Hair Shirt Army

1993-2013

 

19 Men's coats (German) size 56

 

Insurance price 30,000 Euros

 

Articles of clothing made of small plastic bags sewn together; each bag (90mm x 115mm) contains a date label and sample of the artist's hair from 1993-2013. The original Hair Shirt is fashioned after a leather Luftwaffe coat design and bears similarities to the Hugo Boss leather coat, winter fashion 1998-99.

 

 

Tanya Ury has been working on the research project Who’s Boss – Empire’s New Clothes, as PhD. in Humanities candidate at Leiden University, Institute for Cultural Disciplines (NL) since 2010.


Tanya Ury has been collecting her hair, from natural hair loss daily, and saving it in small plastic sachets with a date label since November 1992. Previously some of these bags were sewn together to make large plastic sheets resembling “shower” curtains, one curtain each year, for the installation Golden Showers 1993-99. Who's Boss: Hair Shirt (2004) is made from plastic bags with hair from Ury's collection.

It is an unlikely and unpractical article of clothing - something between being a shower curtain and the contents of a mattress (under Hitler's dictatorship, the Nazis collected shorn hair of women concentration camp inmates to be used for mattress stuffing). It is also a German Luftwaffe coat prototype that bears a resemblance to the Hugo Boss 1998-99 winter fashion model, or it is literally a hair shirt (word-play in English, for “hair shirt” is the demonstration of atonement).

The fact that one of the world's most renowned fashion houses Hugo Boss owes its initial success to its support of the Fascist war machine, and its exploitation of forced labourers during the war years raises profound questions surrounding the relationships between fashion and military fashion, fashion and politics.

A Hair Shirt Army has been produced out of the remaining plastic bags with hair from Ury's collection and has been presented as a ghostlike installation, whereby each coat was hung by transparent plastic thread, for the first time, in the crypt of EL-DE-Haus, the Nazi-Documentation Centre, Cologne, Germany, 2014, whereby each coat was hung by transparent plastic thread.

 

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The “pyramid” shape design of coats that appear to rise up towards the ceiling in the installation Hair Shirt Army and the image shower proof, was instilled as a visualised representation of what concentration camp functionaries were met with after a gassing took place in the gas chambers:

The concentration camps were extraordinarily efficient death factories. One witness described a typical day of extermination in the gas chambers of Auschwitz:
“Outside (…) the men on night-shift were handling a convoy of Jews, some 3,000 men, women and children, who had been led from their train into the hall 200 yards long and prominently labeled in various languages, ‘Baths and Disinfecting Room.’ Here they had been told to strip, supervised by the S.S. and men of the Sonderkommando. They were then led into a second hall, where the S.S. and Sonderkommando left them. Meanwhile, vans painted with the insignia of the Red Cross had brought up supplies of Cyclon B crystals. The 3,000 were then sealed in and gassed.
   Twenty minutes later the patented mechanical ventilators were turned on to dispel the remaining fumes. Men of the Sonderkommando, wearing gas masks and rubber boots, entered the gas chamber. They found the naked bodies piled in a pyramid that revealed the last collective struggle of the dying to reach clean air near the ceiling; the weakest lay crushed at the bottom while the strongest bestrode the rest at the top. The struggling mass, stilled only by death, lay now inert like some fearful monument to the memory of their suffering. The gas had risen slowly from the floor, forcing the prisoners to climb on each other’s bodies in a ruthless endeavour to snatch the last remaining lungfulls of clean air. The corpses were fouled, and the masked men washed them down with hoses before the labour of separating and transporting the entwined bodies could begin. They were dragged to the elevators, lowered to the crematoria, their gold teeth removed with pliers and thrown into buckets filled with acid, and the women’s hair shaved from their heads. The desecrated dead were then loaded in batches of three on carts of sheet metal and fed automatically into one of the fifteen ovens with which each crematorium was equipped. A single crematorium consumed 45 bodies every 20 minutes; the capacity of destruction at Auschwitz was little short of 200 bodies an hour… The ashes were removed and spilled into the swift tide of the river Vistula, a mile or so away. The valuables – clothes, jewels, gold and hair – were sent to Germany…1

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I started my hair collection 50 years after atrocities of the fascist regime were being perpetrated in Germany and Europe. I have been living in Cologne since the early 90’s, observing unified Germany’s slow process of coming to terms with this past - the successes: so much has been made apparent - the failures, where much remains hidden in a society that took up where it left off, with the same collusive leaders of industry. Hair Shirt Army is a double-edged symbol, where a penitent army has been built upon the bodies of the exploited.

Tanya Ury

 

 

1 Leo Kuper, Genocide: its Political Use in the Twentieth Century 133-34 (1981), citing Milos Nyiszli, Auschwitz 1960: Ch. VII. A similar harrowing report from Hoess, the director of the Auschwitz camp, can be found at IMT Docs, supra note 231, Vol XI, transcript pgs 416-417 on P 149-49 War Crimes Against Women: Prosecution in International War Crimes Tribunals by Kelly Dawn Askin http://books.google.de/books