Saturday, December 17, 2011

when police Occupy our skin...

Tattoos: They've been applied and acquired throughout history for a wide range of purposes. Beauty, status, rites of passage, rebellion, fashion, gang affiliation and remembrance of deceased loved ones are just some of the historical and present-day motivations for tattooing one's skin. However, not everyone who bears a tattoo underwent the procedure voluntarily. The most obvious example is, of course, Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust being branded with tattooed identification numbers. And in more recent times the power of permanently marking another's flesh has ended up in the wrong hands more than a few times, always with disturbing results. But never in my life did I think I would learn that police, the supposed peacekeepers and protectors of the innocent, were forcibly "tattooing" peaceful protestors from the Occupy Movement. Alarming, non?

Now, let me begin this discussion by saying that I've scoured the web for hard evidence that this story is true, and have come up empty handed. Thus, I must admit that it could very well be a fabricated tale told by an angry Occupy protestor looking to demonize law officials. Either way, here we go.
At this time only one individual, a girl named Nina Haigh, has come forward in stating that she was "branded" with a UV reactive "tattoo" after being arrested during the eviction of an Occupy Montreal encampment in late November. This statement originally appeared on her Facebook page, lending little credibility to the claim, yet other protestors are reportedly considering a civil suit against the officers as a result of the incident. To me this suggests that her accusations may actually hold some verity.
According to Haigh, officers used UV reactive ink to mark her and other protestors who were detained following the raid, but they didn't stop at a mere marker swipe. "They wrote on my hand with a permanent marker, and then after I felt something pointy and metallic scraping across my skin," says Haigh. She claims that once she was released from custody there appeared to be no ink on her skin, and it was not until the following morning that she realized the ink used had been UV reactive and that officers had apparently embedded the ink in her skin using the sharp object she recalled being scratched with. As many of you may already know, the use of UV reactive ink in tattoos is a hotly debated practice amongst tattoo artists and the medical community, with many arguing that such ink is unsafe and may cause irritation, blistering, and even an increased risk of some types of cancer. Indeed, Haigh reported in her original message as well as in response to follow-up questions that the ink had caused an allergic reaction on her hand which lasted for multiple days.
If what this girl claims happened truly did occur, I am for one outraged that police would go so far as to breach the sanctity of a peaceful protestor's skin as a means of later identifying her should she return. A person's body is sacred, not to be violated for any reason, and especially not by a police officer. I understand that police are authorized to use some types of force if protestors "actively resist" being moved along, but embedding ink into their skin (with who knows what makeshift tools) simply has no place. It seems that every time I pick up the paper I read about law-abiding citizens exercising their Constitutional rights and subsequently being treated like the enemy. Speaking out against the government could get you labeled as one of the "associated forces" referred to in the National Defense Authorization Act that just passed through Congress and is poised to be signed by Obama unless some miracle can prevent it. With bills like this one appearing on Obama's desk it's no wonder that police have been treating protestors like low-level terrorists, ignoring their most basic human rights and throwing compassion to the wind. We're on our way to the disturbing reality of a police state, and I pray that our cries for sanity and mercy will be heeded before it's too late. When the unregulated scratcher tattooist in the back of a white van giving sketchy UV tattoos is actually a police officer...something is definitely very wrong.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

my name is judge.

If you haven't already caught wind of the media outrage regarding the recently released Tokidoki Barbie, here are a few articles to catch you up:

