hair folder (video)
‘Everyone’s got folders’ someone told me in an art school seminar when I was showing a folder with photos I’d saved from the internet. It was my turn to present a work in progress and all I had was a folder called ‘hair’.
I started it in October 2014 when I struggled to pay my tuition fees and researched ways to quickly make money from the body without causing it too much harm (like paid medical trials) and came across a website where people sold their hair.
Every ad had a short description and a photo. It was mostly women photographed facing away from the camera in their homes or outside. The pictures aimed to show their hair quality and features – its length, colour, volume, texture. They were not professional shots, just really compressed phone or digital camera photos.
Hair prices on the website had that deja vu moment – virgin (untreated) blonde and red hair was more expensive than dark hair, and straight always more expensive than curly. Mine wouldn’t be worth much.
I created a folder and started saving the images. I found them beautiful and moving in their sometimes awkward composition, uncertain poses, blurriness and domestic backdrops. They seemed intimate, the same way one’s hair is intimate, and being photographed in your bedroom or kitchen by someone you know is intimate.
After the hair would sell the ad would be removed so I was literally saving them from disappearing.
Eventually the photos I collected turned into a grid of long haired women looking away. Removed from their context they stopped being about the hair as a product, but seemed to be more about turning away, a refusal, a position. The image gained strength through repetition and volume.
For a while the ‘hair folder’ existed as a work that only occurred when and if I showed it to someone on my computer.
(maybe it’s a part of my practice – obsessing over something and slowly gathering examples until it becomes ‘something’ through sheer volume and the fact that it’s been saved and looked at/after)
I wanted to see this image collection in the space. I had a chance to do it last September in a group show in Lithuania.
I devised a choreography for 5 performers to stand or sit facing their back to the visitors in various locations of the gallery. They would be close to the walls, windows, corners and furniture, so it wouldn’t be possible to walk around them. The performance would not have a clear start, just more long haired women would appear in the space with their backs to the viewers and would not do anything just stand or sit. Eventually all the women would gravitate towards each other and form a group that was facing away from the audience and then casually disperse.
I wanted the performance to mimic the images I collected and be as still as these images. I imagined it would invite the viewer to consider their position and power in standing behind.
I thought that turning away from the gaze, turning away from the camera was about resistance and not wanting to communicate or please, but what seemed to me as something of a power move in a photograph, felt very different irl. I felt I really exposed the women who performed. They stood still while people looked at them, some touched their hair or took pictures next to them, but mostly ignored them. One performer later told me she was feeling a real terror. I filmed very short clips with my phone because I too felt uncomfortable filming them, and being behind their backs with everyone else. The “hair folder (video)” is an edit of these clips.
Ulijona Odišarija makes video, photography, objects and installations. She is a singer in the band Steve & Samantha. Next to her artistic practice, she writes and has published on online platforms such as AQNB as well as contributed to numerous DIY zines.
She completed Masters in Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Fine Art (UCL) in 2016.
Her work has been presented at TIFF Toronto International Film Festival, Close Up Cinema, East End Film Festival and ICA in London, Contemporary Art Centre and National Art Gallery in Vilnius, Import Projects in Berlin, PAKT and LIMA Foundation in Amsterdam, Showroom in New York. Ulijona lives and works in London, UK.