Haarewaschen: Angleichung VII

In Haarewaschen, a black-and-white video from 1973, we see a woman with a chignon so perfect it looks like a hairpiece. She takes out the pins holding it and it is revealed that she has really long hair. The unwinding of the hair is not meant to be wildly provocative, but it is sensual. The rope of hair has echoes of the fairy tale Rapunzel. The woman leans over and washes her hair in a bathtub. In the seventeenth century, artists started making ordinary people the subject of their work. Often, it is a woman working, such as in Vermeer’s The Lacemaker. Over the passage of time, a subset of genre art emerged in which the artist peeked almost like a voyeur at a woman performing a mundane action concerned with grooming. Degas’s late paintings/pastels and plaster casts of women engaged in intimate acts of washing are examples of this. Early video was often task-oriented—in this video, the task is the eponymous Washing of the Hair (Haarewaschen). The process of shampooing and rinsing it twice renders the hair an anonymous mass of wet material, like cloth. At the final rinse, the woman displays the vastness of her hair, and as the camera examines it, it becomes a material from the natural world, like the roots of trees (Daphne’s toes in Bernini’s sculpture Daphne and Apollo). This waterfall of curving lines combines the serpentine strands of hair in Mucha’s Art Nouveau posters with their arabesques and the “hair-like” strands that were a feature of Eve Hesse’s work. The woman’s face is upside down at times, giving the image a surreal feeling. Susan Sontag noted that one of the things photography did to movement is transform it from a continuum to a series of discrete objects. Here, Kahlen takes the act of one woman washing her hair and creates an evolving architectural form.