Parents and conservatives the blogosphere over have been voicing their disdain for the collectable doll, who sports a funky outfit and an assortment of brightly colored, Asian-inspired tattoos all across her body. In each article you'll find quoted parents and community members spouting a variety of reactions to news of the toy's appearance on store shelves. These snippets, however, are tame compared to the heated responses found in the comments sections below the articles themselves. I've been sifting through them for hours now, and am quite exhausted by the back and forth between the defenders and the haters. Many of those who oppose the sale of an inked up Barbie are quick to reference stereotypes of tattooed folk as criminals and druggies, yet others seem to have delved a bit deeper and come up with some thought-provoking points. What really captured my attention were the comments regarding how tattooed individuals are judged. They made me consider not just how modders are judged by mainstream society, but also by those within the body modification community itself.
Although we (modders) don't like people to make snap judgements about us based solely on the fact that we sport body art, I have seen evidence that we from time to time make similar judgements about fellow modders who sport certain types of tattoos. I'm not attempting to claim here that everyone in the body mod community is judgmental, but if you can recall your first time in a tattoo shop you might be able to see where I'm going with this. More than a few tattoo artists I know can be quite condescending toward the newly initiated modders amongst us, and I kinda don't blame them. I mean, imagine being a talented tattoo artist running your own high-end shop, and one day an 18 year-old girl comes in asking you for a tribal sun - or worse, her boyfriend's name - on her lower back. You'd probably find it damn difficult to suppress an eye roll and a sigh. Tattoo artists are becoming fine artists of the skin, resulting in an unavoidable sense of disdain for anyone with, or who aims to acquire, a poor quality or generic tattoo. Heck, there are even tattoo artists out there who specialize in the New Skool style and think those covered in Old School designs are just plain lamesauce. There are many qualities of one's ink that can evoke a measure of contempt from fellow inked, including but not limited to motivation for obtaining the tattoo, location of the tattoo, subject matter of the tattoo, quality of the tattoo, significance of the image/words, and artistic style of the tattoo. Now the question must be raised, how can we so readily judge others by their ink when we wish not to be judged by ours?
The answer, in my opinion, lies in the fact that body modification has not yet gained full societal acceptance. When a professional, licensed body piercer sees a botched, infected eyebrow piercing that is pussing and rejecting, they will understandably scorn the wearer as a contributor to a negative perception of body piercing as dangerous and repulsive by society at large. Similarly, the gent who indelibly self-scratches a tattoo loosely resembling barbed wire across his forehead will undoubtedly get a rise out of the veteran tattoo artist who has spent decades perfecting his art and craft. We simply can't be expected to respect those whose body projects contribute to perpetuating a negative image for body modification as a whole.
Granted, widespread acceptance of mods is not necessarily something that every modded individual hopes for. Indeed, part of the allure of modifying our bodies is that we can thereby differentiate ourselves from the rest of society. If everyone accepted and practiced body modification, it might not be so appealing anymore. Additionally, many modders agree that people who immediately judge their character based on their being modded probably don't fit the bill for friendship anyway. In this sense, mods are a "friend filter," as one commenter put it. However, when it comes to acceptance of mods by prospective employers, we can't help but give a damn. If I am better qualified for a particular job than the plainskin next to me, and he gets hired, it becomes clear that there is certainly reason for someone like me to care about how society views mods. Thus, for fellow modded job-seekers, judging those with sub-par mods is somewhat of a self-serving instinct.
Despite this justification for judgement, I still don't condone holding those with inferior mods in contempt. It may be inevitable that I dislike certain mods themselves, but no matter how ugly in my eyes they may be prized possessions in the eyes of their beholder. Thus, I consider it my responsibility to try and cut the thought process short before disdain for a mod becomes disdain for a person himself. We must remember that no matter how tattered and torn, some books hold much more beauty inside than might be suggested by their covers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

getting older ain't so bad, but growing up sucks

Wow, has it really been a year?! Jeebs, MSOM, I've missed you. That's why I've come back out of hiding to lay down yet another of my body mod musings.
San Francisco has been incredibly good to me since moving here 3 years ago, but it sure is distracting. So many wonderful diversions! Recently, though, I've begun to settle back into a slightly calmer lifestyle of homemade dinners, Friday nights in, and yes, even reading a novel or two in my spare time. Am I growing up? Nah, not anytime soon. Not in the traditional sense, at least. I am, however, going through a bit of a quarter-life crisis that has me thinking more than ever before about my health and well-being. That youthful period of whimsicality and fearlessness has begun to fade and in it's place lies a newfound sense of anxiety about the many potential harms that can come to us at any given moment. Don't worry, I haven't developed Agoraphobia or anything. I have, however, begun to monitor my health more intently than ever. I've experienced a number of disconcerting medical symptoms over the last year, and with a history of cancer in my family, I've spent much of the year worrying about disease. However, in the last month or so I have finally decided that I will no longer add the stress of worry to the numerous features of my fast-paced life that could potentially lead to illness. If I'm worried about illness, and illness can be exacerbated by worry...that cycle needs to be ended ASAP.
Ok, so, where does body modification fit into all this?

