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Women with long, braided hair are a recurring theme in artist Amy Cutler’s work. Symbolising links to the past and personal history, the profusion of braids in the exhibition Fossa was inspired by a visit Cutler made to the Higashi Honganji temple in Kyoto. There she saw the remnants of ropes made from the hair of female devotees, that had been used to hoist massive wooden beams in rebuilding the temple after a devastating fire in the late 19th century.

The exhibition contains an interactive installation, designed by Cutler to resemble a domestic interior. Featuring braided hair, antique wooden spools, patterned wallpaper and other physical manifestations of Cutler’s iconography, the gallery is transformed into one of the imaginary scenes depicted in her drawings and paintings.

Hair is a central feature of Fossa, and the installation includes more than 800 feet of braids constructed by Adriana Papaleo, the US Session Director for TIGI. We caught up with her to find out about the creation of this phenomenal piece.

Fossa, 2015/16 Interactive multimedia installation. Created by Amy Cutler in collaboration with musician Emily Wells and hairstylist Adriana Papaleo.
“Hair encompasses so much life, it is definitely a medium that people have a very strong response to”
Adriana Papaleo
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Fossa, 2016

Can you tell us about your practice? I’ve been in the hair industry for 12 years and am based in New York. Over the years my focus has become the exploration of the cultural and artistic implications of hair through editorial work and the art world. I’m concerned with the mythology and ideology behind what hair is; both on a social and personal level. I look to hair to tell a creative story, but also to give voice to feelings and ideas that are difficult to tell only in words.

Tell us about the concept for FossaFossa is a collaborative piece made with artist Amy Cutler. She tells a lot of stories with hair, for her it represents femininity, vanity, but also the passage of time. This installation is a 3D representation of the worlds that she creates in her drawings. It has been an incredible project for me, the opportunity to work with an artist who I believe taps into the core of something in all of us, has been an honour.

From its conception, Fossa had a central sound component. Two compositions created by Emily Wells build another layer of complexity to the piece. The installation becomes not only immersive, but also interactive in this way. For the first time, Amy’s work is experienced without figures. As a visitor, you become the figure; you are a part of the work. As you sit at the hive of hair with all the braids plunging into it, you create your own soundscape by manipulating volume and pan for each track of the compositions.

Hair encompasses so much life, it is definitely a medium that people have a very strong response to. It holds immense significance for people. It is seen as ornamental, a source of beauty, and also holds space for each passing day; a record of our histories. If you talk to anyone about their hair, it’s a very important part of them. There’s a lot of emotion that goes into it – even something as silly as a bad hair day. For such a fragile substance, hair encapsulates pretty large ideas.

You Were Always On My Mind, 2013
Molar Migration, 2012
“The braids are 800 feet long, just under twice the height of the Empire State building in hair”
Adriana Papaleo
Ruminate, 2014

Can you tell us about the physical process of creating the braids? Making the hair for Fossa was an eight-month process. The braids are 800 feet long,  just under twice the height of the Empire State building in hair. The big braids are synthetic, but all the smaller braids – such as the ones on the headphones – are made of human hair. We felt that the energy of the human hair was really important for things that people were going to be more tactile with. When I started, I knew that it couldn’t just be an everyday braid, I had to figure out how to elongate it. I started researching antique rope making, yarn spinning, and thread making techniques. I was working on it during nights and weekends and spent uncountable hours in the studio making the pieces. At one point we had 60 feet of a braid hanging out of a 10th floor studio in Brooklyn which was pretty hilarious!

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Cornelia, 2016
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Celeste, 2016

Video + Interview Antonio Celotto
All images
copyright Amy Cutler, courtesy Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, New York
Special Thanks
Adriana Papaleo Website adriana.xyz

Amy Cutler is represented by Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects Website tonkonow.com

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