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.
Ghia, 2011 | Daddy, 1928
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, 2012 | First Grey Hair, 1992
“hair is an extension of our physical and spiritual selves”
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”.