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Performing at festivals and art events all over the world, Spanish theatre group Osadia use their dextrous hair skills to create towering works of hair art on willing audience members.

Osadia was founded by artist Alex Rendon in the early 90s. Originally a hairdresser living in Sydney, Rendon relocated to Barcelona after falling in love with the city’s “rebellious” nature. “I was completely taken aback by the architecture and the art and I really got a great sense of creativity and anarchism from the city,” he recalls. “I stayed here and started making a life for myself as a hairdresser.”

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With only a basic grasp of the Spanish language, Rendon carved out a space for himself by offering English conversational classes combined with haircuts. “I put notices up all over the English-speaking schools and the universities asking for students to come and get their hair cut with a native speaking teacher and ended up getting all of the teachers coming to me instead!” he says.

The idea for Osadia was born when Rendon was offered a spot at a festival seeking performance artists. Seeing an opportunity to combine his two loves of hairstyling and art, he built an installation in the shape of a salon and offered brave passers-by the chance to have their hair transformed into dramatic and whimsical styles. It was here that he met actress Petra Rochau, who later joined Osadia. Twenty years on, the pair continue to delight the public with their hair performances all over the world, where they appear in fantastical outfits to create their elaborate hair art using everything from feathers, paint and wire, to plastic props and other unorthodox materials. “It’s about fantasy, creation, and art,” Rendon says, “and about showing people how, in a very short space of time, you can be transformed into a completely fantastic character.”

We met Rendon at his Barcelona based studio, for a behind-the-scenes looks at the creation of Osadia’s extraordinary pieces.

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“Osadia is about transforming unwanted things into something beautiful”
Alex Rendon, Osadia founder
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How would you define Osadia? Osadia is a Spanish word, meaning ‘imprudent’ or ‘daring’. In terms of concept, Osadia is about transforming unwanted things into something beautiful.

Where did the idea for Osadia first come from? From a young age, one of the things that I really learnt about hairdressing was that I wasn’t really interested in working in a salon. Although it’s a good job – you get to create a good clientele and meet lots of people, I feel like it’s very restrictive… I wanted something more free. I’d always wanted to work in hair and make-up for some sort of image-based production. That’s when theatre was thrown in my direction. A good friend of mine was working at a theatre festival where young artists could do installations or present a theatre piece, which could last no more than 10 minutes. Knowing me and knowing that I was very creative, she suggested, ‘why don’t you do something with your hairdressing?’ So, I set up an improvised hairdressing salon at the festival where I created all the hair and make-up that I had done in the past for photography shoots and fashion parades, as well as working with people from the public – I would do their hair.

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So you created a pop-up salon at the festival? More of an art installation. I bought an old barber chair, a nice old mirror and I decorated the salon with collage art I’d been making – enormous replicas of Baroque paintings that I’d created by cutting up magazines. During the festival, I did people’s hair, giving them a good cut and then also a bit of a flamboyant style, finished off with a bit of flare.

This is something that Catalans aren’t really used to, they usually keep their hair very simple. As a people, they are very reserved in their image. They aren’t really into anything too extravagant, it’s just part of their character.

So I thought I would be really daring and send out the message – either style it, or cut it off altogether. If you can’t be bothered with styling or grooming your hair then you might as well crop it! So that was the proposal – everyone who sat in the chair either had their hair back-combed into mohican spikes or beehives, or they had their hair buzzed off with clippers. You’d think people wouldn’t be prepared to do that, but on the contrary! Everybody wanted to have their hair buzzed off. They thought it was the most fantastic experience to publicly have their hair cropped in a hairdressing chair in an art installation. That’s really where Osadia began, that was the very first performance.

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What is your typical working day like? My typical day really depends on which part of the year that I am in. In the first part, festival organisers are back in their offices booking events, so I go through my list of clients and send them information about the company for the upcoming festival season. By February this year I already had ten festivals interested in my work which I’m very proud of, because it’s been a really tough time for any cultural event or company to survive the cuts Europe has put on culture in the last few years. But we seem to have found a way to keep working… because art and culture can’t stop!

From April onwards I’m in this workshop, deciding on what themes I’m going to work with that year, and making headpieces. I’ll shop around for materials or look at what I’ve already got in stock to re-inspire myself with.

I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s still going strong, because one thing I’m very determined to do is to grow my work and change within it. I can’t be satisfied with what I did last year, because if I was in the audience watching something that was exactly the same as the year before with no change, no innovation, then I would be bored!

John Goodridge
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Credits

Images Victor Arriazu, John Goodridge, Alex Rendon
Video & Interview Antonio Celotto
Studio Photography Panos Damaskinidis
Special Thanks Osadia Website osadiaonline.com

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