Salon Girl

Participatory live art performance at Performance Crossings Festival 2019, Prague, Czechia

What is it about a hair salon that renders a customer to confide his or her personal issues or dissatisfaction in everyday life to a salon girl? Is it the anonymity, the intimacy of touch, or the feeling of catharsis? In how many instances does the salon girl play the role of the listening ear, the therapist, or the confidante? Imitating the techniques of a head massage that administered over a shampoo, Salon Girl calls on the audience to participate in an engagement of communication, trust, and language.

Performance

By advance booking and walk-in, Salon Girl spent 10 minutes with the individual viewer turned customer and co-producer of the performance. There were a total of 11 customers over three hours at the Holešovická Šachta Gallery.

Excerpts of conversations with different customers (text in blue denotes Salon Girl):

What do you do?
I’m a PhD student in Physics.
Oh nice, where is that?
Somewhere outside of Paris.
How do you like it?
Up till three weeks ago, I really believed in it.
And now?
I’m not so sure.
Do you regret doing it?
I can’t say. I’d know in a few weeks.

You’ve got very Greek hair.
Well, I am from Romania. Kinda near!

Are you real?
Real what?
A real hairstylist?

She says she’s sorry that her hair is oily.
Oh, no don’t worry at all about it. Is she your mother?
Yes, she is.
Oh that’s great you’re doing something together. How about you? What do you do?
I am a musician.
Ah, that’s nice. You know what it’s like telling people what you do?
Oh yes. What do you do? (customer imitates someone else) I perform. Really? Yes. You play an instrument? No. You sing? No. Oh, yes I know, you are an actor! No, not really. I am a performance artist (exaggerated tone of lethargy and desperation).
Ah. That’s it. That’s my mother. She doesn’t get it. 
But you have to try to tell her. At least try to explain.
So, what sort of a musician are you again?
I am an opera singer actually.
Wow. That’s amazing. I can’t sing.
Oh no, don’t say you can’t. You can. You just have to try. Try to sing, even if it’s just for yourself. How do I say it? Singing is good, good for… (customer points to her heart)
The heart. The soul.
You know. I feel really bad. Could I at least tip you? 
Oh, please don’t.
Buy you a coffee? A beer at least?

I’ve been going to Indonesia every year for five years now.
Oh, have you? Wow.
Do you speak Malay?
Sikit sikit ajer!
Sikit sikit ajer. 

Did the artist Joey Chin send you?
But I am Joey Chin. I am Salon Girl.

Workings

Research for Salon Girl started in early 2019 with learning Psycho-Bio-Acupressure and the emotional body, attending a basic hairdressing course in Singapore, through qualitative interviews with fellow students, and under the tutelage of the teacher, Mr Benjamin Ng.

What was believed to be a creative and artistic profession, hairdressing quickly turned out to be deeply mathematical: straight lines in sectioning; the degrees of elevation- 0° for a bob, 90° to reduce weight; the comb becomes your ruler; testing evenness against the last layer.

A student was moving to Norway: “I heard haircuts there are exorbitant, so I need to learn how to cut my son’s hair. I have 5 lessons to learn this. How about you?” “I am an artist. This is for my research.” “Do you paint or draw?” “Neither actually.” “I don’t understand, but good luck!”

Another was a migrant wife from Indonesia who had been attending the class every Sunday the last three years. “Here, I learned English”, she said.

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Photo credits: Romanos Koutedakis and Svetlana Lopato

Special thanks to organisers Petr and Klaudie at Cross Attic.