In the lead up to the release of Materiality: SURFACE we present a small celebration of the tattoo. (It wouldn’t fit in the mag). Once described by a 19th century forensic scientist as ‘speaking scars’, tattoos are applied for a variety of reasons—religious, cultural, personal—as a kind of visual code, a message embedded in the very surface of the body.  In western culture tattoos have often been associated with criminal elements, but today are they so prevalent it almost seems unusual not to have a tattoo.
The posts on the pinknantucket press blog this week are all short pieces exploring the what, why and when of personal tattoos. Our first tattoo belongs to Melbourne artist Eli Smith.
These were not my first tattoos but they were the first ones of any proper size. I considered placement and scale more with these than any of my previous ones. They are Sanskrit words—a tricky language for someone who fumbles his way through the one language he speaks. Fortunately I was working at Melbourne University in the early naughties and had access to some pretty clever people, one of whom was a Sanskrit scholar. He was able to guide me through what would otherwise have been the impossible task of sifting subtle meaning, gender-specific spelling and legibility of font. If you’re going to commit something to your body and to eternity—especially if you’re borrowing from the culture next door—it’s nice to be accurate. I used Melbourne’s large and well-educated Indian community as a communal thesaurus to check and double check them for mistakes before I eventually had the words made flesh, so to speak.
The two words translate to ‘fearlessness’ and ‘compassion’, which, for me, are aspirational guides for action. I would like my actions to be possessive of both these qualities. They aren’t all the time but it’s good to have aspirations. They are on my forearms so that I can be reminded of these ideas as often as possible.
They mean a lot to me, but most of the time when people ask what they say I reply with ‘fish and chips’.
Materiality: SURFACE is at the printers and will be available soon on the pinknantucket press shop—you could pre-order a copy, for only $15 + postage! And why stop there? Take care of all your Christmas shopping today and purchase copies for all your friends and family!
 See Gemma Angel’s 2010 article Curious Skin, about the Wellcome Collection’s 300 specimens of tattooed human skin.