Well, about two months ago, I got two beautiful new microdermals (dermal anchors) installed below my clavicles. I was excited to have new piercings, as it had been a few months since I removed my sternum dermal. A week in, after daily sea-salt soaks and lots of TLC, they were looking quite good. Unfortunately, that didn't last long. I made the mistake of wiping them dry with a piece of toilet paper - big no-no when it comes to piercings. The preferred cloth to use on healing piercings is paper towel, as it doesn't leave a residue of microscopic dust like toilet paper and doesn't harbor bacteria like cloth towels. Even knowing this, I lazily decided to use TP instead of going downstairs to get a paper towel. D'oh. Literally hours after using the TP, my piercings both grew very angry (i.e. red and swollen). I happened to see my piercer that day, and asked him for some guidance on how to calm them down. He asked if anything out of the ordinary had happened to them, and I was embarrassed to tell him that I had used the TP. I instead told him that they had just started looking like that on their own. He advised me not to touch them for a little while and just leave them be, so naturally I stopped all aftercare including soaking. Mistake #2. Without being soaked the piercings were not draining the fluid that had accumulated within the wound as a result of the irritating toilet paper dust. They swelled up and got very sensitive, as did my lymph nodes - and that spells infection. Upon seeing the updated status of my dermals, my piercer chastised me and told me to start soaking them twice a day. I have to admit, I felt pretty shitty upon walking out of his shop that day. I like to think of myself as pretty piercing-savvy, so I was embarrassed that I had made as amateur a mistake as allowing them to get infected.
Little did I know I would feel a helluva lot shittier upon leaving my ENT's office the next day after going in to get my glands checked out. One word: biopsy.
The word itself gives me shivers. No one wants to have a biopsy - to sit fidgeting anxiously in the waiting room, to endure days or even weeks of mental distress while waiting for results - it's not exactly a fun procedure, and my case wasn't any exception. There I sat with a 4-inch needle embedded in my neck for a full 3 minutes as the technician wiggled it around in an attempt to get a sample. Let me tell you: it felt fucking bizarre. I get squeamish at just the thought of it.
Thankfully, the results came back negative. I am completely healthy aside from the swollen glands - a sign that my body had been fighting an infection. However, both my ENT and the woman who performed the biopsy made sure to advise me to remove my irritated metal friends ASAP if I wanted my glands to go back to normal. They said that the dermals were putting unnecessary strain on my immune system and could result in my getting sick easier that usual. Any body modification practitioner would agree that piercings, tattoos, scarification, branding, suspension, etc. are not exactly beneficial to one's health, especially when the wounds are not properly cared for. I knew this as well, but had always thought it a moot point if I wanted to continue to test my body's limits and ornament it via body modification. Now I'm getting older, and those warnings no longer seem so irrelevant.
At that point I knew I should take the piercings out, but I stubbornly tried to heal them for a few more weeks. To my dismay, they eventually became unbearably tender and didn't seem to be encouraged even by daily soaks anymore. It was finally time to make the dejected trip to get them removed.
Regardless of what my doctors told me, I probably would have gotten the dermals out at about the same point in time anyway. They were ready to go. What my encounters with my doctors did alter, however, is my stance on whether or not to get the (very expensive) microdermal jewelry autoclaved and re-embedded in my body at some point in the future. I think...and it hurts to say this...but I think I may be over dermal anchors. Once so fun and exciting in that they could be placed nearly anywhere and were virtually painless to insert and remove, they now seem to me a risky and annoying bodily adornment that just isn't worth the gamble nor the hassle.
Thankfully, I don't quite think I'm done with piercings altogether, and I'm told that the white gold fire opal disc from one of the anchors can be be set onto a nostril screw. This means I might finally go for the double nostrils I've been contemplating for over a year! Judging by the large number of successful nostril piercings I've seen on SF denizens young and old, they seem to have a pretty low risk of complication or infection compared to other piercings. Oh the nostril piercing, how vanilla. At least I'd be getting two of them...
Now, I may be starting to go the less-risky route when it comes to body modification, but I certainly won't be giving up my motorcycle or snowboard anytime soon. I'm also still quite the hardy partier here in SF (tough not to be), and I enjoy staying out into the wee hours of the morning from time to time. In exchange for maintaining these venturesome features of my lifestyle, I've got to start making some sacrifices insofar as other risky behaviors in my life go. I'm relieved that doing so won't mean giving up on body piercing altogether, as it will always be a source of fascination and intrigue for me, but it will mean becoming more tame in my piercing conquests. That, I think I can handle.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

