The Medical Benefits of Body Modification

Today I bring you one example of how medical technology and body modification are converging.

The Tongue Drive System uses magnetic field sensors to track the movement of a magnetized tongue piercing.

The image above comes from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where they have engineered a new form of wheelchair mobility through the use of a tongue piercing. The Tongue Drive System uses a dental plate that captures the movement of the tongue piercing below, which is fashioned with a tiny magnet on top. more...

Generational Change in the Social Acceptability of Tattoos

Several months ago, a British police chairman called for lifting the ban against tattoos on police officers. His argument was that tattoos serve as an “icebreaker” for dealing with the public. Now this is not a new argument, but it is the first time a public official has argued for the social benefits of tattooing. The change in perspective comes as a surprise, especially given the longstanding associations between tattoos and deviance.


QR Codes and Self-Branding in the Digital Era

I have already written about QR code tattoos before on this blog, so again, I will keep this brief. The video above shows the latest QR code tattoo to gain public attention, this time for generating random .gifs, tweets, and videos.  I find these tattoos fascinating because of the way the flesh is made to transmit digital information (“LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH?!”), in essence augmenting the human body with digitally-encoded information (or are we augmenting the digital with the corporeal?). But many have found these trends disheartening (D’Costa 2012), in part because of the permanence of such body markings.

In a culture that is fast approaching lightspeed (both technologically and culturally), many see the permanence afforded by tattoos and other body modifications as attractive. For many enthusiasts, tattoos have become a source of stability in the postmodern era, a way for individuals to “ground” their identities in an era of whirlwind change (Oksanen and Turtiainen 2005; Sweetman 1999). more...

The Social Tattoo Project: Slacktivism on a New Frontier?

Over the summer of 2011, several interns at BBH Labs (a marketing research firm in New York) came up with The Social Tattoo Project as a way to direct empathy towards natural disasters and social crises that continue to plague populations around the world. They used Twitter to track “trending topics” and then asked the Twitterverse to vote on which issues they wanted to see memorialized in a tattoo, essentially “crowdsourcing” the content of each piece. Volunteers were then selected to receive these tattoo designs without ever having seen them ahead of time. The final five topics included “a cresting wave for Japan, handcuffed hands for human trafficking, a broken heart for Haiti, a pie chart for poverty and a flower flag for Norway” (Corr 2011). The video above is a short clip highlighting the “broken heart for Haiti” design and the woman who had it tattooed onto her body.

However, this project is not the first of it’s kind. For example, Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal took it upon himself (quite literally) to commemorate the deaths of Iraqi’s and American’s since the invasion started in 2003. On March 9th, 2010, he had over 100,000 recorded fatalities of the “War on Terror” tattooed on his back during a live, streaming performance at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts gallery in New York City titled “…And Counting”: 5,000 dots were tattooed in red ink to represent fallen American soldiers and 100,000 dots were tattooed in invisible ink to represent (largely overlooked) fallen Iraqis. His art project was featured on NPR and DemocracyNow, and became the focal point for discussions about the costs of the “War on Terror.” more...

Body Modification, Gender, and Self-Empowerment

Recently I stumbled across this interview with Jacqui Moore, a rather well-known and visible member of the body modification community for her extensive black and grey full body suit. Bearing the rather exploitative tagline (which states “A respectable mother celebrated her divorce by asking her new boyfriend to cover her entire body – with a single TATTOO”), which makes her sound not only impulsive but pathological, what does this case reveal about contemporary body modification practices? What is the relationship between gender, patriarchy, and body modification? And what are the costs of using indigenous iconography and rituals in one’s body modification practices?

Jacqui Moore with husband Curly


Tattoo TV, Postmodernism, and the Crisis of Representation

A couple weeks ago I stumbled across this image of a “Where’s Waldo?” backpiece, and it got me to thinking about body modification, the cyborg body, and postmodern theories of the sign (Baudrillard 1972; Turner 1999) as they relate to contemporary tattooing.

The contemporary tattoooed body, which I often refer to as the cyborg body, is at a crisis. That is, we do not have a uniform means of interpreting and displaying these signs to others. What’s more, the content of tattoos varies significantly, from direct referents and iconography to indirect, playful and self-referent images.


Body Modification as Performance Art and Social Protest

British performance artist Alice Newstead is gaining attention for her recent performance inside LUSH cosmetics in San Francisco. The performance has become part of an increasing vocal outcry over the sale of shark fin soup in California. The proposed bill, AB376, has passed the California assembly and now awaits a Senate vote. more...

Epidermal Electronics and The Cyborg Body

Photo Credit: John A. Rogers

I have written before about the (new) cyborg body, mostly in the form of tattoos and body modification, but new technologies are pushing this trend further in the form of epidermal electronics. John Rogers and his research colleagues, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne have developed rubbery sheets of “elastometer” that mimic the mechanical properties of the human skin. This allows them to embed circuits and semiconductors into the material and apply it to the human skin much like one applies a temporary tattoo. Jon Cartwright reports that this material more...

SNS Tattoos Redux: Branding and Lifestyle Consumption

A "Fakebook" Sleeve

Just as we might have expected, the much-tweeted Facebook sleeve tattoo that I wrote about before has turned out to be a hoax. More specifically, it was a marketing campaign for the company Pretty Social. The company allows you to create custom handbags, stickers, and other products emblazoned with the profile pictures of your (digital) friends.

Nonetheless, the viral video itself made its way around the Internet, serving as but another case of tattoos as advertising. Much has been written on the topic already (Bengsston et. al 2005; McKelvey 1999; Kosut 2005), but I want to theorize further the use of tattooing in marketing as it relates to the phenomena of brand tattoos and lifestyle consumption and the repercussions these trends have for understandings of consumer culture. more...

Augmented Reality Tattoos REDUX

YouTube Preview Image

I already wrote on augmented reality tattoos once before, so I will keep it brief. This video shows a client receiving a QR code tattoo, which then links to Youtube and plays a little cartoon of a singing man. Now, although the artist is off in proclaiming it as the “first ever” of its kind, it once again highlights a growing trend in the body modification community. Not only does the fusing of technology and the body create unique cyborg bodies, it also reveals the importance of such new technologies for the expression of our selves and identities. For instance, will people begin tattooing QR codes on themselves that link to their personal blogs and Facebook accounts? This would make a very interesting case of self-branding!

Another trend I have observed in my own research on tattooing is the role of the prosumer. This video shows the tattoo artist K.A.R.L. livestreaming his tattoo appointment online, communicating with observers in a chatroom format while tattooing his client. Now this is nothing new. In fact, some of my close friends have been doing this for years and I myself have been tattooed in front of an internet audience several times. But what makes this example interesting is the fact that the internet audience, as a body of prosumers, helped K.A.R.L. determine the tattoo design itself. This is unheard of. I have yet to see tattooers take such a “crowd-sourcing” approach to their work.

But this video does speak to the importance of Web 2.0 to contemporary tattoo fame. In a media-saturated environment, tattoo artists now must aggressively market themselves online through SNS like Facebook and Myspace, and through livestreaming tattoo events like this. At a time when tattoo collecting itself has become globalized (Irwin 2003), tattoo artists can no longer afford to become a “big fish in a small pond” as one tattoo artist told me. In order to survive in an increasingly media-saturated community, tattoo artists themselves must become hypervisible online, showcasing their work across several online avenues and building a client pool that spans several continents. Such is the nature of contemporary elite tattooing (Irwin 2003).