The Heckler by Siôn Parkinson
An intimate and deeply immersive participatory performance and multi-speaker sound installation exploring the cultural history and collective practices of combing hair. The title draws from Scottish and Irish folk history of a humble comb-like tool, the heckle. Heckles were used in rural communities and European textile factories to split and straighten the rough fibers of flax and hemp in preparation for spinning and weaving linen.
From its origin in the artist’s hometown of Dundee, Scotland, the word heckle also means to interrupt or taunt a public speaker, especially a person in a position of power, so as to test the strength of their ideas. Here the power dynamic is reversed, however. The Heckler, a completely bald and benign figure dressed in a hairy floor-length robe, helps lead the audience into a state of concentrated attention and euphoric bliss.
A contemporary folk ballad sung sottovoce weaves together various narrative threads and combing practices, including elements of Gaelic ‘waulking songs’ (traditionally sung by Scottish women when beating newly woven tartan cloth), stories of volcanic deities throwing up frothy fibres of glass, plus sideways glances to hair as art material such as King Charles II of England who had a penchant for wigs made from his favourite mistresses pubic hair.
The music is composed using a range of acoustic instruments, including a bespoke-tuned Gaelic harp and homemade tuning forks. A rich, pulsating harmony is punctuated by discrete highly amplified recordings of animal, human and synthetic hair being brushed, smoothed–hushed sounds typical of online ASMR video culture though used here in more musical terms to drive a rhythmic, techno-like beat which builds to an almost unbearable state of sensuous ecstasy.
This performance is supported by the British Council.