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Not so much of déjà vu – Tattoo Fest 2008

It started with "oops" on my part! I was supposed to meet my tattoo artist and his friend, my travel companions to the third annual Tattoo Fest, on the Central Train Station in Poznan. 10 minutes before our train's departure we still haven't met yet and I was told over the phone that I probably was in the wrong place. Sure enough, it was my fault and, my blood heavy with "catch-the-train-or-not" adrenaline load, all I could say after meeting the guys on the right train platform was "oops, sorry!"

Everything was slower and more relaxing than the previous year because this time Slawek didn't have a booth at the convention. Since we didn't have to worry about being at the venue early in the morning, we spent our first evening in Cracow on roaming the streets and trying to find the place Mariusz, the third musketeer in this year's crew, remembered as "the restaurant serving the best broth ever!" It wasn't easy to find but, in the end, totally worth our time, efforts and hunger.

Saturday was the first day of the convention and it was open to the public at noon again, just like last year. Slawek and I got there about 11am, though, just to get a feel of the place and see how everything was going. Hesitant and uneasy at first (I so don't like crowds!) I felt pretty much at home right after bumping into Radek Nierychlo, staff member of the Tattoo Fest magazine and a very enthusiastic person as a whole, whom I met last year. He briefly told me about a few stunts planned for the first day of the event and left me pretty excited about things to come. A few minutes later I felt even better when I saw a booth occupied by Pinker Tattoo, a tattoo shop from Hungary – the very same place that I stopped by at last year when I was looking for G abor's tattoo shop in Budapest. The world is small! It actually is even smaller as a few steps farther down the aisle I came across a booth taken by the guys from a London-based Evil from the Needle shop. I introduced myself and explained how I knew about the shop thanks to many positive reviews the shop got from BME readers and experience submitters (and one of my friends got there his Old English tattoo done at that) which led me and the guy, Brent, to discuss briefly the importance of the word of mouth in this industry.

I continued strolling down the aisles and checking out the stands that were still in the building-up stage, trying to look very casually while picking up all the promo stuff I could come across and make my own (it is already a tradition of some sort – I'm shameless at grabbing all promo stuff I can put my little greedy claws on to make my IAM friends happy; the booty is always split into a few parts and then sent out abroad). The event was officially open at noon and more and more visitors started to appear on the site.

I was very curious to see how the organizers of the event, Kult Tattoo shop, were going to entertain us this time around and I must admit their offer was definitely more varied and interesting than a year ago.

Right after opening the convention people from the audience were invited to take part in tattooing on the artificial skin. Several people played the role of tattoo artists while a few others pretended to be the tattooed. It was probably the first time ever for these people to actually hold and use a tattoo machine and they seemed to have a really good time while "tattooing" their "victims". To be honest, I would not mind to be one of the "tattoo artists" here. Since I was not one of the chosen ones, I decided to take a few shots of the game and see how others were doing here.

Right after the "tattoos" were finished and the stage cleaned up, the audience got to see a show by Devil Angels, a performance group using sexy and skimpy clothing and kind of kitschy music. The Angels, basing quite heavily on the sexy pin-up-like look, showed something that didn't make a huge impression on me which does not mean, of course, that others did not like it. A few hours later the very same Angels got to show us 'restriction wear" = latex, corsetry and the like. Fine on eyes as it was, though, I did not like how stiff and static they acted – looking at humans dressed up pretty nicely but behaving like mannequins is not very entertaining.

The whole tattoo competition spiel this year was organized differently, and more efficiently, than last year. Since Slawek, my artist, was a head of jury this year again and since he asked yours truly to become a part of jury this year as well, I had a really good perspective on how the competition worked and what body art was presented to us. Everything took place right on stage and this time jury did not retreat to an adjacent room to discuss possible winners.

Last year we could see way too many horror/evil-themed tattoos; in fact, there were so many of them that at times I felt like screaming from boredom (because, honestly, how many 'evil' tattoos you can see during one weekend?). This time around there was much more variety, even if it was still stained with evil mark. I guess people think 'evil'/ 'horror'/'gore' make for much more interesting effects than other motifs.

There were a few nice portrait tattoos to see, several bio-mech tattoos with an interesting touch of color to them and quite a few cartoon/old school/grey tattoos. Just like last year, the convention was a moment of glory for Tofi, a young but already pretty well established in the local 'scene' tattoo artist from Art-Line shop in Rybnik. One or two awards got Prykas, an artist also from Rybnik. A few foreign guests also scored an award or two, among them Tyutyu, a Hungarian tattoo artist from the Pinker Tattoo shop.

Being heavy into reading/languages/words, I could not resist taking a mental note of shop names seen all over the convention. Most of the names of the Polish shops are English or, at least, foreign which probably is supposed to add to them a little more style and splendor. Like with tattoos, the more evil something looks and sounds, it is probably the better, so one could see such names and images as 'evil moon', 'monster' (and sure as hell, green it was although I'm not sure if these guys are big Shakespeare's fans), 'evil tattoo', 'sauron' or 'sigil'.

The highlight of the first day for me, and probably for many others as well, was a show by a Finnish performance team called Bobo's Loco Carneval. Earlier in the afternoon there were announcements that people willing to suspend are wanted as the Fins were supposed to present suspensions and suspend those who would like to try it. Seeing as the announcements were kept being repeated over and over again, I figured there were not that many volunteers. For a very short while I was even playing with the thought of taking the plunge myself but eventually decided against it – doing something just to tick if off of the 'list' (and a mod list concept is something I totally despise) did not sound like fun to me.

