Spencer Merolla crafts hair and funeral clothing into works of art that tackle the grieving process.
After the death of her mother, Spencer Merolla couldn’t bring herself to wear the dress she wore to the funeral again. When she realized that others in grief had similar emotional experiences with their black clothing, she collected them and turned them into a series of striking monochromatic artworks called After a Fashion.
“I asked family and friends whether they too had clothing too tainted by association to wear. Slowly I began collecting clothes–sometimes decades old–that had languished unworn in the backs of closets, too distressing to wear and too sentimental to just throw away,” Merolla writes.
Not all of Merolla’s work is colorless, but most of it does deal with grief. “My work is concerned with bereavement: the tension between public and private grief, social customs and material culture of mourning, and objects as repositories of memory which both retain and transmit meaning,” she says.
Inspired by the Victorian practice of sentimental hairwork, she makes beautiful, intricate objects that, at first glance, look like rich wood panelling, but are actually made of human hair. For a material so intensely personal, the anonymity of the hair in her work makes for a strange, lonely feeling—not unlike grief itself. Like Merolla’s sources of hair, few pieces of Victorian hairwork today have traceable provenances.
“In a sense, the story of hairwork is a testament not of our capacity to remember our lost loved ones, but of our ultimate inability to hold onto them,” Merolla writes on her website.
One of Merolla’s new pieces, After a Fashion I, is featured in Medium: Black, an exhibition at the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation centered around the color black. The exhibition runs until May 20.
See more of Merolla’s work on her website.