The Haircut Before the Party, Closing Event review by Hannah Newell
On Saturday the 19th November party-goers sporting red neckerchiefs marched out of a hairdressing salon onto Toynbee Street, East London and began a circuit of the local area. Turning past a pub into a residential street and towards the orange glow of Sainsbury’s, the march paused to form a circle around a woman standing on a soapbox. As she spoke a verse of prose, the group sang back each line. This was repeated along the trail: a spoken harmony that encompassed a diverse community. The people told tales of their history, their families, their locality, their politics and their relationship to The Haircut Before The Party’s Salon.
‘The Party’ marked the end of a project that had run for six months on Toynbee Street. Supported by independent arts charity Artsadmin, the collective known as The Haircut Before The Party opened a hairdressing salon and offered free haircuts in return for conversation. Over the six months several hundred people visited and the site became a regular stomping ground for a growing community attracted by a free and open space in which to meet. Visitors began to join forces with the collective to produce a diverse series of events that, through debating issues of politics, economics, art, community and gender, continued to explore the potential of the space:
‘The salon is both the material basis for one group of friends as well as the place of exchange in which new friendships are formed and networks realised… We are attempting to locate We.‘1
On the salon’s closing night, Richard Houguez, part of THCBTP, explained how intimacy could be experienced collectively through the formation of a community. The salon developed this idea with the public by offering free haircuts, a dynamic of mutual aid taken from the collective’s own experience of communal living. Having removed commerce from the interaction between barber and visitor, a space opened up in which it was possible to explore other forms of exchange. As Lewis Bassett commented, the salon became a powerful antidote to the ‘colonisation’ of ‘our streets, our homes and our bodies’ by commercial privatisation.
As a place of free and open social exchange, the salon encouraged a sense of togetherness which forged strong ties between those that visited. As a final event ‘The Party’ not only celebrated this community, but looked to expand this sense of collective intimacy still further by taking to the streets. This was both a symbolic and literal gesture towards the continuation and extension of this network of exchange and support. Bringing voices together in song, a joyful band of barbers encouraged the public to ‘Have a Haircut and a Party’ arguing ‘if we’re all in this together, then together we should stand.’
The salon has now closed but ‘We’ are still located by it.
1. an introduction to becoming, Anon, A chapbook produced by The Haircut Before The Party.