Collaboration is the theme for all the exhibitions at The Lab at VAE this year. But collaboration in art doesn’t always mean the hands-on work that artists might do together. Sometimes the collaboration is found in the materials an individual artist might work with.
When Jan-Ru Wan left her family in Taiwan to study in the United States, she cut off her ponytail. A teenager at the time, she had no idea she would one day become an artist, and, in the moment, the gesture was not especially fraught with meaning. If it meant anything at all, it marked the moment before moving on, but the idea that she was leaving a part of herself behind did not really occur to her. She simply left it in her room and everyone forgot about it.
Years later, after the death of her father, Wan found the ponytail and kept it, not exactly sure what she would do with it, but feeling that it was somehow important.
Most recently, the ponytail rested in a doll’s cradle in the corner of the VAE Raleigh space on Martin St. It is part of Separation & In Between, an exhibit that ran October 7–27 of this year.
Jan-Ru Wan finds inspiration in the materials she works with. Whereas other artists might start with memory or emotion, color or shape, Wan’s art usually emerges from an encounter with a material she has not worked with before.
Her work for Separation & In Between is made of silk, ink, thread, and human hair. In a small, personal way the work is a response to the death of her father, but it also deals with bigger issues like identity or temporal impermanence. Our bodies are born in nature, but constructed in culture. The DNA in every hair is as unique as a fingerprint, and yet we routinely separate ourselves from it. But hair also doesn’t decay like the rest of our bodies. It’s more permanent. A pony tail removed in youth to mark a new beginning can be used decades later as a talisman of memory.
In addition to her ponytail, she collected hair from salons and barbershops in The Netherlands, Taiwan, and here in North Carolina. Part of the installation includes a way for VAE patrons to donate their own hair. In this way, she has an ongoing physical collaboration with her audience, where small pieces from many different individuals are mixed and combined to create something more communal. As an environment, her installation also lent itself well to an opening night collaboration with a dancer and musician.
Red Hat is proud to sponsor THE LAB at VAE in Raleigh, a creativity incubator, gallery, and artist hub. The theme for THE LAB’s year-long exhibition, which highlights a new artist or group of artists each month, is collaboration. This theme is a perfect fit for us as an open source and community-powered company.