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Quỳnh Lâm's Hair

Quỳnh Lam, 'Price of Humanity', 2022, performance and installation of perspex, human hair, paper, and scissors, at 'Rituals and Rebirths', curated by Peruke Projects. Image courtesy of A.I. Gallery and the artist.

Condition Check, Packaging, and Storage Specifications

Location: London, UK

Vietnamese artist Quỳnh Lam's 'Price of Humanity' performed for 'Rituals & Rebirths' at Cromwell Place in London, curated by Peruke Projects, was a deeply moving live performance that confronted xenophobia, racism, and prejudice towards the Asian community, catalysed by the pandemic.

"Through the use of language, her performance reminded audiences of their complicity with the socio-political issues that have arisen during the pandemic. However, amidst the spoken words that flooded the gallery with “memoirs” of Asian hate, Lâm chose to remain silent the entire performance.” Jordan Chan, Art & Market

This was an incredibly exciting project. Needless to say for the significance of the performance and the notability of the artist, but also for the unusual materials that needed the protection of conservation; human hair. Now, I have worked with Natural History artefacts, where the material specification is the same; Keratin. However, the context of 'human' sourced hair made this a stand-out project.

So, what goes into the considerations for handling, packaging, and storing this work? Firstly, the materials; Human hair, hair bands, scissors with a plastic handle, paper with green ink, and perspex. All these pieces needed to be considered individually, as there could be adverse effects from one of the collection's components to another. For example, the adhesive in the perspex box could off-gas and deteriorate the paper, hair, and hairbands. With this in mind, not every material could be separated. For example, the hair and the hairbands.


And so, the problem solving begins. 

The 'Brisks'

(The Brief Risks)


The hair is made from Keratin, the same protein found in nails, feathers, and animal hair. RH concerns: remember, although we don't want the atmosphere to be too damp, we also don't want it to be too dry. There are hairbands secured around the hair. Note that a warm environment will encourage pests, which not only love keratin but also love the textiles around the hairbands. UV will make the hair brittle and could cause integral damage.


Firstly, we needed to consider the timeline. Would this artwork be packaged for the long-term or short-term? Would it need to be transported in this packaging, and if so, what sort of transportation is expected? Packaging isn't the most exciting thing to spend money on, but it really is worth it. Good packaging goes further than acid-free tissue paper, whatever the timeline. On the whole, it's better to plan for the long-term, invest in high quality materials, and avoid replacing packaging material unnecessarily. Beyond this, we needed to consider if we could package the items together, or if they needed to be separated. Oh.. and we haven't even considered what sort of box we would need; different lids can keep out air pollutants, and the correct size will give us space to create proper padding to protect the work, yet won't be necessarily large. It's all about balance.


The rigid perspex box was at risk of mechanical damage. The hair, on the other hand, while it was not at risk of the same damage, the correct handling would have a considerable impact. These items, particularly the hair, are not just artefacts of the artist's performance, but they are also artefacts of her own history and identity. With this, we need to be highly considerate about how we handle the hair- We are not just conserving the hair as an object, but also as documentation of her unique performance. As such, the correct handling should include all measures to avoid displacing any hairs within the larger composition of the plait as a whole. We not only had so consider what gloves to use, but also exactly how it should be picked up and moved. 

To Conclude...

I'm breaking this project down to the most simple of components. It was, in fact, incredibly complex. There were a huge number of materials and items to consider, which all needed different environmental conditions, packaging, and handling requirements. But this problem-solving is the joy of preventive conservation.

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