The last thing Loren tattooed on my stomach were the words “We don’t know what is true but let’s dream the same dream,” around my navel and across the top of my womb. It seemed beautifully fitting and we tried to assign certain verses to specific body parts, like tactile verses on the arms, voice/speaking verses on my throat, heart verses across the chest etc. This was the first time I asked how long we had ‘til our planned 20min lunch break, my composed mind set was slackening a little. It was 12:45pm and I had just over an hour to go before I could hop off the tattoo bench and we could allow ourselves a rest and food. We flipped me over onto my front and started to do the back of my left thigh which felt like a doddle after my ribs/stomach.
I hadn’t realised before but from my forehead, across my chest and down to my waist I had hardly made any eye contact with anyone in the room and hadn’t even registered who had been coming and going. I’d been mostly staring at the light fittings and beams on the roof of the annexe or looking at Loren and having the backs of my thighs done meant I could sit up and make eye contact with the people wandering in and out. Jamie Price had been there for some time, he arrived just as we started my throat, taking pictures inside our circle of music stands. I was aware of his presence but I hadn’t realised that there were now three more photographers and about 8 people either sat watching around the edge of the room or circling the perimeter. Everyone I made eye contact with seemed so warm and open and respectful which was a huge relief. Loren and I weren’t exactly sure how people were going to response, worst case scenario they would be disinterested, walk in and then straight out because it seemed too unsettling or didn’t interest them. They could have been appalled, they could have been squeamish or simply not be able to get past the nudity and inferred “violence” of somebody literally carving into the body of another person (the least creative way of interpreting our piece I think). In a knee jerk survival mechanism of expecting the worse, the best case scenario we hoped for was that they’d be politely bemused. Luckily, in reality, people are much more intelligent and respectful than you give them credit for.
It was so lovely to see that people were open and genuinely curious about what we were doing. Some people came in and sat for hours and some people kept popping back in all day to see how the work was progressing. Some people brought their very young children to see what was happening and I made sure that I gave them the biggest smiles I could so that knew I wasn’t really suffering too much and it was all ok. I really felt like it was my duty to let everybody know that whilst I may have been grimacing and squirming at some of the harder parts I was actually fully in control of the situation and I was a willing participant. It was completely up to me to make sure people didn’t think that I was in some kind of passive wide eyed position of objectification and that using my body as a canvas was a symbolic statement rather than just a tool used to tease and shock.
Just to clarify, we were using my body because we all have bodies and I wanted to become a symbol of anyone, male and female, that was open and made vulnerable by love (or any experience) to the world. The literal pain inflicted by the bloodlines that built momentum over the six hours was representative of the pain everyone goes through whenever they experience anything and get it wrong for the first time. We must learn to suffer without accumulating resentment, through suffering we learn. We are all human and fallible, we all feel pain and we all crave love and using my skin as the medium was perfect because of how Loren and I met (he gave me my first tattoo) and also how I navigate the world. I feel things intensely, everyone does, but as a woman I am particularly governed by forces I do not control, cycles of my body that shape my mood and ripple through sequences of events that made me who I am. I rely on my feelings more than my intellectual reasoning, I often have no logical explanation for why I am doing something I just know that it is intrinsically right and honourable and feels noble in my skin. I don’t think first then respond, I react then consider. I’m ruled by my instinct, by unexplainable gut feelings and visceral responses to people and situations, everyone is to a certain extent, we are all defined by our bodies but women tend to internalise our experiences and use a language of touch and the flesh to navigate the world. I remember feminists writing that if woman were going to over throw the phallocentrism of our current language systems they would have to create a new language, one written by the body, Écriture féminine.
To clear up another matter I am not a feminist per say (although some one quite rightly pointed that being a feminist just means you are supportive of womanhood, which of course we all should be and in that sense Loren and I are both feminists!) but I do not believe in engaging in a power struggle with masculine energies. I have strong principles against the mistreatment of women but I have the same principle about men. To bring sex up constantly as a point of debate just widens the divide and I’d rather get on with proving myself as an empowered person rather than a woman who can equal a man, you cannot define yourself by co-ordinates beyond your experience, only align with a central truth internally. I think women need men as much as men need women, more to the point people need people regardless of gender. As the comedian Jackie Hagan wrote in her submissions to Written in Skin, “The struggle for sexual equality is not between men and women it’s between people and dickheads.” I couldn’t put it better myself. I think language is phallocentric yes, that is a fact. It’s a system that developed over centuries to privilege a male world view and if we really want to change it we will slowly over time. Nothing happens until you make it happen and the world will not change its habits over night, these things take will power and patience. So if the body is truly the terrain of womanhood, and tactility and flesh is our realm of meaning then Loren tattooing poetry onto my skin creates the perfect equilibrium between male and female perception. We were using two systems of meaning, feeling and thought, to harmonise our distinct voices.
Last, but certainly not least of all of my points as to why we choose to use my naked body as the canvas (which should be glaringly obvious to you all), was that I have been raised to believe all bodies are sacred. That divinity dwells within us. In the wonder that we are alive and this conglomerate of tissue and sinew sheathed in skin breathes and feels has the power to affect others. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our naked form and keep it covered in case of offending other people, it is one of the common grounds we all share as human beings, even more so than skin. It should be celebrated and revered as the temple it always has been in enlightened cultures, then so much insecurity and detrimental obsessiveness would be nullified.
To about turn from my tangent…
A lot of people commented about the playlist at Written in Skin, saying how much they loved it and requesting I send them lists of what was playing. The playlist consisted of songs that I have loved listening to since I was a teenager and luckily Loren and I have similar tastes. There was a mixture of dark, progressive rock like A Perfect Circle, the bawdy bar room brawling off Tom Waits and some of his lighter sentimental ballads, the glorious glitched up rhythms of LAMB, Credence, the swooning ‘Planets Suite’ from Holst, Fiona Apple, Pusifer, Tricky, Justin Timberlake, CocoRosie, Nina Simone, The Doors, Joan Osbourne, Type-O-Negative, Bjork, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, Queen Adreena, The Tiger Lillies and Massive Attack – anything that dealt with the many faces of love and its expression. The playlist was on shuffle so we purposefully had no idea what would come on next and often the track would perfectly emphasis the mood. Memorable shifts include just as Loren was about the start my throat, a particularly intense bit requiring a lot of mental preparation, Holst ‘Jupiter’ came on, which is incidentally my planet. That made me smile. Another time when things were getting quite intense on my stomach Justin Timberlake “Love You” came on and made me giggle enough to forget to register panic. Every time anything by A Perfect Circle came on I found this deep well of concentration and strength rise up in me as they have been my favourite band since I was 12 and have a deeply residual effect on my psyche. I think Maynard Keenan is an absolute genius and the harmonies and penetrating emotional depth of albums like Mer De Noms (Sea of Dreams) and The Thirteenth Step are unparalleled. I found myself singing or lip syncing to all of these tracks just to block out the pain. Jim Morrison as always crooned me through when my focus was waning. I think he would have been into Written in Skin. He’d have probably wanted me to drop some acid first though.