What makes it art is the fact of the wig. Or, if you prefer, the toupee. The hair piece. The periwig. The merkin. Whatever. It’s no skin off my scalp.
As it sits there, literally the crowning glory to all the folly that has dogged him throughout his increasingly pointless life. The rest of the picture made up of a brown corduroy jacket, multi-coloured T-shirts, “faded” jeans and cherry red boots. Not cherry red boots – brown brogues. It’s a picture of something, I’m sure you’ll agree. He is, as someone once noted, an ambassador from another world. His battles, having been fought and mostly lost, are behind him now. So here, with his wig securely in tow, he is looking forward to creating a new, as they say, space. All that came before, all the detritus and dreck: gone. Forward is what it’s about. Forward with his new hair.
Let’s get to the point. He stepped out of his front door anew and quickly discovered that the world wasn’t interested in what he had to share. Which is to say that he walked through his city – down gulleyways and alleyways, up side streets and down streams – without so much as the merest hint of molestation. Nobody, and he could see it in their eyes, gave a flying fig about his wig.
Spilling forth, as the phrase has it, from beneath the catch of his now dusty wig, came memories and dreams that, in reality, gave him a false picture of how he and the city had once related to each other. During the time of natural hair and a full head of it.
There was, he thought, within this city a kind of Technicolorisation. Where the city was clean and straight-lined, primary-coloured, manicured and safe: a novice architect’s wet dream. The edges of the grass as razor sharp and as ordered as the silver edges of the concrete and steel. A beatific blue sky, shaded in stripes, hanging over it all. The quiet of the libraries, the certainty of the town hall’s stone steps, the sheer reasonableness of the lines of plastic. Like the opening sequence of Mary, Mungo and Midge. It was a city that, for all its calculated beauty, you couldn’t actually live in. Especially if you were in possession of drawn-on hair.
This was also the city of cold and snow, where the distinct advantage of a full head of hair was just that: a distinct advantage. Pooh-poohing hats and pouring scorn on hoods, this was a city like Moscow or New York where white and dirt combined to give it the reality-flavoured crispness that made proud-crowned young men stride down Jones Street, their hands stuffed into their pockets, their shoulders hunched and their best girls clinging to their sides. There and then, in the briefest moment of clear, the city and its environs are nailed in one cold glow. Not only could you crimp this city’s streets, you could live in it too. Warming your coat in the launderette, turning socks into gloves and tracing the sledge lines all the way down Harold Road. Who needs Jones Street when you’ve got Harold Road?
There is, then, much more to this wig than meets the eye. For how could its wearer not wear it without communicating some kind of statement? There is, after all, the fact of the wig, and the fact of art. Of course, it pays not to get too carried away. We’re talking window dressing here. Decoration. A splash, a daub.
His adornment was ornamental in that it didn’t really serve any purpose. It’s not as if anybody, save a few small children, actually gave a damn that he had lost hair. Or cared a fig for how that affected him. Nor did it serve any useful purpose in keeping out the cold, those thin synthetic fibres not at all a substitute for the warm wonders of the real thing. It was then, in a sense, simple topping. But even so, it was the kind of art that instilled in the wearer – the exhibitionist – a certain degree of carefree confidence. It was therefore necessary to take the wig at much more than face value. So what if small kids taunted him? So what if they followed him home with cries of “Baldilocks!” and “Kojak!” – despite the fact that, of course, neither Kojak or Baldilocks wore wigs? Those little kids might have better rammed their point home by shouting things like “Rug Mug!”, “Thatch Twat!” or “Bono!” Never mind. What mattered was whether those kinds of taunts were enough to make him tear his art from his head.
The meaning of the wig beyond its surface appearance? Does it relate to, or function within, the world? If it is accepted that the wig is simply a smudge on the landscape, do we have to conclude that it is just that and nothing more? That it is a literal smudge on the landscape – with no signification beyond mere decoration? The wig as a negation of the world, not a part of it? Void and meaningless within its own immiscible condition? Or might history tell us otherwise?
Who wears wigs? Cancer patients and celebrities. European totems of decadent bent. Cross-dressers. Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans. Actors and royalty. Dragsters. Colonials. Fusspots. Sixties birds and beehive types. Dead people. All proud wearers of the matted crinkle.
Well now, we laugh. By reducing him to the sum of next to nothing. A wig? In 2006? Such a thing is surely ridiculous. And yet, consider him now as he steps outside his front door, holding his breath, hoping, somehow, that the world will greet him like some long lost lover. Consider this ridiculous figure in his ridiculous wig as he recalls, in those brief moments of waiting, how his heart broke every day at the sight and thought of his hair leaving him in ever-increasing stages. And how he hopes that this small cosmetic gesture, this slender sprinkle, will be enough to ease his heart’s pain. It’s enough to make you laugh.