Festivals serve up more than bands, martinis in mugs and craft beers in custom-designed bottles, so in the spirit of risk-taking and surrender, I decided to submit myself to an ‘artistic experience’ in a silent hair salon at last year’s Mona Foma festival. But to what was I surrendering? And why?

‘The Terhairium’ offered an indulgent immersion, leaving the customer at the hands of the silent hair stylist in a foliage-filled caravan. There would be no speaking and no mirrors. Limited stipulations could be given in writing before the appointment, the example given being: ‘no shorter than the jawline’. I wrote: ’no fringe please’, then, a bit more insistent: ‘no more than a trim, really’, and finished with a somewhat more desperate plea: ‘I don’t like hair around my face!’

The Terhairium. Image supplied by Chelsea de Main.

But I began to wonder: what could happen to me, while I’m in there, voiceless, in the stylist’s hands? I liked my shaggy, sea-stained locks, the twisted blonde, brown and grey strands like seaweed around my sandy face. I could come out looking ‘styled’ or with straight hair or with an asymmetrical bob or, or, or…

Why would I surrender myself to strangers?

It’s true that my hair did need a trim, but it was the indulgence of locking myself away which was a huge part of ‘The Terhairium’s’ appeal. After more than seventeen years of parenting, and over twenty-five years with a partner, the chance to be answerable to no one, well, it seemed priceless. No one could talk to me. No one could get to me, except for um, the stylist. In a vivid flashback, I recalled how much I enjoyed (enjoyed?) my MRI brain scan experience. Sure, the idea was scary, the concept claustrophobic, but then there was the escape, oh the escape: the cubicle of my own, the disposable slippers, the soft bathrobe, the inevitable slide away from faces, the enforced solitude, just me, some music and a chorus of clunking, thumping magnets. Ah, the serenity…

But, back to my flight of follicular folly. The Terhairium was billed as an ‘installation-artwork-hairdressing-concept.’ Chelsea de Main, stylist and owner of Eye Am Hair, wanted to “disrupt the traditional hair salon model.” She created her salon in a copper-clad caravan in 2015. “I believe hairdressing can be both art and a form of healing,” she says. “As a salon…it’s a space for the soul to be replenished.”

I fronted up for my appointment. The door opened and I was in the caravan, amongst the cool blue-green of tiles, piped soundtrack of birds and falling water, draped tentacles of creepers and sly succulents on edges and borders. There were two basins, two chairs and two hair artists. The caravan moved on its mounts, shifting as each hairdresser walked around it.

Inside The Terhairium. Image supplied by Chelsea de Main

A glass filled with golden red liquid was placed beside me with a nod and a smile. ‘Is this poison!?’ my mind analysed. I felt like Alice, in the looking glass…but there were no mirrors here. What if it was all part of the surrender? Rules said I could not speak, but I couldn’t help gesturing: ‘drink?’ She nodded, and I gulped in the liquid of cool fruit and herbs.

Then, all I could do was sit and breathe, obey instructions and open the senses.

In chemical jars she mixed potions beside me, a slow dribble of elixirs mixed and swirled. It was put aside, to brew. Anticipation sparked and flared, as the head massage began. No talking. No need to think, just feel. Time seemed endless. The fan blew the maiden hair fern, while outside, far away from me in the heat, punters drank beers and bands belted out their tunes. Then came the tumbler of potion, my head resting back over the basin, the liquid like honey, chilled, oh so chilled. So cold it felt warm. So warm it felt cold. My senses surrendered to the bathing of follicles. From her leather belt, the stylist drew scissors, flashes of acquamarine, snip, snip, snip. Comb. Pulled straight and snipped. Pulled straight and snipped. Pulled straight and snipped. Pulled straight…

The experience went for an hour, and in that time, I felt free. Free to make no choices, say no words, give no directions. I trusted. And hoped. And emerged, golden silky smooth, hair simply sculpted, smelling so fresh, so good, that I would not wash my hair for a week.

I took my hair bathed in flowers back across Bass Strait, and dunked it in the ocean off Port Phillip Heads. Salt water mixed with flowers, the perfume remaining after my immersion. For such a haircut I wish I could fly back across that ocean, back to Tasmania, back to the Terhairium, to escape from myself once more. To place myself within those caravan windows again, and to feel the surrender; to drink the red gold elixir and be bathed in the chilled potion. To feel invisible, and yet be seen. Rinse and repeat.

The Terhairium, in situ at Mona Foma 2019 © Anna Sublet

Additional information:

Chelsea de Main, stylist and owner of Eye Am Hair, wanted to “disrupt the traditional hair salon model.” She created her salon in a copper-clad caravan in 2015. “I believe hairdressing can be both art and a form of healing,” she says.

Of the soundtrack, Chelsea says, “Yes, there was birds, rain & nature. The sound installation was a composed piece of natural soundscape environments from around the world and ambient vocal music created by my partner, Ashley Bartholomew.”

The Eye Am Hair Caravan operates in Red Square, Macquarie Point, Hobart, and offers silent sessions on certain nights.

Also published as Rinse & Repeat on my personal blog, Notes of Substance

Curious reader and undercover scribbler. Published in The Guardian, The Age, Australian Traveller, Footy Almanac, The New York Times.