Tattoo above by Amanda Wachob.
My morning has gotten off to a great start thanks to BBC Radio 4's "A Mortal Work of Art" -- a wonderfully produced program that explores the intersection of the tattoo and fine art worlds. With the program 28 minutes long, I figured I'd just let in play on my laptop while I busied myself with other tasks; however, the really insightful discussion on the artistry of tattooing stopped me from doing anything else, so I just sat down and learned something.
What makes the program so compelling is that Mary Anne Hobbs, who hosted the piece, talks to the very people who have changed tattooing in the fine art context and who have shared very different ways of viewing tattoo art:
The legendary Spider Webb brought tattooing into galleries, museums, and even Christie's auction house, particularly for his conceptual tattoo projects, which he still continues to innovate today. He also talks to the BBC about fighting NYC's tattoo ban (which wasn't overturned until 1997).
London's Alex Binnie, owner of the famed Into You Tattoo, shares his thoughts on tattooing's impact on pop culture -- an impact greater than any the fine art world has had. The program ends on a strong note with his assertions on why tattooing doesn't need validation from anyone other than those wearing it.
Amanda Wachob discusses what motivated her to experiment with nontraditional tattoo imagery, to offer something different to clients beyond the standard menu, which has made her one of the most sought-after tattooers in New York.
Of course, our good friend Dr. Matt Lodder, art historian, is brilliant when he discusses what tattooing can gain by being accepted as an art form; that is, real critique of what is good, bad, derivative, ethical, new ... rather than looking at tattoos as one homogenous thing. He's currently writing a book on tattooing in the UK from an art historian perspective, which will be an important contribution to our community.
Also in the BBC program are Shelley Jackson, renowned for her "Skin" project, where a story she has written is conveyed through words tattooed on people around the world; artist Sandra Ann Vita Minchin discusses how mortality & legacy inform her own use of tattooing in her performance art -- and how she plans to grow skin through her DNA and tattoo it as an extension of her body project; and Sion Smith, editor of Skin Deep, and Trent Aitken-Smith, editor of Tattoo Master, weigh in on tattoo culture today.
Again, this is a fantastic listen and worth the time. Check it here.
It's been exciting watching Shelly Jackson's Skin project develop over the past few years, particularly seeing her 2095-word story come together on the bodies of people around the world, the only medium where it will be published.
The most recent movement in the project came last week with her exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum: a video in which she assembled clips from a number of participants who say the word they are assigned and show their tattoo, thereby creating a new "sub-Skin" story. The LA Times has more on the video:
Close to 200 of Jackson's words [her participants] uploaded their videos onto YouTube for the new iteration of the project. She edited and crafted a story that's 895 words long (she reuses several).
The LA Times took some of the video clips and even made their own video -- a fun mash-up that many of us could create with some quick and dirty editing. If you do one of your own, send it our way.
Here's another lit pick for our gift guide:
The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide, by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor, is a beautiful compilation of literary tattoos, whether they be favorite lines from Shakespeare, Shel Silverstein illustrations, a Kafka portrait, or the truly hardcore--a full backpiece of Theodor Adorno's essay "For Marcel Proust."
The Word Made Flesh comprises 150 photos of these tattoo tributes accompanied a statement from the wearer about the work. Some offer a few paragraphs on the significance behind their tattoos while others just have a few words like the Brooklyn College professor with the Adorno backpiece who simply said: "I'm always shocked at how few people make themselves into a lifelong monument to their favorite prose or verse."
This book, however, proves that there's a significant group of people who do. And it seems most live in my Brooklyn backyard. [Our humble borough is home to many writers and has more "coffices" per capita than anywhere in the world (maybe), and considering it's also ground zero for NYC's top tattoo work, the connection seems natural to fill a book.] The authors are also Brooklyn residents. They explained in an interview with GalleyCat that the project was inspired by seeing literary tattoos on the streets and even on their roommates. Justin said, "We decided to see if this was a coincidence or an actual trend, and put a call for submissions up on HTMLGiant.com. Pictures started pouring in immediately and we were off to the races."
View more tattoo submissions on their site TattooLit.com.
Tattoo by Thor at Yonge Street Tattoos in Toronto
I was also happy to see Shelley Jackson's Skin project featured in the book. Skin is "a 2095-word story published exclusively in tattoos, one word at a time, on the skin of volunteers." Read more about it (and how you can participate) here.
My one big issue is that the tattoo artist credits are at the back of the book in list format, which is hard to follow. I think the artists who render the words on skin should have equal billing with the authors on the very page the work is shown. That said, I recommend it as an interesting (and affordable) softcover for tattoo word nerds on your holiday list. Amazon sells it for $10.19.
Eva's next project will be a collection of music tattoos. She's looking for song lyrics, band logos, record labels, musician portraits, and the like. Check this post for more info on that book and how to submit your own photos.
For more on literary tattoos, also hit the Contrariwise blog.