Saturday, October 8, 2011

Typographic Bodytext

Shelley Jackson's Skin project is a witty and innovative novel comprised of 2095 'words', each one of which is tattooed onto participants. Volunteers from around the world are sent an individual word, together with its attendant punctuation, and are obliged to tattoo the word they receive on any part of their body in a prescribed 'classic book font', examples of which are 'Caslon, Garamond, Bodoni, and Times Roman...Futura or Gill Sans...Courier' and 'Baskerville'. Jackson stipulates that the 'tattoo should look like something intended to be read, not admired for its decorative qualities', which suggests she generally views tattoos as decoration and not as 'something intended to be read'. This narrow view of reading (explicitly linked to letters, graphs, words here) is, in itself, interesting and perplexing, since, as we know, non-verbal images are equally text-like and almost always produced to be interpreted or 'read'. Even more interesting, however, is the insistence on a 'classic book font', when what is being produced is manuscript, inscribed by hand into the skin. This makes the participants--embodiments of a fractured, dismembered work--living exempla of hybrid technologies. In contrast, the image of my friend's tattoo shown here is a manifestation of multilayered chirographic practice: it is a line from the Old English poem, The Wanderer ('Thus said the wise man in his mind as he sat apart in secret meditation'), written by needle in an emulative Anglo-Saxon Insular Minuscule script, imitating the original tenth-century scribe's work in The Exeter Book of Old English Poetry. It becomes a tattoo simulacrum--a real fake, written into human skin, instead of on animal skin. My friend literally brings the page to life.

No comments:

Post a Comment