Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Hairy Panic

Photography Review by Brian Rope: The Hairy Panic. Sophie Dumaresq. Nishi Gallery.

Was scheduled to run until 4 April but, sadly, the physical exhibition has now been taken down and the gallery closed because of COVID-19. A virtual version is going to be put on the Art, Not Apart website. In the meantime, you can view some of the images here or at

Sophie Dumaresq’s body of work “The Hairy Panic” comprises a series of photographs of a land art installation on the windswept grasslands surrounding Lake George, plus her pink tumbleweed sculptures that feature in the images. This work is a significant part of the “Today I, Tomorrow You” exhibition which, in turn, was part of the recent “Art, Not Apart” Festival. There are also half a dozen other photographers’ images to see.

Hairy Panic, Untitled #4

Each tumbleweed was made by Dumaresq’s own hands from chemically processed and hand-dyed human hair and painted pink steel. The pink colour references harmful pesticides. They took something of a battering when exposed to the elements for the photography, but still look great. I’m told that Dumaresq has been regularly and lovingly combing the hair.

Hairy Panic, Untitled #6

A Canberran, Dumaresq is an artist working in photo media, in addition to large and small-scale sculptural installation. In 2009 she attended a student internship program at Questacon. She completed her Diploma in Photography (Honours) at SpĂ©os School for Photography (Paris and London) and has participated in group exhibitions in Australia, France, Greece and Germany. She is currently studying at The Australian National University’s Sculpture and Spatial Practices Workshop.

“Pancium effuse” (commonly known as Hairy Panic), is a species of grass native to inland Australia that, in dry and windy conditions combined with soil toxicity levels, can thrive and become a tumbleweed.

Naming the project after the tumbleweeds was done to share a narrative with viewers, causing us to reflect on past and present-day treatment and documentation of the land and its inhabitants.

Hairy Panic, Untitled #10

What consequences will our present-day treatment practices have for the future? What do our patterns of consumption, destruction and creation demonstrate? How do we relate, show empathy for and evolve with and within our surrounding environment?

Production principles also highlight the power to both shape and be shaped by landscapes, past, future and present. The use of photographs reflects on the arguably violent legacy of the medium, through documentation within both the sciences and social sciences, towards women, indigenous communities, other minority groups and all those who have historically fallen outside of the Western definition of what is human.

Viewing the work allows us to seriously consider the intersection of humans and material culture. Human hair was chosen due to its nitrogen bonds, that can be used as fertiliser absorbed by both the soil and the crops we then consume. The hair was collected from women to draw attention to the connection of that of the female body and that of livestock, agricultural and sexual means of production and reproduction.

Using art to reflect is a common and important practice. Here the reflecting is on the history and politics behind the aesthetics of landscape documentation - as both a means of production and a means of aesthetic communication of what it is to be alien.

 Hairy Panic, Untitled #13

In addition to being works to contemplate, the images consider "how our present-day treatment of the land will not only have consequences in the future but are already happening and are here."  They explore symbiotic cycles of consumption, destruction and creation demonstrating how as a species we relate, show empathy and evolve with and within our surrounding environment.

Hairy Panic, Untitled #15

Photographically, the pink (of the tumbleweeds) works particularly well in the sunlit landscapes, particularly when the overhead clouds are similarly coloured by the light. The pink sculptures also contrast with smoky skies in those images reminding us of the recent fires, very possibly caused by our treatment of the land.

   Hairy Panic, Untitled #8

Sadly, the physical exhibition has now been taken down and the gallery closed because of COVID-19. A virtual version is going to be put on the Art, Not Apart website. In the meantime, you can view some of the images at

This review was first published in the Canberra Times and is also on my own blog at