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A Head for Art

A CP Staffer Makes Himself The Soapy Subject Of A Performance Piece

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 5/11/2005

Towson University art student Judy Sellman works part-time as a shampooist in a Mount Washington hair salon. As her final project in a course called “New Directions in Sculpture and Painting,” Sellman, 27, offered free shampoos and scalp massages last Sunday to the unwashed masses. Part performance, part pampering, she called it Kneeding Interaction, and a City Paper staff writer volunteered to serve as a subject of the piece, the “material” for the “sculptor.”

 

City Paper: What’s that you’re rubbing on your hand?

Judy Sellman: Oil.

CP: I made sure not to shampoo yet today.

JS: That’s fine.

CP: Do you ever get grossed out by people’s hair?

JS: [Nervous laughter]

CP: What’s that other thing you just put in your hand?

JS: Oil.

CP: Another oil?

JS: One is for calming and the other is an aromatic.

CP: What technique is this you’re using right now?

JS: I just try to get a general feel, initially, where there might be tightness. Or see where people might get more pleasure in it. It’s kind of like animals. For example, you might like being rubbed behind the ears.

CP: I do. How do people typically give voice to their pleasure? Do they moan?

JS: Sometimes. I’ve had people fall asleep.

CP: Does it make you uncomfortable when people moan with pleasure?

JS: At first, it made me very uncomfortable.

CP: Can you hear that? What is that?

JS: That’s the rustling of your hair.

CP: Does everyone’s hair make the same sound?

JS: No. Your hair is very coarse. Someone with fine hair doesn’t make so much sound.

CP: Now you’re doing my neck. Now you’re slowing down. Now you appear to be taking my pulse. Now you’re lowering my head to the wash basin. You know, I often find these neck things uncomfortable, but this is very comfortable.

(sound of rushing water)

CP: A cynical person might say you’re just doing your day job and calling it art. Where is the art here?

JS: Well, I could have taken this [piece] out of the salon and probably would have gotten that question less, but I felt that doing it here gives a certain level of authenticity to the interaction. Sometimes performance can be mistaken for fakery. And I just really feel that the authentic interaction is the most important part.

CP: Are you performing the role of a shampoo person, or is this actually who you are? Where does the performance begin and reality end?

JS: They’re layered on top of each other. I feel that the reality ends at the point where you don’t continue on to a stylist. You don’t continue the same role that you would generally when you come into a salon. And I’ve altered the salon, too. Things have been taken off every wall. All the [hair] products have been removed from the stations. This shelf usually has teas and pretzels. There’s usually a big painting right there.

CP: You’ve made it more into a white-walled gallery space.

JS: Yes, but with that salon feel.

CP: So what’s my role? Am I the viewer, the participant?

JS: You’re the participant as material. And I’m the sculptor.

CP: Now what are you doing? Another oil?

JS: Shampoo. You get two shampoos.

CP: What’s this one?

JS: Rosemary mint.

CP: Often, after I shampoo, my hair becomes even coarser and takes on the shape of a mushroom cloud. What am I doing wrong?

JS: Do you condition?

CP: Totally, but it still gets really frizzy.

JS: Well, that’s your hair type.

CP: Now you’re drying my hair. That feels good. That feels really good.

JS: We’re done.

CP: That’s it?

JS: Uh-huh.

CP: What do I owe you?

JS: Nothing.

CP: Thanks!

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