Tangled? Hair Castle Raises Wonder and Disgust

Artist Agustina Woodgate doesn't know why she began collecting clumps of wet hair from her shower drain six years ago. She just knows that it felt right.

Her interest snowballed -- or should we say hairballed -- to the point that Woodgate, 30, began giving curbside haircuts to passersby on the streets of Miami, New York, Puerto Rico and Buenos Aires -- wherever she happened to be. When customers learned of her purpose, they usually warmed to it: "People would say, 'Cut more hair,' and I'd like trim the entire head."

She amassed the follicles of her labor for five years -- along with hair-filled envelopes stuck under her door by friends -- until she had four massive trash bags of hair in her possession.

Then, "It became what do I do with it?"The idea came to the Rapunzel-influenced artist when she was doing her residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico: She would build a tower.

Learning to "felt" -- a process of distressing hair fiber by immersing it in hot and cold water -- she wrapped strands around foam cores to create 3,000 bricks of alternating shapes and sizes. She then stacked the bricks around thin wood framing to form a structure four and a half feet tall.

"I have a window," she says, "just in case I ever want to fit inside -- I can still breathe."
To many observers, the structure resembles a castle. And while they are initially drawn to it, when they learn of its composition, their attraction often turns to repulsion -- an effect Woodgate intended.

"On one hand I'm very aware of how repulsive it is," she says. "It was very repulsive for me to actually make it."

"It becomes very itchy," she adds.

But the profound "social observations" that a hair tower allows, she says, compelled her to bear the itchiness seven days a week and 12 hours a day, for one month, until she completed the tower. The sculpture was on display in a Miami exhibit which ended in July.

One function of the structure is to represent and help explore traditional gender archetypes. Traditionally, many boys want to be knights in shining armor, she points out. And girls? "Who doesn't want to be a princess?"

But, in fact, the archetypes aren't for everyone, she says, and in some ways, are damaging.

The archetypes are like a house of cards, a hairy tower of hairy cards.

Meanwhile, Woodgate is collecting nails.

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