in India,” by Eiluned Edwards in Hair: Styling, Culture and Fashion edited by Geraldine Biddle-Perry and Sarh Cheang, p159.

Images are from Swine Studio website as well as from Design Boom article.

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