July 27, 2005

"Tattoos remind you of death."

CNN reports:
Tattoos of mermaids and roses, cherubs bearing crimson hearts, Lenin's head and the trademarked pattern of French luxury brand Louis Vuitton stand out against bright pink skin soaking in the sun outside Beijing.

This living gallery of skin art is not on display for a tattooists' convention or a Harley-Davidson fan club meeting. It is an everyday sight in Chenjiatuo village and is borne on the flesh of some unlikely subjects -- big, fat pigs.

The idea was cooked up by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, who has hired a small staff of local farmers and tattoo artists to raise some 20 sows and use them as canvases for skin art at his rustic China base, Art Farm.

"I decided to do something in China first, and I realized tattooing pigs would be a good introduction to the country. It's low-tech," Delvoye, 40, told Reuters.

The pigs get sedatives before they go under the needle and are carefully raised until their natural deaths, normally well past the six-month mark when farm pigs are slaughtered.

Collectors can buy the pigs live and pay for their keep as "foster parents" or simply purchase their tattoo-festooned skins for display after the pigs pass.

"The Art Farm is a real enterprise and by selling, eventually, the skins, the whole thing gets financed and I can go on," said Delvoye, who has pushed other artistic boundaries with previous works.

Mortality is a primary theme in the porky "paintings".

"Tattoos remind you of death. It's leaving something permanent on something non-permanent," he said. "Even when tattooing flowers, there is a morbid side to the activity."
I agree: tattoos do remind you of death. When I see someone with a tattoo, I usually think: you're going to have that as part of your body until the day you die. And then you're going to have that on your body in your grave. You and that tattoo are in a death grip.

But aside from tattoos generally, this story raises some other questions. First, there's the whole placement of Lenin's head amidst mermaids, roses, cherubs, and crimson hearts. But maybe all these things, like tattoos themselves, remind you of death.

Then there's the paired image of Harley-Davidson conventioneers and big, fat pigs. Stereotyping the rider of the beautiful motorcycle again. Stereotyping the pig too.

And then there's the question whether we're outraged about the use of pigs or about going to rural China to do the project. And if we're outraged about both, which is worse? Maybe it's kind of a positive thing, though, both for the pigs and the villagers.

Surely, the villagers must be getting some laughs -- perhaps at the expense of Westerners generally. Maybe we Westerners should be irked that some egoistic artist is making us look ridiculous.

For the pigs, it's a nice life. They get to take sedatives, so they probably enjoy the tattooing experience. Then, they are "raised carefully" until they die a natural death. Think of the pig alternatives. These pigs are living like kings!

And what of the rich folk with tattooed pig skins hanging on their walls? I think the final artwork might look quite nice, and they're not exploiting poor Chinese any more than you are when you buy cheap leather shoes made in China. In fact, it's less exploitative, and the Chinese are learning tattooing skills. Maybe they will emigrate here and tattoo your ass for you as a memento mori.


HaloJonesFan said...

>Maybe they will emigrate here and
>tattoo your ass for you as a
>memento mori.

The White Zin is flowing at Chez Althouse...

Paul said...

I wouldn't want to be that servant,limited lifespan perhaps.
Tattoos violate pristine skin of beauty, sort of like peeing on the floor beside the toilet; that's not where it goes.

goesh said...

I was blessed to have been born and raised on a farm, and we used to finger-paint the pigs. We just assumed they would like it. What pig wouldn't want to look pretty, and we enjoyed it too. Kids are kids as they say. If you scratch a pig on the stomach, it will plop down on the ground. Let's face it, it is pretty darn hard for a pig to scratch its own belly if you think about it. They can rub against things to get their sides and back and butts scratched but not their bellies. Once the pig was lying down, one sibling would keep scratching his/her stomach while the rest of us made pretty pictures. When Porky and his pals would get sent off to market, we would always check to see if any of our art went with them. Often bits of it did and we always wondered what the butchers thought when our pigs came down the slaughter line. My younger brother once remarked that maybe they wouldn't kill them if they saw our paintings. This recollection yields a bit of a sad feeling, but hard reality sets in as I recall that Keith, my younger brother, relished bacon as much as the rest of us did.

