My alt-method focused on spinning and needle-felting human and non-human hair, walking, collecting organic material, and collaborating with a 3D printer. The handling of different materials gave me the inspiration to experiment and try new things.
Since I am primarily an oil painter, I learned that my hands enjoy working in 3D and I’m interested in documentation and performance. Handling natural materials such as magnolia petals, leaf skeletons, oak branches, feather, acorns, and human and non-human hair led me to think about the history of each object. At times, I felt I was receiving impressions by holding them in my hands. During my note-taking, I started to pay attention to how the hair came out of the bags. Some hair strands came out in these remarkable geometric shapes. I also discovered that when human and non-human hair is spun together, it becomes stronger — a metaphor about collaboration and decentering the human in the equation.
The entire work is titled Holobionts. Holobionts are assemblages of different species that form ecological units. Lynn Margulis proposed that any physical association between individuals of different species for significant portions of their life history is a symbiosis. Donna Haraway continued this thought with the term sympoiesis to describe how our lives and the lives of other species intersect.
During my exploration, I learned to slow down, and re-work the many crossroads that appeared right before an artwork felt “complete” and to embrace the question mark. My experiments revealed interest in the following research areas: abject/uncanny, performance, speculative realism, Chuthulucene, collaboration, digital prototyping, DNA, biology, holobionts, animism, psychometry, political ecology, and affect theory.
The materials I used for my project included hair gifted to me by six of my friends (Manna, Carolyn, Melissa, Evangeline, Heather, and Hazel). Melissa also gifted me hair from her cat Piper. Additionally, I received a small amount of Eastern Grey Squirrel hair from another friend. While out walking, I found magnolia petals, two leaf skeletons, a seagull feather, and several oak tree branches and acorns.
One of the first tools I purchased to work with the human and non-human hair was a drop spindle. I wanted to know if I could make a fine thread from spinning human hair. I discovered that each person’s hair would turn differently. In some instances, the hair would wind and unwind back and forth many times. In other cases, the person’s hair would spin tightly or snap off right away.
During this alt-method process, I found myself explaining to people how I collected my hair or how the other participants collected their hair. These inquiries inspired me to make a video. Several years ago, I became curious as to what it would be like to be a squirrel, and have fur on my face. Subsequently, I started saving my hair that would come out on the days I wash my hair in the shower. This type of hair loss is standard, and you can lose between 50-100 hairs a day. After each wash, I would roll the strands that came loose between my fingers into individual hairballs. I planned to use my human hair as a material to build a 3D project.
3D Printer Collaboration
I had initially intended on creating 3D printed squirrel teeth. But a conceptual idea sprang forward instead. I was interested in the concept of weaving human and non-human hair together, but I also wanted to collaborate with technology. After being introduced to the 3D printing lab, I was most interested in what is called breakaway material. This material is used to support an architectural overhang in a 3D printed piece. It is much more fibrous than regular acrylic plastic as it is intended to be “broken away.” For this project, I selected a 30% wood grade acrylic in keeping with the other wood materials in my pieces, such as acorns and oak branches. My photograph of a leaf skeleton at VanDusen Botanical Garden served as the basis of the print job. I imported the photo of the leaf skeleton into the 3D software Rhinocerous (with Logan’s help, Lab Tech), and dissected a portion of the leaf to 3D print. While the Ditto Pro 3D printer arm worked to build the unit, I laid down spun human and squirrel hair. The print head braided over the top while I held the hair down in place. With this method, I was able to collaborate with the 3D printer and weave these materials together.
Through my process, I was playing with the magnolia petals and tying them with hair. I thought they looked like fingers and started to paint with them one “petal finger” at a time. It wasn’t until I tied five magnolia petals to my fingers with hair that things got interesting.
Gallery of work in progress