Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Nicole Mollett: Wear Ables

Nicole_MollettBY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Nicole Mollett: Wear Ables

Hair has undergone substantial academic and aesthetic scrutiny from the fiber arts in recent years. Its uncanny ability to evoke extreme notions of beauty and revulsion, and the ancient relationship of human and animal hair to thread, weigh the material with countless references. Nicole Mollett’s sculptures both recognize and disrupt many of these references in their ability to resonate with the worlds of both nature and manipulation. Mollett explains that hair is the “most obvious bodily product linking us civilized humans to our animal ancestry. By cutting and redefining the material, it is as if we modify and readjust our animal traits and desires.” Three substantial hair sculptures and a series of related drawings were exhibited at the Quaker Gallery in London during February and March.

In Corset Wig, a long, blond French braid, tied at the end with a child’s pink ribbon, is worn as a bodice attached to a female form. Bouffant Wig precariously balances an unnaturally high wig of coiled hair on a mannequin head, complete with chin harness to keep the leaning tower in place. In the central work of the exhibition, Fan Wig, a single giant wing of hair arches out behind the wearer. Viewed from beneath, the wooden skeleton support reminds one of an improved version of the wings worn by the unwise Icarus, who, ignoring his father’s warning, flew too close to the sun, allowing his wax-and-feather wings to melt.

Mollett describes her work as reflecting a desire to step away from the intellectual values that currently rule contemporary art and to return to an appreciation of the sensual. Ironically, it is a difficult step to make with these works as they evoke such a strong sense of déjà vu. Each sculpture sticks in one’s mind as a powerful suggestion of something familiar – precisely what, it is difficult to determine. The exhibition venue on St. Martin’s Lane is not far from the high courts of London, where powdered horsehair wigs, not yet the objects of museum archives, continue to be worn as formal attire by barristers and high-court judges. The fully crafted harnesses also seem so functional that one wonders whose wardrobe they belong to. For such magical and whimsical work, there emanates an extraordinary sense that these objects are more than imagined, they are grounded in something remarkably real.

FiberArts (Sep./Oct. 2003: 61-62)