of microdermals and men

Iii got a new pierrrcing! Went in intending to get the double nostrils I've been lusting after for years and somehow emerged with an over-the-eyebrow microdermal! It's a truly stunning piece of jewelry - a tiny shimmering opal stone set in elegant white gold. It swelled for only a few hours post-procedure, and despite being only 3 days old it already feels healed. Man I love microdermals! This is my second one and I find them insanely easy to care for and adapt to having. Unfortunately, my man doesn't feel the same.
When I first got my sternum pierced with a beautiful moonstone microdermal I was on a high all day long. I waited anxiously for my man to get home so I could show off my sparkly new ta-ta accessory. Much to my dismay, he wasn't all that psyched about it. He worried about ripping it out during playtime or inadvertently whacking it while we slept. I felt bad for a moment when he expressed these concerns - I hadn't really thought about how my piercing would affect him when I decided to get it. Had my decision been selfish? Well, over time we both adapted to my new bling, and 7 months later it is well healed and neither of us barely even notice it anymore. I carefully avoid it when using a loofah in the shower and he is sure to concentrate his titty-love on the goods themselves. It is never a problem, and he's totally over the initial worry.
Unfortunately, just as we both got used to my sternum dermal, here I go getting a facial dermal. D'oh. Once again I failed to consider my mate when getting a new mod. The nostrils he would have been okay with, considering how much smaller and out-of-the-way they are. However the brow dermal makes snuggling up to his chest less of a spontaneous and more of a calculated act, and it complicates his frequent efforts to lovingly brush hair out of my eyes. Here we go again.
After 3 days with the piercing, things luckily seem ok. Once again the bling did take a bit of getting used to, but neither of us have yet bumped or pulled on it with any great force. Now that my babe's concern has been yet again quelled through a bit of a test-run, I've begun to wonder just how much weight I should put on his opinions as to what new mods I'll acquire in the future. He has a few tattoos and no piercings, so I believe that his reservations about me getting new metal can be attributed in part to his lack of understanding as to why I even want mods in the first place. Aesthetic value is of course one of the more easily understood justifications, but he sees me as "fine the way I am," and doesn't feel that I need to add to my appearance to improve it. I have explained some of the other reasons for my desire to become ever-more modded, and although he respects this desire he still fails to fully understand it. What are we, as modded folk, to do when our significant others just don't get it? And even worse, what are we to do when we are made to feel guilty for getting new mods due to the fact that they affect not just us but also our loved ones?
This is how I see it:
Yes, I am willingly acquiring newly sensitive areas of the body that he will have to avoid, but - well - I want them anyway! I love piercings, and although at first we both need to learn to avoid them it's never really that difficult a task. It's as if our brains re-wire or something, creating a new map of the body that includes the piercing as a no-touch zone. He wouldn't stick a finger in my eyeball, and I tryyyy not to knee him in the balls - is this the same thing? Or what about sensitive emotional issues - there are certain things that I know not to talk about around him out of respect for his sensitivity to those things. Just as in the case of my new piercing, he acquired that sensitivity somehow, and with some effort could probably remove it. Granted, emotional issues aren't exactly voluntarily acquired, but they are particular to each person and are to be avoided out of respect for that person.
We can't tell anyone else how to live or dress or speak - we are all our own people and must recognize that every day we deal with people who are very different than us. We may have to stand up to certain people, or be extra gentle when interacting with others. Life is one big compromise, where you bend to other people's needs hoping they will also bend to yours when the time comes. My man is absolutely wonderful and I'm lucky to have him, but he's not perfect. There are certain traits of his that I deal with on a daily basis, and do so happily because I love all that he is. Sometimes I want to freak out on him for leaving his dirty socks all over our bedroom, but instead I pick them up and poke fun at him for doing it. In return he turns off the heat when I've forgotten to, and fixes my motorcycle when I'm too pouty about my recent accident to do it myself. Love is understanding and compromise, and my new mods are just one little thing that he has to learn to love about me. And I'm ok with that.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

