ART + CULTURE: Artist Caryl Burtner’s collection marks human milestones through the physical remnant of hair
Images: Caryl Burtner
Words: Emma de Clercq
American artist Caryl Burtner collects, documents and archives objects as a way of exploring what it means to be human. Her 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. Burtner’s series Hair Locks is an extensive collection of locks of human hair, each one individually preserved in a ziplock bag.”My hair collection is the most personal of my collections,” Burtner says, “because hair is an extension of our physical and spiritual selves.”
“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’; “1992 – my first grey hair” reads one bag, while another is inscribed with the heartbreaking message; “2011 – cut off because of my chemo treatments”. These messages mark snippets of human milestones through the physical remnant 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 ourselves, 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”.