Ceci n’est pas un haircut. On the one hand, Faisal Abdu’Allah’s Live Salon is one of the best trims in town (also, free), and familiar territory: the barber’s chair, the unfurling of the cape, the snicker-snack of scissors.
Yet in place of a reliable mirror to keep an eye on my hairline’s progress there’s a small, well-meaning but nonetheless noticeable audience; a heaving barbershop has given way to Sir John Soane’s Grade I-listed Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery in Ealing; the usual accumulation of black and white headshots of Hollywood A-to-Z-listers is replaced by William Hogarth’s 18th-century masterpiece A Rake’s Progress, which, although aesthetically more interesting, is decidedly sparser on lid #inspo.
The group exhibition, Hogarth: London Voices, London Lives, supports Pitzhanger’s reunion with Hogarth’s satirical series, which was owned by Soane and hung at the manor during his lifetime and now returns to the building for the first time in more than 200 years. It depicts the social conditions of London in 1732, a feat the exhibition sets out to match for 2020. Ruth Ewen’s gorgeous woodblock posters are an excellent tribute to Hogarth’s satirical eye, while archive footage of Southbank skateboarders speaks more to the city’s contemporary effervescence.
But Abdu’Allah’s work is the main (mane?) event — an actual haircut in an actual barber’s chair. An associate professor of Art and Faculty Director of UW-Madison’s Creative Arts Community, Royal College of Arts alumnus, and — reassuringly — accomplished barber with more than 30 years of experience, Abdu’Allah, 50, has flown in from Wisconsin, where he teaches, hours before he and I meet.
“But I can do this with my eyes closed,” he says, weaving his buzzer effortlessly through a few loose ginger strands. Please don’t do it with your eyes closed, I say. He won’t host every Live Salon during the exhibition’s run, but he will host this one. Is is it art? Who is the viewer, and who is the subject? “To me, it’s just sculpture, but live sculpture,” he says, which makes me feel a little like human topiary. A ‘before’ polaroid is snapped: everyone who takes part will have theirs displayed during the exhibition, alongside Abdu’Allah’s’s striking tintype photographs of his tools (scissors, razor heads, combs).