Cancer sucks. I could probably state that a lot more eloquently and profoundly, but I think those two words capture more about this horrible disease than a treatise on its profound and deleterious effect on those unfortunate enough to suffer it. More often than not, even among cancer survivors, the illness brings about a profound sense of loss. One tangible manifestation of that feeling is hair loss as a result of chemotherapy. Not only do people often have deep personal attachment to their hair, but society places a premium on lovely locks, so this can hit hard twice over. But Berlin-based artist Sybille Paulsen is using cancer patient's hair to make custom pieces of jewelry, as a way to create something "valuable and beautiful" in her project "Tangible Truths".
Paulsen explains on her website:
The artefacts [sic] that I create of the hair, mark this transformation and disclose a new access for the people involved to the commonly overwhelming situation. The change becomes visible, not only as the lost hair but further as its transformation into something valuable. Something abstract and difficult to comprehend becomes discernible, becomes tangible. The loss creates something new and the helplessness is juxtaposed against a tangible artefact [sic].
Each piece takes up to two weeks to create, and Paulsen takes that period of time to get to know each client a bit better. The pieces often, unsurprisingly, spark conversation, giving the women she works with new opportunities to express their feelings and a new avenue from which to approach the discussion of their illness.
Her first client, Mary-Beth, described what her piece means to her on Paulsen's website:
What Sybille created touched me really deeply. The free flow design of the project meant that my hair had not been transformed simply into a piece of art that was separate from me, the flow of the necklace she created somehow seemed to still hold pieces of me within it. The waves of the hair ... still looked so alive and so full of life. ... Her work touched not only me, but also those close to me here in Berlin who have seen it or seen the pictures. One person close to me even teared up because the necklace still looked like my hair and was a reminder of what it had been. ... I was impressed by what she had produced and very proud to have been a part of her project. ... I love the idea of helping create beauty out of what for many of us is a ugly process: chemotherapy.
Paulsen is not the first to work in the medium of human hair. In fact, "mourning jewelry"—pieces meant to memorialize loved ones—can be found as early as the 1600s and reached their zenith of popularity in the Victorian era. But Paulsen's work is anything but macabre: Her pieces convey a sense of vibrancy rather than sorrow. In a sense, "Tangible Truths" is a reclamation and repurposing of an old practice. Her jewelry ranges from simple to intricate, and all of it is evocative.