Tattoo Art History:

Examining the Vernacular Body Arts

Monday April 2nd 2012, 12pm - 5pm, Seminar Room 3, 20 Gordon Square

Tattoo Seminar image

The Anatomical Man (2009), by Richard Sawdon-Smith

Poster for the event (pdf file)

Tattooing and other practices understood broadly as ‘body arts’ (including but not limited to branding, scarification, piercing and even body painting and cosmetic surgery) have long been a source of popular and academic fascination, most usually discussed in anthropological, criminological, psychological or sociological contexts. Yet though the common phrase ‘body art’ used to describe tattooing and its coincident technologies is familiar and comprehensible, scholarly work which deals with the vernacular body arts using methodologies which are explicitly art-historical and art-theoretical has been all too infrequent.

This seminar presentations a diverse range of papers from scholars and practitioners, many of whom explicitly apply the critical approaches of art history and material culture studies to the body as an art object beyond a delineated artistic context, in reference to specific case studies and in the context of broader theoretical concerns. Speakers will address tattooing and other body arts and bodily practices, their practitioners, their practices and their products, and will  consider, for example, questions of aesthetics, authorship, ownership, value and the status of the body as an artistic object; the applicability of artistic methodologies to the lived body; tattooing in performance art; and tattooing and other body-art imagery in historical contexts.

The session will also include a special screening of the short documentary Skin, which follows the heavily tattooed Geoff Ostling in his decision to donate his tattooed skin to the National Gallery of Australia on his death:

Gemma Angel

University College London

Spectacular Tattooing: The Tattoo as Public Performance in the Early Twentieth Century Animal Entertainments Arena

Jennifer Daubenberger

Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design

'Don't let me be misunderstood'. The Picture on the Body: About the Non-Image-Compliant Representativeness of Tattooing in the Western World

Anna Friedman Herlihy

School of the Art Institute of Chicago; University of Chicago

Recovering a Visual History of Western Tattooing, 1500-1850

Matt Lodder

University of Reading

Tattooing as Artistic Practice

John Troyer

Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath

A Labour of Death and a Labour Against Death: Field Report on Human Memorial Tattoos

Richard Sawdon-Smith

London South Bank University

The Anatomical Man: AIDS, Tattoos and Photography

Ole Wittmann

University of Hamburg

Skin and the Body as Canvas: Material Specific Aspects of the Art of Tattoo