saving face

I cringe to think that I haven't posted since July of this year. Things have been a bit wild in my life, hence the blogging sabbatical. Lucky for you I'm back with some old-school mod-a-delic blogaliciousness! In scouring the web for tattoo-related news stories this week, I came across one that particularly piqued my interest.
In a nutshell: John Ditullio was jailed on suspicion of involvement in a double stabbing that occurred in 2006. Since his arrest he's acquired 3 new and shocking tats, including a long line of barbed wire down the right side of his face, a swastika on one side of his neck, and the words "fuck you" on the other side of his neck. Now that he's going to trial for the stabbings, his state appointed defense attorney has arranged for a cosmetologist to cover up the tats at a rate of $125 per day to be paid by the state. The move was approved by the judge in the case, but an internet debate (check the comments section) is currently raging with opinions flying as to whether covering up the tats makes for a fair trial, and if so, whether the state should be footing the bill.
Some are of the opinion that the makeup job will allow the jurors to focus only on the evidence of the case rather than the appearance of the defendant, evening the playing field for the man. They say covering up the tats is akin to dressing a defendant in a nice suit for trial . The other camp believes that if Ditullio got the tattoos of his own free will he shouldn't be given special treatment to disguise his appearance. They say that everything in the case should be considered, the tattoos included, as they are a part of the defendant's life and lifestyle. In their opinions, any attempt to hide the truth of this man's actions in life is unacceptable.
There's a lot to consider here. Even as a mod enthusiast and advocate, I'm torn as to how to react. On the one hand, I am definitely sympathetic to heavily tattooed individuals who have to go to court and defend themselves. Although tattoos are becoming ever more mainstream, society at large still can't shake off past perceptions of tats as indicators of delinquency and even mental illness. Remnants of this perception still linger, perhaps even subconsciously, and can affect one's "gut feeling" about a person with tattoos. With this in mind, I can see why it is appropriate for Dutillio to have his highly visible tats covered.
On the other hand, the subject matter of Dutillio's ink is offensive and hate filled. If our self-chosen outer marks indicate the content of our inner selves, shouldn't the court be allowed to have a peek into this man's dark and troubled soul? But what if the freaky tats were not acquired in an effort to eternally proclaim Ditullio's hate, but rather to quell his fear? Prison is a scary place (I can assume...), and sometimes one's only chance at survival is through affiliation with a group that will help to protect you. Permanently inking his flesh with a symbol that identifies him as a hardcore neo-Nazi could have been the only thing keeping Dutillio alive in prison, so who are we to say he's crazy for doing it? People go to extreme measures to protect their well being.
Perhaps my biggest qualm with covering up the tats is that they weren't completely covered up - a CROSS remains under Ditullio's right eye! How can the judge agree to take Ditullio from "Kill thy neighbor" to "Love thy neighbor" without batting an eye?! The man is a neo-Nazi and probably hates God and Christianity, so there's no denying that the switch from a swastika to a cross is nothing short of deceptive.

So, what's the answer? Should Ditullio be allowed to have his tats covered up? Is there another solution that might be less expensive, or perhaps one that wouldn't involve fraudultently portraying Ditullio as a Christian?
One commentor wondered if a jury made up entirely of tattooed individuals would change anything. This begs the question, are modded folk more sympathetic to their inked brethren, even if the content of the tats is hateful? The makeup job is intended to make Ditullio appear to the jurors like "one of us," but what does this mean? Is looking like "one of us" equivalent to being "one of us," or is it what the tattoos signify about Ditullio's mindstate that makes him different? In this light, a jury of neo-Nazis rather than inked folk would be more appropriate, and I don't see that happening anytime soon.
Another alternative was proposed by prosecuting attorney, Mike Halkitis:

"Instead, Mr. Halkitis said, the judge could just as easily instruct the jury to ignore the tattoos in their consideration of the case. 'We believe the jurors listen to judges’ instructions,' he said."

