Part Two: The second article written for the collective, The Haircut Before the Party, supported by Artsadmin.
‘The Haircut Before The Party have their closing party tomorrow, Hannah Newell looks at it’s six month occupation in light of the Occupy Movement. Like the Occupy Movement, The Haircut Before The Party will achieve staying power through its ability to combine widespread global connectivity with a buzzing locality. Don’t miss ‘The Party,’ Saturday 19th November.’
Like the Occupy Movement, the radical hair dressing salon run by The Hair Cut Before The Party, could be criticised for being unspecific. Other than offering free haircuts in exchange for political discussion, the salon does not have a clear-cut agenda. Supported by independent arts charity Artsadmin, it is a free, open space that has evolved organically over the past six months and closes this Saturday November 19.
On the surface, both THCBTP’s salon and the colourful tent city currently skirting St Paul’s could be seen to be suffering from the same persistent hangover from Paris, May 1968. In his essay ’The Space of Community: Between Culture and Politics’, Michael Hirsch criticised this tarnished legend of political and social revolution for its lack of a specific political ‘project’. Instead, ‘the presentation of collectivity seems to be an end in itself’.
The Occupy Movement and THCBTP share the common goals of connection, communication, and co-education. The building of a community – the creation of lasting connections- allows an exchange of knowledge and support that is more than simply a representation of collectivity. Whilst protest does utilise the presentation of the many, occupation hopes to take this one step further. Instead of solely protesting “on two feet”, a temporary mass that may be easily dispersed, the decision to ‘Take the Square’ allows people to put down roots, spend time together and create a continued place from which to work. Similarly, the salon has built a community around a specific place. The process has a significant aim: an active, informed public who are not afraid to (quite literally) take up space in the public realm.
In doing so, the notion of public space is strongly reasserted in an urban environment that predominately consists of privately owned pseudo public spaces. This creeping colonisation by corporate interests signifies a receding civic realm. In contrast, communitarian spaces encourage active participation in creating the meaning of that space. The Occupy Movement uses the people’s assembly as a democratic tool to organise the spaces it occupies, encouraging debate and discussion. Whilst it would be foolhardy to declare this an instant utopia, it is a model for the melting pot style of public realm that the urban environment has always promised, but never quite delivered.
With the aim of exploring what might be possible through communal effort and interest, THCBTP’s salon opened its doors in the hope that its visitors would shape the space through use. The result has been a vital series of events exploring issues of politics, economics, art, activism, gender and community. The metaphor of the name, like the space, is multifaceted. A haircut is both an economic term for the trimming of debt that cannot be fully repaid, and, crucially, it is an easy way for people to enter and involve themselves in the space. The resulting exchange acknowledges a certain commonality of necessity and trust; a rare and potent concoction which has proven to spark incredibly thoughtful conversation.
Whilst trimming the locks of the protesters at Occupy LSX, Lewis Bassett and Richard Houguez, part of the collective, asked “what’s next?” Met with uncertainty, the collective can only turn the question back on themselves. As Lewis points out, “we cannot stay in the squares forever”. Forward momentum is required: “movements must move; they must occupy, transform and sing”. As The Hair Cut Before The Party’s presence on Toynbee Street comes to an end it is unclear what its legacy may yet be, but the regret of everyone who has become accustomed to meeting there is keenly felt. Pamela Parker of Under Current Design, who co-organised a community dinner at the salon, fully intends to continue running such events elsewhere, as do other collaborators who have worked with the salon. These connections may go on to create new spaces where communities can continue to create themselves.
In the same vein, the Occupy Movement may achieve staying power through its ability to combine widespread global connectivity with a buzzing locality. These local places can move and change, but the wider movement seems to have a hydra complex: chop off one head and two more grow back. The final event at the THCBTP is, of course, ‘The Party,’ taking place on Saturday 19th November. Marching out of the salon and into the street, local people, collaborating groups, artists and activists will take turns in offering their thoughts from a-top their soapboxes. Drawing on the harmonious tradition of the barbershop quartet, The Hair Cut Before The Party hope to draw all these different voices together and to sing a ‘world into existence’.