Helen Pynor: hand-knitted hair
Helen Pynor originally trained as a biologist and these skills and interests inform her practice as a professional artist. Her work explores questions of memory, legacy and the biological body. Now based in London, she recently completed a doctoral thesis at Sydney College of the Arts, highlighting ‘the intricacies of the dialogues between cultural and biological narratives’.
Pynor knits exquisite sculptures of human organs using human hair. These works toy with our sense of beauty and revulsion, leading the viewer into disturbing and emotional territory. As Jan Guy comments, ‘Pynor denies the viewer a comfortable existence’. We are forced to face the reality of our own essential physical existence. The fact that we resist the opportunity to make the unexplored familiar, illustrates the duality of our existence — external appearance versus internal reality, life versus death.
Pynor carefully studies textbook images, and sometimes real specimens, of the organ she plans to knit. She purchases the hair dyed in different shades. Individual hairs are straightened on a roll of paper before being knitted together. This is a delicate process requiring endless patience and excellent close vision. It is almost impossible to see the fine strands of hair, especially the blonde ones, so Pynor works against a contrasting background to help distinguish them. Each strand of hair is picked up with tweezers and tied to the next by placing a tiny piece of masking tape over the ends. The tape is folded several times and then knotted tightly. The tape and ends are then cut off.
Pynor knits pieces in rectangles with large needles to create a very open knit, then joined into tubular shapes by ‘stitching’ a single hair through each side, often without a needle. Paper patterns are cut to size and on these are noted the number of stitches needed to knit each part, carefully calculated beforehand. Pynor meticulously measures each organ and tube as she knits, comparing it to her diagrams. Knitting needles and fingers are used to gently coax the hair into three-dimensional forms. Though very fine, the hair is relatively strong and maintains its intriguing three dimensional shapes.