Okay, following instructions is one thing, but pushing aside a deeply ingrained bias that many people hold against modded folk (especially those with offensive or shocking mods) isn't an easy thing to do. I mean, am I right? Or could the jurors actually manage to ignore the unsettling ink and give the guy a fair trial?
Well, even if we could all agree that covering up Ditullio's tats is the fair thing to do, two problems remain. The first is that the state (and thus taxpayers) should definitely NOT be footing this guy's cosmetology bill. Buying an impoverished defendant a cheap suit is one thing, but picking up the tab for covering up the tats that he willingly acquired, knowing he would have to wear them to court, is quite another. Court ordered or not, it just doesn't seem right.
The second problem is that covering up Ditullio's tats for fear that jurors may be prejudiced against tattooed individuals could set a problematic precedent. Will African-American defendants soon request to have the state pay for them to be sprayed with makeup that lightens their skin color during trial? After all, there are an inordinately larger number of black individuals on death row as compared to any other race. Are these people being unfairly judged by juries that are biased against blacks? And what if a defense attorney believes his/her client will be unfairly discriminated against in court due to a set of jagged, broken teeth? Will the state have to pay for the problem to be remedied with a set of veneers? How far will it go? Jurors can be influenced both positively and negatively by any number of physical attributes - should defendants be allowed to totally transform themselves in order to garner as much positive regard from the jury as possible?
In the end, despite my many qualms with the judge's decision, I'm leaning toward agreement with the cover-up. I spoke with a defense attorney friend of mine about the case, and he told me that he does everything in his power to ensure that all his clients are seen as innocent until proven guilty. This includes cleaning up their appearance in any way possible, thus removing the potential for preconceived notions about the defendant before the trial even begins. According to our justice system, everyone deserves a fair chance to defend themselves. If jurors are distracted by Ditullio's tats, they may not focus on the facts of the case and the evidence at hand, and instead make a decision based on appearances. Thus, I do think the decision to allow covering up the tats was valid, it's just a shame that the taxpayers are being forced to pay $125 a day for it when a simple turtleneck could have done the job just as well.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

mental owwies vs. body boo boos

For those involved in the body modification community, pain is not something to be feared. Anticipated, maybe, but not something to be anxiously awaited in terror. For seasoned mod vets, pain is a part of the game, often leading to a gloriously euphoric ending. The pain is trivial compared to the beautiful outcome. For outsiders looking in, however, modders seem positively insane for undergoing their various painful procedures, crazy for voluntarily allowing another individual to stab, slice, poke, and thread one's flesh - all in the name of fashion and fun. Perhaps this perception encourages us even more, wanting to prove that a little pain is nothing to fear, that nothing scares us, that we are - if only for a moment - invincible.
Of course, even modders are scared of some intense types of pain - breaking one's femur, enduring a skull fracture, losing an eye the hard way. We're certainly not fearless, just desensitized to the more bearable breed of pain. Mental suffering, however, is a very different game. No matter what kind of physical pain you've been through, nothing can prepare you for the tortuous plague that is mental disorder. Even a lifetime of training in the fields of psychology/psychiatry is worth not a damn thing when a professional is faced with tackling his or her own mental demons.
No matter how seemingly stable, no one is exempt from the human fair-share of sickness in the head. Modders often use body modification as an escape of sorts from mental afflictions, with varying results. Whether the attempt at therapy be in the form of a memorial tattoo, a ceremonial suspension, or a ritual cutting, bodily pain can be a temporary or even permanent solution to mental anguish. Countless individuals have reported overcoming distress by proving to themselves through suspension that their mind is stronger than even their body. Others have, as a less permanent cure, distracted themselves from the seemingly never-ending voices of doom in their heads by enduring a long, climactic slice of the flesh via a fresh razor. And it's not uncommon for modders who are having particularly bad day to attempt to take control of something, anything, and acquire a sparkly new piercing to keep them company and give them something to nurture and direct attention to. No matter the official psychological stance on utilizing physical pain to overcome mental pain, many will attest to the technique's wonders.
This got me wondering, has mental pain ever acted as a cure for physical pain? Not that I can think of - actually, just the opposite! As many New Age believers will tell you, the power of positive thinking and a solid mental state are limitless. We can cure our own diseases, or those of others. We can talk ourselves through a painful medical procedure and direct attention away from the anguish. We can even laugh our way to a cure for cancer.
So, which is worse? Mental or physical pain? From personal experince, I'd have to go with mental, but I guess it depends on who you ask: someone who's gone through extreme physical pain or someone who's seen the worst of what the mind can do. The grass is always greener on the other side - but that's why no matter the type of pain, we all emerge from it more appreciative of a painless life than we ever could have been before seeing how bad things can get.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