I made sure to arrive to see their show a little earlier, so I could see how they set up the stage and everything they needed. The rig was fastened to the ceiling and checked multiple times; there was a small table with sterile tools, disinfectants and gloves, and – above all – three huge Fins wondering about in kilts and black latex gloves on. Setting everything up took some time but finally the stage was ready for the 'virgins'.

There were four of them, all of them males. The hooks were thrown in before they entered the stage, so the 'show' could progress pretty fast. A small crowd, gathered in front of the stage, was eager to see everything, cameras ready in hands and mouths ready to gasp. I stood in the middle of all these people, wondering if I'd be impressed, disappointed or mildly amused in the end.

The first suspendee had "hell yeah!" attitude, sticking his tongue out and shaking his hand in the infamous 'evil' sign. Something changed, however, right after he was lifted from the ground. Being so much about the show and 'kewl' a few seconds before, once in the air the guy seemed to feel how much on his own with pain and experience he suddenly became. I looked closely at his face, only to see the focus and pain distorting his features. I stood there, smiling cynically and casually checking my watch to time his suspension, and yet I was kind of impressed how suddenly the 'cool' attitude seemed to be wiped off of his face and, probably, head. It definitely was interesting!

His suspension did not last longer than 5 minutes and, show-wise, it was not impressive at all but the way he metamorphed while in the air was something more impressive than a few silly stunts. The next three suspensions, neither of them lasting longer than two minutes, were also very simple (what to expect from the first-timers after all?). The change in these guys was not that apparent as in the first case but their approach seemed to be different. One of them was on a wheelchair and his performance was more interesting and more varied than others'.

So we could see people suspending from the hooks; the audience could feed on the sight of blood trickling down the suspendees' backs (all of them did 'suicide') and all of us got something to tell others about for the days to come. I was left with mixed feelings – an interest and a slight disgust combined. Interesting as it was as a whole, I felt sorry for these people for wasting their 'first time'.

For me the first day of the convention could end right then and there but there were still a few contests to attend and a few small 'shows' to see. I intended to see two Polish IAM-ers, iam:xRonix and iam:Misiek54, doing a piercing show but – after going up and down the stairs like three times in a row and the show still not being ready and about to begin – I decided to give up on it and focus on hanging out with my friends and other people. Nothing more to report in this department then! Among other attractions there were also an event called Tattoo Battle (artists freehanding tattoos with the main motif being music) and, on day 2, Art Fusion-based stunt which results could be seen on the main stage afterwards. Overall, something new and something old to keep all of us entertained and to show the a rtists' skills.

The second day of the convention started sunny and bright. We were not in a hurry, so decided to go for a big lunch first. The restaurant of our choice was a Jewish one which we accidentally stopped by at during our first evening in Cracow; one of the waiters here approached us then and expressed his interest in tattoos and told us how he has been wanting to get a bio-mech piece on his leg for a long time now. It is the moments like this one that make for colorful and positive memories and we embraced both the guy's interest and the whole experience. The food served in the restaurant was absolutely delicious, too.

My highlight of the day was this 'real' show by Bobo's Loco Carneval. Since their first appearance on the stage, with the 'virgins' suspending, proved to be quite interesting, I really wanted to see what they had in store for us on their own.

As before, there was a small crowd of people in front of the stage and the Fins setting up their tools again. Clad only in black kilts and with their faces painted in black and white, they looked interesting. For me it was an odd mix of carnival/freakshow backing down to centuries ago and postmodern freedom to use everything one thinks suitable and useful enough.

They started dynamically and with foolish smiles on. The heavy metal music pounding in the background and them showing us simple fire play tricks, using their nasal cavities for not that usual things, stapling latex gloves to their bodies and pushing and pulling against each other. The crowd kept gasping, cringing, taking pictures and applauding. One of them suspended and swung a big hammer from his penis and, sure enough, it was met with surprise and approval of the audience. The hooks placed in the Fins' backs were used in not overly spectacular a way but the blood flowing down their big, white chests and backs added to the crude and barbaric show all of us witnessed. There were rough, incomprehensible vocals accompanying the music and now and then the Fins sang along.

No, they did not present us (or me) with anything I did not read about/hear/see before but they put up a simple and decent show. It was obvious they were having fun throughout the show and they managed to create some rapport with the audience. The people who came to see the show got what they wanted, too – they got blood and sweat, a freakish flavor to their predictable tastes and, even if not that many of them were aware of that, they also got an opportunity to get back in time to the old and weird era of the circus and freak sideshows catering to those who were/are always ready to ridicule the outsiders and yet desperately need their fix of otherness.

The convention was coming to an end, too. The last contests soon were done and the winners awarded. The booths disappeared and people's interest switched to Euro 2008 (later this evening Poland was playing against Germany) and Kubica driving towards his first victory in one of F1 races. My friends and I headed to the train station to catch our night train to Poznan and an eerie walk across Cracow it was, with not that filled with people streets and sights of football fans getting ready for the game. Something ended only to give in to something else to begin.

This year's Tattoo Fest went better than I expected, with new attractions, new shops and artists presenting their work, but it was not flawless, either. Just like the last year, people attending the event were mostly young, tattooed and, one way or another, somewhat involved in the 'scene'. To make a difference and show the body art to a wider range of people, the organizers should try a little harder. There were too many modified, 'holier than thou,' 'sleeping beauties' haunting the place and omnipresent and annoying journalists trying to get a few shots on no matter what price. There is a hope for good things to come, however, as – obviously – while being at the convention I did not have a very strong feeling of déjà vu.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 30 June 2008
in Tattoos

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Studio: Rotunda+Club
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