Essay

A FALSE FRIEND [LONG HAIR]

by KATARINA V. POSCH


In False Friend, Marlene Haring turns a modern icon (the LC4 chaise longue) into a multilayered work of art. The LC4 was named after Le Corbusier, the Swiss pioneer of modern design. Conceived and built as a prototype in 1927, it is an early example of tubular steel furniture. Its industrial appearance signified the idea of “domestic equipment”1 for Le Corbusier’s “machine for living”2 – the modern house. Still produced today, it has become a lasting symbol of Modernism itself.

Modernist credo focused on the rational, the (middle- or workingclass) public, the international, the standardized, the functional, and the male.3 By contrast, the initial conception of the chaise longue as a furniture type goes back to a time of a very different spirit. It was developed during the Rococo age to serve the relaxed, social, conversational, and sensual lifestyle of the aristocracy. Inspired by the oriental way of lounging, the chaise longue became popular with ladies; it became associated with the private, the sensual, the exotic, and the female – qualities usually considered reactionary4 and hence avoided in radical Modernist products.5

Interestingly enough, the chaise longue was not designed by Le Corbusier but by his employee, the young Charlotte Perriand,6 one of the few women who managed to make a mark on modern design. Not surprisingly, their professional relationship of ten years was subject to gender-related tensions.7 A picture of Mlle Perriand on the chaise longue expresses her ambiguous role in a modern world: she exposes her legs and her neck in a rather provocative way, but does not let us gaze upon her hair (which was cut daringly short)8 or upon her face – almost as if she were hiding behind an oriental veil. The picture conveys tension between proactive seduction and traditional modesty.

In contrast to the “industrial” structure of the chaise, Perriand originally covered it in pony skin or Hermès-style9 leather-trimmed canvas, both sensual and luxurious materials. Charlotte Perriand succeeded in creating a perfect balance between aspects of rationality and sensuality; between mass production and luxury; between male and female; between control and indulgence.

Marlene Haring overthrows this equilibrium: Her cover of sensual-luxurious masses of hair offers a voyeuristic gaze upon that what is usually trimmed or hidden. Modernists favored short hair and promoted it as sign of liberation.10 In fact, cut hair continued both Western pre-modern and Eastern traditions, which considered exposed hair to be a sign of the free,11 but required women who were bound by marriage, by serfdom, or by religious oaths to cover or cut off their hair.12 Marlene Haring’s False Friend (Long Hair) thus unveils the chaise longue’s inherent hidden signs of patriarchic inequality, and becomes a critical statement of Modernism itself.

ABOVE
Perriand resting on the chaise longue, 1929
© 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

1 Le Corbusier, Cahiers d’Art, 1926, no. 3.

2 Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture. Champs/Flammarion, 1995, p. VI (original: Paris: G. Cres [1923]).

3 “Men – intelligent, cold, and calm – are needed to build the house and to lay out the town.” Le Corbusier, Toward a New Architecture. Dover Edition, Mineola, NY, 1986, p. 127 (original: Paris: G. Cres [1923]).

4 Cheryl Buckley, “Made in Patriarchy: Toward a Feminist Analysis of Women and Design,” in Design Discourse: History, Theory, Criticism, ed. Victor Margolin. University of Chicago Press, 1989, pp. 251 – 262.

5 Penny Sparke, As Long as It’s Pink: The Sexual Politics of Taste. Rivers Oram Press/Pandora List, UK, 1995 , p. 9.

6 Charlotte Perriand, Une vie de création. Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 1998, p. 33.

7 Charlotte Perriand, Une vie de création. Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 1998, p. 53f.

8 Adolf Loos, “Kurze Haare” (1928), in Trotzdem: Gesammelte Schriften 1900-1930. Georg Prachner Verlag, Vienna, 1997, p. 205f.

9 Charlotte Perriand, Une vie de création. Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 1998, p. 33.

10 Le Corbusier, “The Furniture Adventure” (1929), in Architecture and Design 1890-1939, ed. Tim and Charlotte Benton with Dennis Sharp. The Whitney Library of Design/Watson-Guptill Pub., NY, p. 233.

11 Roman Sandgruber, Frauensachen – Männerdinge: Eine sächliche Geschichte der zwei Geschlechter. Verlag Carl Ueberreuter, Vienna, 2006, p. 194ff.

12 Victoria Sherrow, Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Press, CT, London, 2006, pp. xxii ff.