through the eyes of Yann

Before Yann Black Tattoo came along and introduced the masses to art brut tattooing, clean lines and easily identifiable subject matter were deemed essential elements of a “good tattoo.” Now, with the advent of this new way of thinking about inking, tattoo images can be as raw and spontaneous as art usually found on gallery walls. For Yann and a select few others like him, the flesh has become a canvas on which artists are free to express their creative impulses with minimal limitation and delightfully absurd results. More commissioned pieces of custom artwork than purchased copies of cookie-cutter flash designs, their tats explore the bodily space and go where no ink has gone before.

Yann’s seemingly simple designs grace the flesh of adventurous and discerning tat enthusiasts who flock from all corners of the globe to snag a permanent piece of his ultra-modern body art. Clients come to him with a concept rather than an image, which he then renders in his own signature style and applies to whatever plot of flesh they choose. Control freaks, beware, those who step into Yann’s shop are from that point forth at the mercy of his creative genius. A full arm piece might consist of only a few lines and two colors, but the whole work inevitably ends up much greater than the sum of its parts.

Love him or hate him, Yann and the style of tattooing he’s helped pioneer are part of a new era in tattooing: fine art ink. Forget about anchors and butterflies, Yann is the new Black.

I broke out my rusty college French skills to do a quick e-mail interview with Yann and snag a glimpse of the tattoo world through his eyes. Here’s what he had to say.

Your style of tattooing is so different from mainstream styles like Old School and realism – do you have a name for it?

(Votre style de tatouage est si différent des styles principaux comme "Old School" et l
e réalisme – avez-vous un nom pour cela ?)

There’s no particular name for my tattooing style. Some people have named it “art brut."

(Pas de nom particulier pour mon style de tatouage, certains l'ont appellé "art brut.")

How did you successfully shift from doing these more mainstream styles when you first started tattooing to tattooing exclusively in your signature style? Was it a slow process or did you simply decide one day that you were done with regular flash-based tattoos?

(Comment t’es tu écartée avec succès de ces courants dominant de style en commençant à te tatouer exclusivement dans son style de signature ? Cela a-t-il été une transition lente ou as-tu simplement décidé un jour que tu stoppais les « flash-based tattoos >>?)

I’ve always tried to make by tattooing what I’ve done by drawing, tattooing is just a continuation of the work I started a long time ago in illustration, graphic design and painting.
I worked alone for a long period, and without recognition, then after a couple of months in a big (tattoo) shop in Paris that was really mediatized at this time I decided to do my own drawings only, and to stop with conventional tattoos. It was a big risk, but Tatouage Magazine, the big French magazine about tattooing, published an article on my work about this alternative to tribal and Old School and Japanese tattooing, and from one day to the next I started tattooing my own creations only.

(J'ai toujours essayé de faire en tatouage ce que je faisais en dessin, le tatouage est juste un prolongement du travail commencé il y a longtemps en illustration, graphisme et peinture.
J'ai travaillé longtemps seul et sans reconnaissance, puis après quelques mois passé dans une grosse boutique parisienne qui était très médiatisée à l'époque, J'ai pris la décision de ne plus faire que mes dessins et d'arrêter de faire les tatouages "conventionnels" c'était risqué mais Tatouage Magazine, le gros magazine traitant le tatouage en france a publier un article sur mon travail et étant le premier a proposer une alternative au tribal, old school et autre tatouage Japonais, je me suis retrouvé du jour au lendemain a ne plus tatouer que mes propres créations.)

