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Opening the Wig: Re-shaping the Edges of the Wig and the Photograph

Eyre, Sarah (2020) Opening the Wig: Re-shaping the Edges of the Wig and the Photograph. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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‘Opening the Wig’ is a practice-led research project that includes a written thesis and an exhibition of work that position the wig and the photograph as multi-layered, unstable and relational things. The thesis and practice establish an interlinked theoretical and visual methodology to argue that the materiality of the wig can undermine its function and disrupt the body’s boundaries. A New Materialist framework, drawing on Jane Bennett’s ‘thing power’ and Bill Brown’s ‘Thing Theory’ has been used to demonstrate the relational complexity and porosity of wigs and photographs as objects. The material and conceptual instability demonstrated by the wig is also conveyed in the way I have reshaped and destabilised the photographic surface. The research traces the development of my practice through the identification of three core threads. Thread one draws on historical research and Freud’s Uncanny to establish the complexity and instability of the wig in its disembodied state. Thread two relates to the notion that objects, specifically wigs and photographs, when conceptually and visually “thingyfied”, can be seen to demonstrate a vitality beyond their human-object relational conditions. Thread three focuses on the surface as a site for conceptual and material re-shaping. The photographic surface is the site where materiality and image become entangled, and various methods were deployed to manipulate the surface and materiality of the photograph in order to make it palpable, porous and vital. I have found the metaphor of the wig slip a useful visual and conceptual tool in investigating what the wig, itself a kind of surface, reveals and covers up. The addition of edges, holes, gaps, and spaces to the material photograph and the image depicted has created the perception of unstable surfaces that are prone to slippage. I conclude this research by positioning both wigs and photographs as intertwined porous and relational surfaces. The way that I have cut, layered, folded and re-photographed has resulted in images that obscure the edges 3 between image and surface and re-shape the photograph as something made, not taken. This has implications for the way that we respond to photographs and the images they depict.

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