DKUK salon is an art gallery, and a hairdresser’s, or a hairdresser’s with an art gallery. This is not automatically obvious - mirrors have been removed but are available on request, and there is no surly receptionist or press release by the door. In fact there is no door but instead an open space located in the K & C Indoor Market off Rye Lane in Peckham. It is run by artist Daniel Kelly who has over ten years hairdressing experience and for the first cut says you can ‘pay what u can’. The space is empty when I visit but I’m told that you just need to ‘give him a call’, giving an unpretentious and relaxed impression.
Stripped down to minimal equipment, the space consists of two chairs, a sink, a purple bean bag on the floor, and a small ledge with a brush and one styling product on top. The walls are made of flimsy white adjustable shop display board which allows things to be hooked up, changed and adjusted - it is practical and cheap rather than slick and shiny. To not have a mirror also changes the dynamics of the hairdressing experience, asking the customer to trust Kelly’s judgment and removing an element of vanity. The customer is also forced to look around at their surroundings rather than stare intensely or anxiously at their own image.
Corresponding to the context and implications of a hair salon, the current installation, Alan Kane’s, ‘Vanity Suite/Sorry’, comprises a chair and mirror made from tombstones, as well as an accompanying hairdryer. Commissioned specifically for this exhibition, the stones are beautifully carved and despite the two month duration of this work, suggest a permanence. Kane’s work references the idea of the ‘vanitas’ in painting tradition, which normally included a skull and/or some rotting vegetables, a dead hare or other symbol to signify the transience of life. This work is a little more direct in dealing with death. The customer sits on a tombstone while staring into a tombstone mirror so that the traditional idea of a reflective experience is taken a step further. The profundity suggested by contemplating ones own ephemerality is made humorous, staring at this marker of mortality as they have their hair cut by a relative stranger.
Kelly is keen, however, to differentiate this transaction from participatory art. He wants the hairdressing element to bring customers to the space who would not normally visit an art gallery. So far he says, this has been pretty effective with busy Saturdays and a wide range of visitors and positive feedback regarding the absence of a mirror. Despite its small scale, DKUK salon can be used in multiple sustainable ways – a rare but exciting concept for artist-run spaces.