What is it about hair? Imbued with a mystical aura since the days of Samson and Delilah, it can almost define certain people — for instance, Elvis or Dolly Parton's iconic coifs, or Sarah Palin's famous hair extensions. Loren Schwerd's show at AMMO touches on all of the above. The title, Mourning Portrait, harks to the long lost 18th and 19th century funerary "hairwork" tradition in which the locks of the deceased were fashioned into intricate jewelry or mementos. Contemporary coiffure culture also plays a role in Schwerd's sculptural interpretations of storm-blasted, flood-ravaged New Orleans homes. Her memorial portraits of the sorts of collapsing abodes that were the first to be demolished following the flood are woven from a mother lode of wigs and human hair extenders found outside a St. Claude Avenue beauty parlor after Hurricane Katrina.
These somehow recall both Pennsylvania Dutch hexes and African fetishes all rolled into one. 1317 Charbonnet St. (pictured), a woven hair portrait of a shotgun house in an oval frame, is emblematic. Strands at the base are woven into cornrow braids, on which the house seems to rest. Others feature landscaping touches like braided trees topped with a bushy bouffant of curly locks. Setting it all off is a woven shed-size shotgun house rising like a shrine in the center of the gallery. It's an eerie show in which a thread of subtle voodoo contributes to the surreal mojo.
There are no loose ends in Karina Wisniewska's Silent Dynamism expo at the Octavia Gallery, yet the Swiss artist's abstract, minimal extrapolations of line and form in quartz sand and acrylic are sometimes so linear as to suggest strands of hair if not sine waves or other oscillations. A former concert pianist turned painter, she now records her own visual music on canvas, following her inner harmonic flow wherever it takes her. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Mourning Portrait: Human Hair Architectural Memorials by Loren Schwerd
Through Sept. 16
AMMO, 938 Royal St., 301-2584; www.ammoarts.com
Silent Dynamism: Works by Karina Wisniewska
Through Oct. 2
Octavia Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249; www.octaviaartgallery.com