By a Hair
Installation by Karen Jordon
curator Petra Halkes
Karen Jordon

By A Hair, single work, Hair & Twine, 2003, Karen Jordon

Gallery director: Antonia Lancaster, Curator: Petra Halkes

By a Hair: An Installation by Karen Jordon
offthemapgallery, 80 Spadina, 5th floor, Toronto
June 7 to June 27 2003

Ottawa artist Karen Jordon’s solo exhibition By a Hair will be on view at the Toronto offthemapgallery for the month of June. it features hundreds of small objects that have been made with the artist’s own hair. Jordon has been creating this series of sculptures for more than eight years as a means of documenting her life cycle in a personal and material way.

The exhibition will begin on Saturday June 7 2003. A performance by the artist will take place during the opening from 2 pm - 5 pm.
offthemapgallery is open from Wednesday to Saturday 11 am - 5 pm.

Karen Jordon is a process-based artist. She collects and manipulates discarded belongings scouring second-hand venues in search of items on her most wanted list, such as shoes, purses and dress-patterns. Karen joined Ottawa,s Enriched Bread Artists (EBA) artists’ collective in 1992 and continues to work and maintain a studio there.

The exhibition is curated with an essay by Petra Halkes

For more information, please contact:

Karen Jordon, Enriched Bread Artists
951 Gladstone Avenue, Ottawa Ontario K1Y 3E5
(613) 729-7632 line #1 (answering machine)

Petra Halkes, curator
(613) 729 5660


By a Hair: An Installation by Karen Jordon
offthemapgallery, 80 Spadina, 5th floor, Toronto.
June 7 to June 27 2003

All her life, Karen Jordon has been fighting her hair. After every washing her obstinate masses of curls take on the appearance of an unpruned bush. When she was a child, scissors seemed the only match for the mop, but in her adult life Jordon manages her long tresses with hairpins and elastics. Her hairbrush has a tendency to sweep the curls into a frenzy, so she carefully avoids it. Instead, after each shower, she rakes the hair gently with her hands. This leaves her each time with a handful of shed curls--dead hair to be discarded, or...

Ever the keeper of things once held close to the body but no longer wanted-- worn-out shoes, handbags, dresses and such-- Jordon began to collect the bouncy hair about eight years ago. In what originally may have been an act of revenge, a taming of the curls, she wrapped individual locks with white cotton string, tightly. The wild curls were transformed into a myriad of capricious abstract shapes, and her everyday problem was sublimated into art.

The hundreds of sculptural objects seen at the offthemapgallery are not arranged chronologically. Rather, the artist creates interesting juxtapositions of older and recent pieces. A new relationship is set up between the hair and Jordon, one that relies on concessions rather than on control. It is true that the hair has lost some power; tufts peek out from limb-like wrappings or dangle from their ends. But Karen’s sensitive tracing of the hair’s determined curliness shows a wonder and respect for its organic forms. The artwork manifests a process of give-and-take rather than control.

Once initiated, there seemed no reason to stop this ritual of art making as long as the hair kept falling out. And so the hair sculptures became signs of life, documenting Jordon’s life cycle. Every new wrapping that is created provides evidence that her death is once again kept at bay, if only by a hair.

The way we’d like to see ourselves rarely fits our biologically given appearance. Too often, we absorb society’s ideals of beauty and performance, even if they are completely arbitrary and impossible. To be fat in a culture that values a slender figure, to be dark skinned in a predominantly light-skinned society, or to have curly hair when the ideal is long flowing tresses, will influence the way in which a person is seen and sees herself.

Jordon’s curls look nothing like the softly undulating long tresses that garner the highest appreciation in our society. Just think of the models in shampoo commercials who fling their hair like sheets in the wind. In one commercial for a "nature" shampoo, a woman who washes her hair in a gas station’s washroom reaches orgastic ecstasy. She then steps out smiling at the befuddled attendant, tossing her long hair from side to side. Could one imagine this woman stepping out of the washroom with an up-and-away bush of curls?

If long flowing hair is "natural" for a woman, the equation of woman with nature is but an extension of this idea. The ideal feminine hair resembles ripples of a creek, waves of grasses and undulating sand dunes, all passive images of a natural landscape shaped by the wind. Symbolist painters of the 19th century did much to further the "woman-is-nature" stereotype. John Millais painted Ophelia (1851-52) floating down the river, her hair fanning out around her face, rippling in the water. She is an alluring beauty, who, in all her madness and passivity seems there for the taking, just like nature is thought to be.

A different kind of beauty arises from Jordon’s rows and rows of hair sculptures, painstakingly put together bit by bit, in the treasured free moments of a busy woman’s life. There is no free flow here, there are no wind-whipped waves. Instead, there are the hands and the string, tying, connecting, inhibiting the hair. It is in the persistence of these inhibitions, echoing the realities of a woman’s life, that a new beauty begins to appear: handmade, self-fashioned, tough.

-Petra Halkes

By A Hair, installation view, Hair & Twine, 2003, Karen Jordon

By A Hair, installation view, Hair & Twine, 2003, Karen Jordon

By A Hair, installation view, Hair & Twine, 2003, Karen Jordon

By A Hair, installation view, Hair & Twine, 2003, Karen Jordon

By A Hair, installation view, Hair & Twine, 2003, Karen Jordon

By A Hair, installation detail, Hair & Twine, 2003, Karen Jordon