Today, I came across Gemma Angel's blog post "The Tattoo Collectors: Film & Fiction," a fantastic piece on the macabre theme of flayed tattoo skin as collected art in literature and movies. Gemma is a tattooist and PhD student, who studies the preserved tattoo skins of the Wellcome Collection, a London museum that houses an array of medial artifacts. So she's my go-to source for the history and culture surrounding the post-mortem preservation of tattoos, which she explores throughout her fantastic blog Life and Six Months. [We've written about Gemma's work before here.]
In The Tattoo Collectors post, she particularly focuses on Roald Dahl's Skin and the German film Tattoo by Robert Schwentke. She offers these thoughts on both works:
It is interesting to note that both Schwentke's film and Dahl's story locate the preserved tattoo within the sphere of the art world - both treat the tattooist as 'great artists' in their own right, whether he be a painter or Japanese tattoo master. The value of the work is considered to be far greater once the artist/tattooist is dead. And both narratives identify the collector of tattooed human skin as fine art collectors who possess a cultured appreciation of the tattoo. Despite this, Dahl and Schwentke's collectors look down upon the tattooed themselves, occupying a more privileged class position.Gemma also discusses the very real practice of tattoo preservation, most notably the collection at the Medical Pathology Museum of Tokyo University, and she even offers an interesting anecdote about "the fetishistic tattoo collecting practices of Ilse Koch, the wife of commandant Karl-Otto Koch at the Buchenwald and Majdanek concentration camps."
The whole post is a great read. Check it.
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.
The Wellcome Collection in London describes itself as "a free visitor destination for the incurably curious," which of course made me curious, incurably so.
Founder Sir Henry Wellcome was a pretty curious dude himself, fascinated by the intersection of medicine and health, business and marketing, philanthropy, culture and art. Wellcome collected over a million objects, including manuscripts, carvings, posters, images and a number of body art artifacts like the preserved tattooed skin above, taken off an executed criminal around 1850-1900.
From June 10th to September 26th, The Wellcome Collection presents an exhibition devoted entirely to the largest human organ. Simply entitled Skin, the exhibition delves into "the changing importance of skin, from anatomical thought in the 16th century through to contemporary artistic exploration."
The show includes image galleries, video, a Skin Lab that looks at developments in skin science (including bio-jewelry and clothing), and essays by Javier Moscoso, and by Katie Kitamura--sister to Horitaka of State of Grace and author of The Longshot: A Novel.
The tattoo portion involves a design competition where the winning artwork will be tattooed live onto Caisa Ederyd (pictured below) at the "Tattoos: Marks of meaning" event on July 22nd.
Don't Panic offers full detail on the competition and the sweet prizes for the winner. Here's just a taste to give you an idea:
"One of the aspects we are interested in is looking at peeling back the layers of skin to discover what's beneath--let your imagination run wild with the anatomical workings of your body. Organs, dissections, skeletons, guts, nerves bundles, veins--get your thinking caps on to illustrate what's beneath our skin and display the internal on the external.
They have an "Inspiration Image Gallery," which includes an exploded thorax. Cool.
As for those sweet prizes, they include £100 cash, a free tattoo by a tattooist from London's Good Times, their artwork on 60K posters, and a year's free membership of the Wellcome Collection Club.
Check out some of the entries already submitted. Good stuff. The competition closes on Friday, June 25th.
PS: Beyond the physical exhibit and competition, I suggest you check out the online library, which offers so many interesting images and info that will satisfy your curiosity of the body. I mean, bodies in general.