Pamela Kleemann-Passi
Photographer & Visual Artist

Hairball Café


Hairball Café is a photographic installation consisting of objects pertaining to dining – tables, tablecloths, placemats, napkin ties and plates. Yet, what is offered to the diner is not a typical menu. Hair, a site of individuality, beauty, eccentricity, authority, ridicule or class distinction, is the specialty of the day. In using hair, Kleemann visualises the types of images that provoke the oppositional responses of attraction/repulsion, pleasure/ horror, desire/disgust.

Humour, irony and social commentary are critical to the evolution of Kleemann’s work. Her photographic installations explore serious issues (racism, sexism, beauty, consumption and identity) with the intention of evoking a sense of disquiet and discomfort in the viewer. These issues she deals with however, are presented in a playful manner which invites multiple and contradictory responses. While Kleemann’s work references the humour and irony found in the artworks of the Surrealist and Dada movements of the 1930s, she also draws on myth, biblical parable, anecdote, literature, religious and secular art, contemporary advertising, film and modern technology as inspiration for her practice.

In this café there is a fine line between desire and disgust. The table settings are presented as beautiful objects but what is dished up is unpalatable. Kleemann’s installation is more than just a witty presentation of the associations between hair and food. Here, the settings become a metaphor for the social disposition that many individuals feel in response to our histories and what is being thrust upon us in contemporary culture by the media. For example, at first glance the Meaty Hairballs look almost fleshy, having a colour and texture similar to that of cooked meatballs. Yet, on close inspection they have furry edges, are tough and twisted and are sure to elicit a choking or gagging response when consumed. They are not what they seem!

The only dessert course offered on the Hairball Café menu, Dark Chocolat Hairdo Mousse served on Warm Fleshy Delight is a visual reference to imperialism, globalisation and the notion of dominant cultures devouring, literally eating off the backs of the oppressed. The tablecloth is an exposed landscape of skin, naked and vulnerable – a body fragmented, depersonalised, absent of any identity. The installation also prompts the question ”Are we being served appropriately by our governing institutions?” The fact that in this café there are no chairs and no diners, just a transient audience, is a testament to this. The hair, as a leftover, is too difficult to swallow.

Each table setting is titled menu-style, using hair terminology, puns, slang and wordplay to emphasise the connections, and cross the boundaries between hair, food and sex. This wordplay alludes to the seductive hype, the technical language that has emerged in the advertising world. The setting Short ‘n’ Curly Vermicelli served on a bed of Saffron Swirls highlights the problematic perceptions of ‘blondeness’. The language of blondeness has evolved to encompass the disparate attributes of beauty/vampishness, desire/innocence and the idea of the ‘bimbo’ in contrast with the intellect. These are qualities that have been perpetuated through fables, fairytales, myths and legends. Modern marketing companies have capitalised on this so that blondeness has become more of a value system than a description of hair colour.

Kleemann engages the alchemical and analogue processes of traditional photography in combination with digital technology. The photographic hair morsels were shot on Fujichrome 64 ASA film and then baked at an extremely high temperature via a digitised transfer onto porcelain plates. In addition, the baked images and objects make a direct reference to domesticity and the cooking process. This is a concept that has been addressed in Kleemann’s previous installation Cooked (1999-2002).

Louisa Scott (Independent Curator)
May, 2004

Mixed Media Installation – digital images printed on synthetic silk, porcelain plates, human and synthetic hair napkin ties, cotton fabric, velcro, mdf board, metal screws.

Dimensions variable.

2007 – ANCA Gallery, Canberra, ACT, as part of the Are YOU Being Served exhibition of projects from 1999-2007

2005 – Horsham Regional Art Gallery, Horsham, Victoria, Australia
2004 – fortyfivedownstairs Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
2002 – Stills Gallery, Sydney, Australia

Download Pam Kleemann’s MA research Splitting Hairs PDF

Hairball Café Media Release

Hairball Café Menu

Hairball Café is the culmination of four years research towards the completion of Kleemann’s degree – MA Photography, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia 2005. 

Kleemann, Pamela 2010, Splitting Hairs Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany, now available through

All works copyright the Artist 2002-05.