Yesterday someone linked me to an amazing article over on The Independent. The author, Dominic Johnson, eloquently tackles the task of answering what initially seems to be a simple question: “How can a tattoo be seen as a work of art?”
How can the procedures of tattooing – the painful depositing of layers of inks below the surface of the skin – be reframed as performance? How can a tattoo be seen as a work of art? The use of tattooing in performance relates to a broader use of body modification techniques in visual art – usually painful acts such as piercing and scarification – most notably in the work of London-based artists Ron Athey, Franko B, or Kira O’Reilly.
While such work is sometimes misread as a symptom of the artist’s masochism, the pain involved is somewhat incidental to the production of a lasting image: as a spectacle that has a lasting effect on its audiences, but also in the sense of a permanent trace on the skin of the artist. Tattooing takes its place alongside other similar techniques for puncturing, cutting, or otherwise marking the skin towards the production of strong imagery in art and performance.