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Truisms, amateurs and tattoo needles

When I had my Americanophilic period I became fascinated by the artist Jenny Holzer, and perhaps especially the story of how she one morning in 1982 let the big electronic light board in Times Square Manhattan advertise message like "Ambivalence can ruin your life", "Murder has its sexual side" and "Everything that's interesting is new ". I don’t know much more about the incident but it was enough for me. I loved the idea, truisms instead of advertising in an urban landscape, that she had chosen to work in such an artificial material, as light boards in New York - the city that in many ways was the center of the world, where stressed men and women were just about to create the Roaring '80s. Here we can add that women in history often have been considered to be close to nature, that women and the female mind would be the opposite of the artificial and bourgeois. In this way, it is perhaps relevant to her work that she is a woman but yet chose to work in an artificial and non-organic material. Well, I might not be the first to have thought that.

Now ten years later, I have two quotes by Jenny Holzer tattooed: "Abuse of power comes as no surprise" and "Ambivalence can ruin your life" on the right forearm respective on the left calf. It may be seen as a tribute, she is an artist, sometimes I suspect that creativity is something God given that I may never understand, and therefore artists/writers/etc are a mystery to me. Sure to tattoo yourself can be seen as an expression of creativity, but I am still an amateur and I’m mediocre - and that’s okay, a very very small minority of all who get tattoos are professional artists, still we choose to mark our bodies permently anyway. One reason that I wrote down the previous sentence is that the tattoo-artist who made the "Abuse ..." tattoo on my arm did not seem to be entirely satisfied with the outcome. Though he did not have to worry about it, I liked the tattoo. I guess an expert in calligraphy could have written a nicer and better text, but as I said I was an amateur.

Amateurish or not, still something about the banal message feels very right for me. Another inspiration, except Holzer, actually is those people that have a theme for their tattoos and other body modifications, such as Eric "The Lizardman" Sprague. Say what you want about him but he’s definitely a guy who has had a plan and theme for his body modifications. Not to compare my tattoos with his works, but at least I too have a theme. So then comes the question if I will continue with the theme and get a third quote tattooed? It’s quite possible, however I want to learn more about calligraphy first, so I can design that one myself.

That was something about the background to the two tattoos. Now is the time to write a few words about the performance. The tattoo on my leg was made by a man named Mats, and the name of the guy who made the tattoo on my arm was Tord. Their style of tattooing were slightly different, in fact I would say that Tord was more of a craftsman. He spend more time on drawing the motive, Mats had his "intern" write the text on a computer and print it out, Tord didn’t even had a computer in the studio. Unfortunately, it was also so that while Mats studio was almost clinically clean Tord's studio had a hygienic standard that would have been more appropriate for some other craft. He had an autoclave, the needles were disposable, he disinfected my arm before he started, etc. But there were a number of small details, the bunk didn’t seem to be cleaned between clients, he did not change gloves after touching anything, things that really lowered the overall impression. Well perhaps I should point out that the tattoo in all cases healed well.

At last, in a way it’s problematic to use another persons art for tattoos, I don't really want Jenny Holzer will find out that I got these tattoos. Of course it’s to overestimate the importance of myself and my tattoos, but chances are that I so to speak have misused her work of art, while using it in this way. Another thing that may be harder to understand and explain, but if I was her I wouldn’t have liked if my work inspired tattoos. I simply think that I don’t want to affect the lives of others in that way. Sure we can always speculate that Jenny Holzer is different, why should anyone be an artist unless one want to influent people, even influent people to get tattoos, but it is not really relevant to this article.

Edit: As you might understand English isn’t my first language, but I think you can read it anyway.

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submitted by: Ekh
on: 05 April 2010
in Lettering Tattoos

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