Perambulating the Bounds

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Erin Hewgley’s Hair

Sometimes it seems like I’m always writing a “you’ve got a few days to see this” piece, but I guess that’s just a reflection of time’s linear features. This time it’s Erin Hewgley, who has a solo show at the Secret Show space at 310 Chestnut Street. The show should be up through Saturday, and I think the gallery is open in the afternoons.

I’ve written before about how wrenching her art is compared to a lot of what you see in Nashville, with a latex piece in the Fragile Species show that refers to a rape she suffered. It shows a woman’s torso, cut off at the belly, arms, and neck, like a piece of meat or the results of some horrible surgical experiment. This show has a couple of pieces in that vein, “Maybe” and “Show Pony Saddle.” The latter cobbles together sections of latex into a saddle, the form of a woman’s chest serving as the seat, strands of hair hanging down as tassels, and models of teeth hung as stirrups. “Maybe” is more abstract, possibly a woman’s butt and lower back, hung on the wall like a trophy. Like “Use It” in the Frist’s Fragile Species show (and at earlier shows), this piece may be more horrifying because it exists also as an integral, abstract, even sleek form. “Show Pony Saddle” more literal and more disjointed visually.

The show also includes several pieces using hair: three locks of red, blonde, and brown hair sticking from the wall like something to pull on (“Step Right Up”), a delicate and messy handing piece that strings nodes made from hair along cords of latex, with something dripping down onto the floor (“A History”).

“Conciliation” is, I’m pretty sure, more recently done, and it constitutes the major piece in the show. A large, maybe queen-sized wooden bed frame is covered with a single, thin sheet of blond hair matted or rolled together. The hair drapes the entire bed, like sheets put over furniture when a house is “closed up.” It is ghostly, semi-transparent and shot through with swirling patterns from the bunches of hair. It constitutes the ultimate in domesticity, using a woman’s own hair to provide comforting linens, and its opposite, an accretion of shed hair that has gotten completely out of control. Hewgley has blond hair herself, and I assume some of the hair is her own, so like the other more wrenching pieces there is this clear way she puts her body into the work.

On Tuesday evening, there was a concert by vocalist Carol Genetti, saxophonist Jack Wright, and percussionist Jon Mueller. They positioned themselves around the room, and their music was a very suitable aural complement to the bed. The trio worked with small sounds, modulated within a small range, making the most of ghostly overtones. Like Hewgley in this work, they built a subtle texture out of a thin, ephemeral material.

I think this might be Hewgley’s first solo show in Nashville, and it comes as she leaves town to take a graduate fellowship at Ohio State. This is undoubtedly a good move for her, but my sense is that in her time in Nashville she has been influential. She provides a prime model of art that can give a full-on gut punch, and her use of materials – latex, hair, goopy stuff – has inspired other artists in town, or at least provides encouragement by working in parallel ways.

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