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Caryl Burtner’s vast catalogue of objects includes collections of toothbrushes, band flyers, lipstick blots, even brides’ first married signatures. The American artist is an avid collector and cataloguer, an interest which was triggered when she lost most of her own possessions in a fire in the 70s.

Caryl Burtner Ghia, 2011 | Daddy, 1928
Ghia, 2011 | Daddy, 1928
Caryl Burtner Installation, 2012
Installation, 2012

Her series ‘Hair Locks’ is an extensive collection of human hair, each lock individually preserved in a ziplock bag. Burtner states; “my hair collection is the most personal of my collections, because hair is an extension of our physical and spiritual selves”.

Each lock is accompanied by a small photograph of the person the hair once belonged to. Many are also inscribed with a date and description noting when the hair was ‘harvested’: “992 – my first grey hair” reads one bag, while another is inscribed with the heartbreaking message; “2011 – cut off because of my chemo treatments”.

Caryl Burtner Caryl, 2012 | fFirst Grey Hair, 1992
Caryl, 2012 | First Grey Hair, 1992
“hair is an extension of our physical and spiritual selves”
Caryl Burtner
Caryl Burner Magic Spell, 2012
Magic Spell, 2012

These messages mark personal milestones, recorded through remnants of hair. In this sense, the collection appeals to both the voyeur and the anthropologist in each of us. It reveals a very human fixation: the idea of documenting our lives and forming records, as a way of understanding ourselves better. As Burtner explains; “the work is both intimate and institutional, as I address the passage of time through collective memory”.

Caryl Burtner New Bangs, 1980- Sharon 1960
New Bangs, 1980 | Sharon, 1960
Caryl Burtner Installation detail 2012
Installation Detail, 2012

Text Emma de Clercq
Images Caryl Burtner Website

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