Tattoos embody self-expression; they provide a means of communicating an internal sentiment externally, be that an expression of grief or love or a simple desire to have a small lion on your finger. Illma Gore hit the headlines recently for pledging to have someone’s name inked on her body for just $10 in the pursuit of art. This artwork stakes its own significance upon permanence, though I’m not convinced — Does the experience and celebrity of having a stranger’s childhood nickname tattooed on your body transcend its quality of permanence?
In the age of Instagram, one can easily access images depicting the timeline of a tattoo: its initial design, its inking, the healing process and finally the finished creation. These photographs document the experience of getting a tattoo; they themselves are visual expressions of creativity and individualism. Yet these photos are surrounded by ‘events’ on your feed; that party to which you weren’t invited to or the time someone met that famous soap star. Updates on the tattoo cease after a short time, followers have recognised your act of creativity and shared in your experience, and this diary was only a temporary pursuit.
The notoriety of famous tattoo parlours has crystallised of late, in the customary means of commercial exposure — by starring in reality TV shows. Shows such as Miami Ink point to the emphasis on the experience of receiving a tattoo. Getting inked has become an occasion in which willing customers travel extensively to obtain the designs of a celebrated artist. The likes of Bang Bang and Kat Von D are entering the ranks of celebrity with their designs disseminating through social media. Instances where famous clients give reciprocal tattoos to their artists undeniably devalue the permanence of a tattoo—for what reason, other than the experience, would you want an ill-drawn mouse at the hands of Justin Bieber on your body?
The concept of a trend is defined by its capacity to wade in and out of fashion. Yet a trendy tattoo cannot be forgotten through the same means as a regrettable perm or those neon jelly shoes. Nonetheless, trends do occur in tattooing, as seen in the surge of white ink tattoos last year and the penchant for all things arrow, feather or infinity related that is only recently subsiding. In effect, a tattoo acts as a permanent stamp of entry into an exclusive club, yet your stamp remains long after the doors have shut. A tattoo might represent an act of friendship or display of community but not so much an acknowledgement of permanence.
Tattoos have proved a sticking point for the fashion industry. Many designers favour the blank canvas of an ink-free model, whilst occasionally tattoos become the lynch pin of a look, as in Christian Dior’s SS15 show in Paris this week. When they’re in, they’re in big, with extreme looks being favoured. Whilst for those of us who won’t grace the glossy pages of magazines there has been a long-established preference for the discrete: the ankle, ribcage or torso.
Hence the paradox of tattooing today is that whilst laser removal means that the ink is no longer indelible, the experience remains so.