Why do you think some people are still put off by your tattooing style?

(Pourquoi penses tu que des gens repoussent encore ton style de tatouage?

I think that when it’s about touching the appearance, particularly the body, it's hard for people to conceive that you can wear something very spontaneous. I think that a lot of people believe a drawing needs to be really considered to deserve to be tattooed on a body.
It’s tough for a lot of people to accept that we could let the skin breathe. [To some] a tattoo should be filled, having great detail, with an easy subject to identify.
I think that history is just repeating. We’re observing now the same fight that first the impressionists painters, or after the abstractionists had against the established art.

(Je pense que quand il s'agît de toucher à l'apparence, au corps en particulier les gens on du mal à concevoir qu'on puisse porter à vie quelque chose de très spontané, je pense que beaucoup de personnes estiment que pour mériter d'être porté à vie un dessin, doit être réfléchi.
Beaucoup de personnes ont du mal à accepter qu'on puisse laisser la peau "respirer ", un tatouage doit être rempli, détaillé, on doit pouvoir identifier le sujet.
Je pense que l'histoire se répète, on assiste au même combat que celui mené en son temps par les premiers peintres impressionnistes ou plus tard par les premiers peintres abstraits contre l'art établit.)

How do your consultations work? Do people just bring in ideas that you then translate through your style?

(Comment marchent tes consultations ? Est-ce que les gens amènent leurs idées et que tu les traduit dans un style?)

I make an appointment and we start the session in the morning. People come with their ideas, and from this I start to draw.
 As soon as we agree I start the tattoo. If the client needs some time to think about it, I send him some photos, and he contacts me when he’s decided.

(Je prends un rendez vous par jour, on commence la session le matin, les gens viennent avec leurs idées, à partir de là je commence à dessiner.
À partir du moment ou moi et mon client tombons d'accord je commence le tatouage, si après le dessin, le client a besoin d'un peu de temps pour réfléchir je lui envois les photos et il me recontacte quant il est décidé.)

Do you still paint on canvas or are you exclusively doing tattoos now? Which do you prefer?

(Peint tu encore sur des toiles, ou reste tu exclusivement sur les tatouages désormais? Que préfère tu?)

Unfortunately no, I haven’t the time for painting. I only paint one or two a year, and they are made to order.

(Malheureusement non, je n'ai plus le temps pour la peinture, je fais 1 ou 2 tableaux par an et sur commande en général.)

What is the significance of scissors in your designs? They’re not really a common tattoo image!

(Que signifient les ciseaux dans tes ta
touages ? ils ne sont pas vraiment communs comme image a tatouer!)

Nothing in particular. Most of the scissors I've tattooed are for dressmakers, it’s just their job tool.

(Rien de particulier, la plupart des ciseaux que j'ai tatoué sont fait sur des couturières, c'est juste leur instrument de travail.)

Your website is named “Your Meat is Mine” – what does this refer to? I was thinking it might have something to do with how you mark the body “meat” of your clients?

(Ton site net est appelé « your meat is mine » - a quoi te réfères tu ? Je pensais qu’il y avait un lien avec la marque « viande » que tes clients.)

 It was just a joke...

(C'est juste un gag...)

How are you liking your new location in Montreal?

(Aimes tu ton nouveau cadre de vie à Montréal?)

Much more calm than France, more space, less people. Tattooing here is less of a social fence between people. They feel more free to get big pieces, a real pleasure for a tattoo artist.

(Beaucoup plus détendu que la france, beaucoup d'espace moins ge gens, le tatouage ici est moins une barrière sociale les gens se laisse plus aller à faire des grandes pièces, le bonheur pour un tatoueur.)

What future do you see for tattooing?

(Quel futur aimerai tu pour le tatouage?)

I hope tattooing will get free from conventions, and become a complete and real artistic way of expression.

(Que le tatouage s'affranchisse des conventions et qu'il devienne un moyen d'expression artistique à part entière.)

A special thanks to my buddy Mano who helped with the translation of Yann’s answers. Merci Mano!