Colleen Flanigan, the coral reef sculptor and TED Senior Fellow, didn’t have time to get a haircut before TEDGlobal back in June. So in the spirit of the conference, themed ‘Radical Openness,’ she crowdsourced one instead, letting dozens of conference-goers each take one snip of her hair. (Wired UK hailed the stunt as one of the 10 offstage highlights of the conference.) Now that it’s been a couple of weeks, we checked in with Colleen to see how she feels now about her new ‘do.
How are you feeling about your crowdsourced haircut?
I feel light and loved with the letting go. I carry intimate memories with scissors in this careful, haphazard hairdo. Plus, on a practical note, it is warm here in Portland and nice for summer. The long, personal control pieces in the front are actually at least 2 inches “too long,” but still yet to be snipped. A friend told me today after running, “I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but this piece in the back needs some help. It looks a bit like a Holocaust survivor, and I’m not sure you want that.” Probably not, but the weird thing is, I almost want to hand the scissors to people on the street. The pruning process is more intriguing to me right now than the product.
You made a notebook documenting each snip. What are your plans for these clippings?
While Project Snip was happening, I told people I would use some of the hair in TED Senior Fellow Suzanne Lee’s BioCouture vegetable leather, and some in my next alter ego’s headdress/”hair.” But now, to come clean, I am so enamored with the book and the way people signed personal notes — their names and their unique snips — I am tempted to keep the book intact and, for the other projects, to use hair from a previous cut, since I always keep cut hair in bags as a creative resource. Hopefully the TED community will understand and is not is not too attached to the vision of their pieces growing into living clothing or a customized character wig.
Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share as a graduating Senior Fellow?
I had never before in my life been around so many people for such an intense stretch of time as at the TED conferences. Before becoming a Fellow, I spent longer stretches of time in solitude, or at least in times of mental contemplation, perhaps a feeling of isolation, or -– how do you say -– offline repose? Now, in the stream of “Ideas Worth Spreading,” I feel that I am in a new phase of my life and very excited to see where all these new international, interdisciplinary relationships and connections I’ve been so happy and fortunate to make will lead over the years.
Collaborations are happening everywhere I go. The webs and threads of intersecting thought and people are multiplying as a result of my immersion with TED attendees and Fellows over the past four years. You know when you watch dough rise? TED is like the yeast starter. Every time you look at the dough, it’s hard to believe how much and quickly it expands. It’s always a kind of miracle. I guess TED makes hearty, dense and tasty bread.
What are you up to next?
At the moment, I am designing some new models for Living Sea Sculptures and awaiting news about coral and oyster restoration projects. And Brent Hartwig -– a friend I met through TED Fellow Sarah Jane Pell –- and I are discussing how to integrate Biorock® coral habitat into his human ocean habitats. I am applying for some residencies in New York City that unite art, science, and technology, which would focus my energy on developing a multimedia, interactive exhibit uniting human health and coral health through sensors and breathing in a visceral personal way I hope will illuminate a universal truth about our interdependence. I see this installation in my mind, I write about it and feel its purpose. Now I want to make it with the team to see what happens, what we learn and discover as it unfolds. It grips me as an idea worth making.
See more photos of Project Snip on Colleen’s Flickr page.