May 8th, 2022
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing in support of Jessie Bullivant’s 2014 work, Hair in Residence; an event that took place within the open studios at Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) that August.
I am a hairdresser, and an artist. Usually in that order. Jessie and I share social and professional worlds. I first met Jessie at ACCA in 2012 where we both worked – me as an install technician and Jessie as front-of-house staff – both delivering technical and emotional support to artists and visitors.
I cut hair from my studio in Brunswick alongside my arts practice and my work as an install technician. My clients are long-term, and also often friends. I started cutting Jessie’s hair around 2016. We bonded over workplace (and art) gossip.
In 2014, Jessie had undertaken a residency at PICA; a 6-week-long artist residency that offered large studio spaces to 3 artists at a time & a public event (open studio) at the culmination of the period. The open studio event is centered around the artists opening the doors of their studios to share their working processes with the visitors, and was supported through an “in conversation” with local artist-curator Gemma Weston.
As a conceptually driven artist, who had driven from Melbourne to undertake the residency, there was not much to see in Jessie’s open studio: A few notes printed on A4 paper, a yoga mat, two padded gallery benches drawn up to either edge of a wide table. However, for the open studios event, Jessie hired a mobile hairdresser to come and style their hair. A kind of theatrical riff on the “backstage”, private, voyeurism of the open studio format. On the evening of the open studios, Kelly from Artistic Visions for Hair arrived, parking in the reserved car space behind PICA, fastened a cape around Jessie’s neck, and got to work styling Jessie’s pre-washed hair while Jessie conversed with visitors.
Small talk is a craft common to both art events and hairdressing. It may involve remembering details of a person’s life (or faking it), delicately making them feel at ease in your presence. To have these two scenarios intersect must be incredibly rare. I’m curious if it has ever occurred once.
I wonder how Kelly felt during the event. I’m sure she was mildly relieved to go about her work as Jessie fulfilled the role of lead small talker with their studio visitors. A chain had been created and I imagine Kelly then as a type of conversational coach and support person, leaning down with a hand on the shoulder and words of encouragement in Jessie’s ear between visitors. Maybe the suggestion of a sip of water.
Hairdressers are tireless emotional labourers and mobile hairdressers in particular are accustomed to entering private spaces and performing (with aplomb) under a variety of social conditions and intensities. I wonder how Jessie did in Kelly’s eyes. Was she proud of them? What does she think of conceptual art chat? What did she do to Jessie’s hair?
With the utmost discretion,