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February // Book Artist of the Month: Diane Jacobs

February 2, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


Hair Talk is a three volume artist book set that was created by Diane Jacobs over the course of three years from 2009 to 2011. The structure is inspired from a binding by Roberta Lavadour, except in this case, Diane binds the series in human hair. The content within each book are the collected replies to a set of questions, where an individual wrote about their feelings regarding their own hair. 

The books are letterpress printed and bound with covers made from Cave Paper. 


When binding this book with human hair, did you find the material to be tricky to work with or did you treat the hair first (like a bookbinder would wax their thread)?
I learned this binding from Roberta Lavadour. It is a twine binding technique that she invented. Instead of twine I used human hair and transparent thread that resembles hair. Each folio is a set of four questions, so in order for that particular person’s responses to stay together I needed to sew each folio individually into the spine. With Roberta’s book, she would sew a thick signature with each twine line. I did not treat the hair with anything. It was a little tricky, but do able.

The way a person chooses to wear and style their hair can suggest a lot about them, whether these connotations be positive or negative. What did you hope to extract from this survey and what did you find to be surprising?
I was surprised that more people did not want to trade their hair in for different hair. The majority of people wanted to keep their hair. My questions were not about style (that would have been interesting) they were:            
Question 1: Describe your hair (color, texture, body, length…)
Question 2: What don’t you like about your hair?
Question 3: What do you like about your hair?
Question 4: Would you trade your hair in for different hair? If so, what would it be?

HairTalk4-DianeJacobs HairTalk5-DianeJacobsHairTalk-DianeJacobs

Diane’s work is intriguing and thought provoking. She is driven by the language that inhabits issues surrounding women, racism, equality and other social issues. Her work spans over several mediums from artist books and sculptures to prints and two-dimensional pieces. This month long interview will cover some of Diane’s artist books plus a few additional pieces I found to be relevant to my set of questions. 

See the interview after the jump and come back each Monday during the month of February for more posts on the work of Diane Jacobs. She discusses her materials and inspirations sources such as feminism and nature. 

Hair appears in a variety of different ways throughout your work both for structural and aesthetic reasons. How did this relationship between hair and your artwork evolve? What does the use of hair signify in your work?
In 1993, I shaved my head. I was in Tuscany, Italy at a residency with Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky. They are amazing South African artists and teachers who spend ½ the year in Tuscany and ½ the year in Cape Town.

It was very hot and we were at the Venice Biennale. My friend Marcia Teusink looked at me and said “we should shave our heads” and I said “ Yes we should!” Then we proceeded to figure out how and when. William Kentridge was the South African artist at the Biennale that year and he is very good friends with Rose and Claire. This was before he really made it big internationally. When we got back to La Cipressaia we cut each other’s hair and shaved our heads (with a razor) down to where we were completely bald. Three other women also shaved their heads.

William led a short workshop – we hung a large screen and explored movement and shadow/silhouette performance. It was amazing. 5  bald women in a tiny Tuscan town was quite unusual. The flight attendant on the flight home couldn’t make sense of it. I started graduate school at San Francisco State with ¼” of hair. It was a very unique experience to not have my rambunctiously curly hair. People’s perception of me was altered. I felt liberated from the usual assumptions, but they were replaced with new ones. 

The first piece I made with hair was an artist book called BALD. It was a flag book structure documenting the event of us cutting our hair. The cover was made from weaving Marcia’s and my hair together. I set type from journal entries describing how we felt about the experience. Unfortunately my copy was lost by UPS on its return home after being in a show in North Carolina.  

For me hair represents humanity. I use it because it is a rich material thick with history, beauty politics, racial identity, genetics and societal taboos.

Where or should I said whom are your hair resources? 
I continue to save my hair. Every time I wash my hair I make several hairballs and when I cut my hair I save the cut bits. Over the years I have had different hairdressers save people’s hair for me. Friends and family would save their hair after a cut or even grow it out for me (my dad and both my sons grew their hair out for me and then let me cut it short). Three women who were going to be losing all their hair from chemotherapy had me cut and save their hair. These were powerful experiences and I believe less traumatic knowing that the hair would go to a creative use. I get hair sent to me in the mail from friends and strangers who hear me give an artist talk about my work. I love to get all types of hair – the longer it is the more I can do. I have quite a collection.

When you began incorporating hair into your work, how was your art received? Did you find some to be apprehensive at first?
All kinds of reactions – intrigue, repulsion, people wanting to touch it.  

You create work in a variety of formats from artist books and prints to sculptures and installations. Did you receive formal training in the arts or are you self-taught?
I have my MFA in printmaking. I enjoy working in a variety of mediums. I am self-taught in ceramics and paper weaving.

To speak about your book work specifically, what sort of training do you have in bookbinding? What drives your decision to use the book form in your work?
My first year in graduate school (1994) I was introduced to book arts in a class with Mary Laird. Immediately I was hooked. I felt the medium brought together all my interests. It gave me a way to explore my ideas in a more concrete way by using text. The sculptural nature of the book was so refreshing coming from the flat print. Craft has always been important to me. I like to make things with my hands. I like to challenge the notion of what a book is. Most of my work I believe to be very influenced by book arts – tell a story, layer ideas, and engage the viewer. My exposure to binding is more limited. Mary showed me many different sewing techniques. For my first editioned artist book, Knowledgeable, I made the slipcases. After that, however, I have had box makers make my boxes. 

A large portion of your work surround women’s issues: highlighting both how women view themselves and how others view women. Extracting cliché terms, derogatory phrases and sex-positive words, language becomes a powerful tool in your work.  Do you identify yourself and your work as feminist?

Your recent work seems to be inspired greatly by nature and some of your work is created onsite. Was there a pivotal moment that caused a shift from feminist-based art to focusing on nature or is there a correlation?
There is a correlation. I see it as a continuum. Nature has always inspired me. I love to look at bones, seed pods, leaves, nests, eggs and the like. Draw from nature. Things made in nature are unique same as every hair strand. I care about women’s issues and social justice issues. In my work I examine and convey the complexities, contradictions and injustices of our world. I am very concerned about our environmental future. Nourish* is not just a celebration of the beauty of the natural world, but a wake up call. In August, 2013 I went on the Signal Fire Alpenglow backpacking trip in the Mt. Hood Wilderness. I created three pieces from that experience. They were started out in the wild and then completed back in my studio. The immediacy I loved. Especially after Nourish which was very printing intensive – over 1oo times through the Vandercook letterpress.

*Nourish will be featured in a post at the end of the month

Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I have put in an application for the Golden Spot Residency at the Oregon College of Art & Craft. It would give me studio space, access to the printshop, and a stipend. My proposal is to create a new body of work that exposes misogynist politicians and the rape culture behind them. We are at a pinnacle moment to change rape culture. I want to make a body of work that responds to the global call for action to stop violence against women and girls. I am inspired by the One Billion Rising for Justice movement that has been building globally from tireless organizing by acclaimed playwright Eve Ensler. I envision creating a series of printed sculptural political posters. This could take the shape of photo lithographs or silk screen prints of: the 22 Republican men who voted against VAWA (Violence Against Women Act); politicians up for reelection and their record on women’s rights issues; the stats on Speaker of the House John Boehner, to name a few. I imagine cutting, folding, collaging, as well as, introducing magnification or reflective materials to analyze a whispered quote, an inappropriate gesture, thoughts behind the vacant smile, and our complacency in our political system. Using humor and asking open-ended questions, I hope to spur a lively dialogue.


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  • My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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