Lichen wig: These two words made me curious about the show Rootless by Natasha Lavdovsky at the Xchanges gallery.
I arrived to find everyone on the balcony just outside the door enjoying the Vickers-esque sunset. They seemed to know one another, adding to the celebratory vibe for this opening. Ambient music with the echoes of birds in a wind rustling forest played for white plaster heads and torsos adorned only with lichen wigs and merkins while I browsed the gallery alone.
Immediately I was drawn in by the cultural significance of hair and thought of the many merkin jokes my sister and I shared. Merkins were first used in the 15th century after pubic hair was removed to combat lice; later on in films to make them less sexual and later for theatrical purposes. I mulled over the option to interact and spray the merkins with water but instead moved onto inspecting other pieces.
On a projector screen, mesmerizing images of rapidly moving lichen alternated with the image of a young woman wearing a long lichen wig covering part of her breasts. The nudity evoked Eden and sin and our relationship to sexuality. The video showed us just how one would look in a lichen wig. Would our understanding change if we could see the wig in different settings such as a bus, café or street?
The artist statement discussed the desire and obstacles to create art with minimal environmental impact. I learned that many lichens are endangered and the artist harvested these specimens that had fallen to the ground that might otherwise perish if not rescued. Scientific descriptions and samples of various lichen reminds us the materials are living things thereby blurring the line between objects and nature. The tension between the artist’s intent to cultivate an identity as one appreciative of nature, yet faced with a disconnection or rootlessness to the land as a white settler is apparent. This desire to create a new identity with a wig, an object most often used to play with other identities is clever. Lichen is simultaneously exalted but also used as a camouflage. The artist sought to protect nature while also using it as a protective veil.
Although it was a soothing space it felt limited. While the sameness of the pieces provided continuity it also created monotony. Everything was either white or green and did not promise further epiphanies. The wigs and merkins were quite conservative, the wildness of nature neatly trimmed to mirror contemporary fashion.
As the party outside moved in, I commented in the book that the show resonates on many levels: ecology, the body, sexuality and history. As I walked into the humid evening I realized that yes the artist was successful in eliciting a desire for a lichen wig; I would just prefer a wilder, bouffant, eccentric style that resists the constraints of civilized society. Why stop at lichens: throw an entire forest in there. The difficult part is keeping such wigs intact, perhaps why this show only lasted for three days from September 28-30.