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Fiene Scharp - Hair out of place

Category: Portrait 6. January 2010

Fiene Scharp’s references to hair and skin confront us with our own corporeality and challenge us to place such normally mundane materials in a new context, not only in art, but in life as well.

Beauty. Order. Cleanliness. Purity. Perfection. To all of these coveted qualities, hair is a threat, a flaw, a disturbance.

When someone is well-groomed, we describe them as “not having a hair on her head out of place”, signifying that hair is something to be put into its place, to be kept under control. There are many places where hair is not supposed to be: stuck on your sweater, floating in your soup, appearing on a projected film frame, beyond the acceptable areas and lengths on one’s body, etc. And so, when we are confronted with its appearance in a work of art, we are unsure: do the same rules apply here? Should I be delighted or disgusted? As always, the use of unconventional materials in art forces us to make up our own minds.

In her art work, Fiene Scharp, based in Berlin, works regularly with materials such as hair, grease, and wax. She describes her focus as being “the moment of touching in which the touch-er and the touch-ee become aware of themselves and the other.” In a primarily visual context such as art exhibitions, touching is often forbidden, but perception is not. Scharp’s use of hair challenges these boundaries by placing the viewer in a position somewhere between attraction and repulsion. A 100-cm cube composed completely of human hair somehow knocks our perception for a loop: questions arise as to from where the hair originated and whether it is too much while, at the same time, impulses are suppressed to reach out and stroke it. Otherwise conventional forms such as delicate weaves or graphs on paper shock us when we realize that they are made of hairs. Carefully placed hairs on ordinary food items such as butter or a lemon provoke us with their violation of propriety.

Scharp uses the video format to bring her fixation with capturing this complicated relation to the sense of touch to the next level. Tiny hairs between an index finger and thumb bristle audibly as they act as a barrier between their contact on one video, two hands slowly polish a rough sheet of ice into a smooth, reflective surface in another. Although we as viewers are still limited in our access to the works to the senses of sight and sound, the sense of touch is the focus, and, once again, cannot be taken for granted. For this purpose, Scharp refers to another all-too-human material, skin, which she describes as “a metaphor for the state of being separate, as well as a membrane.” References to hair and skin confront us with our own corporeality and challenge us to place such normally mundane materials in a new context, not only in art, but in life as well. (jn)

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