Tattoo – The Face of Freedom

Teutloff Museum live @ Tattoo Convention Berlin
04.08. - 30.11.13

Curated by Prof. Dr. h.c. Peter Weibel,
director of the Center for Art and Media, ZKM Karlsruhe

Tattoo - Photos from exhibition
Tattoo - Video from exhibition
Tattoo - Curator's Comments

The Curator's Overture

by Prof. Dr. h.c. Peter Weibel

Originally called the “tatau”, the tattoo ornaments the skin and thus abstracts everyday life. The tattoo masks the skin and marks the body itself as a place of fantasy. Through the painted body - through the tattoo - the body itself becomes exotic. The tattooed body spurns normal everyday life. Now there is only exotic and erotic everyday life.

To cover the body with signs is like opening a door. A door to paradise, to another place, a utopian place.

The body itself becomes this heterotopos. The body itself becomes this utopian place. The door of the tattoo leads to the theater of illusions, as in Genet, to the theater of desires as in a dream. The door of the tattoo leads to the room of childhood, to the chamber of the unconscious.

To tattoo yourself is like living in a house, an eerie house that becomes a familiar house. Like living in your own skin in a house you yourself designed. You mend yourself with a tattoo. What do you mend? You mend something that was broken. The tattoo mends the damage of life. The tattoo is wallpaper - a second skin. Because the skin is the arena of the phantasm of lust.

Does tattooing turn the subject, the individual, into a fetish object?  The function of a fetish object is to serve as a transitional object. Tattooing turns the body into a transitional object between the self and the other. The skin serves as an erogenous zone and is the arena of lust and its taboos. But who is that person who doesn’t love naked skin?  Who only loves the second skin, the painted - the signed - tattooed skin.

Tataus, tattoos are categories of the second skin. Tattoos, from the labia to the upper arm, are hieroglyphics of the second skin. Clothing - bodices, corsets, the latex, leather and rubber suits are like flogged skin, injured skin, painted skin, pierced skin, tattooed skin. They are all are battles waged on a frontier. The skin is this frontier between inside and outside, between the system of the self and the system of the world between individual and social, between me and society.

Whoever operates on this frontier of the skin wants to disrupt the established contracts between the system of the self and the system of the world because he himself is disrupted by them. The skin is that frontier, that arena, where the self strives to change these conventions and contracts forged between the systems of self and the systems of the world.

The tattooed man strives to reestablish and redefine the balance between self and world, between id, ego, and super-ego. This battle of the warring parties, of super-ego and human drives, projects the tattooed man from the inside as far as possible to the outside, to this outermost boundary, the skin, because he can no longer bear this battle in any other way. Through the tattoo, the subject can transgress, overdraw and overwrite frontiers. Transgression of frontiers is the goal and the mark of the tatau.

The skin is the arena of inscription. And thus of the law of symbolic order, of the name of the father. The tattooed man does not accept this symbolic order, as in the myth of Oedipus. The tattooed man acts as Anti-Oedipus. The place of the father remains empty. The tattooed man turns the inscription of the father into his own inscription. The inscription of hell into the inscription of paradise. The tattooed man himself defines his social self by re-inscribing himself on his skin, describing himself anew, designing a new phantasmagoric self.

From the silver leather frocks of Courrèges to the plastic dresses of Mary Quant, from the bondage dresses of Versace to the safety pins, piercings and tattoos of punk culture, through to the high gloss world of haute couture and fashion models, we see that fashion is nothing but one gigantic industry of the second skin, a domesticated art of tattooing.

Tattoos and piercings are little theater productions on the surface of the skin, stagings and masques with the skin itself as the stage.
Here is precisely the place where the drama of law is enacted: subjection and rebellion. The tattooed man is the buccaneer in the drama of the law.