The last time I saw designer Hayden Dunham, I’d walked in on her in an empty apartment, where she’d turned the music up and was dancing alone. She comes off as a quiet, deliberate, beautiful kook, so to catch her in a private act of self-abandon was like discovering that gazelles secretly vogue in their spare time.
Hayden makes necklaces of melted plastic, leather, human hair, metal, and sometimes rope or wool. The collection is called New Dust. In her own words, they are both grotesque and playful. She uses other words to talk about them too. Let's hear them.
VICE: Where do you get your materials?
Hayden Dunham: The leather comes from my brother’s scrap pile. He is a leather vest maker in Texas. I come from a long line of hunters, and all of my family still remains in Texas.
Wow. What about the hair?
The hair comes from this woman I have been working with for the last couple of years who gets it from a sacred place in India.
I have a feeling there’s something deep happening inside the design.
For me, these necklaces, many of which are worn as bolo ties, were an investigation of girlhood in the south and what was natural to me then. Working on these throughout the last couple of months, I could ask questions about what the future of nature looks like--and also what this idea of nature looked like in the past.
I didn’t realize there could be so many feelings wrapped up in a necklace.
It is something of nostalgia for an imagined past that has never existed. A lot of my work deals with issues around the fetishization of nature, and what we do to preserve these ideas of animals and humans as separate entities.
The hair’s a little… well, in some ways it’s pretty and in others it’s creepy.
Most of the things I have been thinking about lately have been around the use of hair. I realize that this exploration has encouraged me to rethink the context of hair and where hair comes from and where people come from emotionally when they touch it.
As you do create objects to explore a connection with nature, what have you learned?
When I started this project I thought of hair as something that empowers individuals through its ability to provide them with physical and emotional protection, security, and/or visibility. How do we use our own hair and the hair of others to protect ourselves, and from what? Clearly there is an element of masking that wigs allow, building alter-identities through redistributing hair patterns.
Like guys with their sculpted beards or ladies with all their magical fishtail braids or whatever.
People use hair to manifest into a physical presence that is more personally/intimately true than what is present in their immediate reality. I have gotten farther away from the performative nature of hair and more into where those feelings and needs come from.
Where do you think that place is?
I think many people have a very visceral response to touching hair, both negative and positive, especially when it is not theirs. People are comfortable with hair on heads, but when the two are separated hair becomes grotesque and uncomfortable.
That is definitely true.
And yet for many it feels natural and comfortable to take the skins off of animals or remove the feathers from birds and stuff them into pillows and sleep on them. Other species seem to have a similar approach to humans. Birds use human hair to make nests and humans use feathers to make beds. Neither use is consensual but both seem to be mutual.