Ann Althouse said...

Great farm story, Goesh. Made me think of the old standard:

Everywhere there's lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives
to eat their bacon

Ron said...

tattoos tend to remind people who don't have tattoos of death. I have a friend whose tats are carefully chosen over many years...in her case it's a life project, where her life experience is made permanent yes, past death. What of it?

Her best story is getting a tattoo of a Camille Claudel statue from a very specific artist in France. While in France, she thought to check out the Claudel museum. When they saw the tattoo on her forearm, bang!, lifetime free entrance into the museum!

Ann Althouse said...

Let's try to think of more free stuff we can get by tattooing various logos and icons on ourselves. Let's try to think of more ways to make our bodies pay off financially.

miklos rosza said...

ann: seems that you're very fond of the "white album." and why not?

trent reznor also has a number of songs about pigs... which i have the feeling he thought he was channeling from the manson gang while he resided in sharon tate's former residence.

ooh! what a frisson!

which free associates me past the best song about manson (not by sonic youth but by neil young) to wondering if you think leslie van houten will ever get or deserves parole. she murdered no one, was on lsd and stuck a fork in the already-dead body of mr lobianca (or such is my understanding).

Ron said...

The NBA prohibits players from getting tattoos of corporate logos; no Nike "swoosh" on some guys forehead!

Ann: Maybe what we need is a "futures market" on our various body parts to be sold off when we croak! "slightly used liver, only drank wine coolers on Sundays, one owner." Things like that...

In the Civil War there was a big market in teeth to be sent back to England for that new-fangled dentistry...fortunately, the war supplied many such items...

If Intel would pay, I'd get that "Intel inside" logo tattooed on my head somewhere...

Ron said...

hey, maybe Hooters will pay from breast augmentation surgery if they get a logo placement! and why stop there? "this decolletage brought to you by...Victoria's Secret."

"this liposuction sponsered by...McDonald's. I'm lovin' it!"

Meade said...

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new[pigskin] under the sun.”

Meade said...

This little piggy had a mermaid,
This little piggy, a goatee,
This little piggy had roses,
This little piggy, iced tea,
And this little piggy cried,
"Hey, Look at me and my Louis Vuitton! Ain't I Sooooeeet?"

NotClauswitz said...

They don't call 'em "Hogs" for nuthin'! There's a tattoo parlor nearby that sometimes has a big ol' Hog parked in front of it, which I thought of photographing, except that it's such a cliché image. The tattooed Harley-rider is a part of the whole biker lifestyle that's marketed in the Harley catalog. You can get official Harley-logo temporary-tattoos with their registered trademark, for your convenient, non-permanent application. Harley also tried to trademark the the sound a Harley makes, but abandoned it.
A friend of mine (with pretty lousy skin) has a shoulder and "sleeve" full of carefully chosen Buddhist imagery from Japanese and Chinese mythology, done by an artist who was student to a highly regarded Japanese Master-tattoo artist. I think it makes him look like a Yakuza but it's his several-thousand dollars spent...
Interesting story from a dermatologist I met, who was in a formerly a Navy doctor (saw a lot of tattoos aboard ship, being surrounded by sailors and all).
While stationed in Japan, as a young medical Lieutenant, he and his Chief went to a hot-tub for a soak, and in the steam an "invisible" tattoo emerged on the Chief's shoulders. He said that it was an intricate lattice-workk design that appeared on the heat-flushed skin - a tattoo done without ink - a "covert tattoo," so that the Chief as an officer wouldn't get into trouble with Navy restrictions. When they got out of the pool and cooled off, it basically disappeared.

Sigivald said...

Paul: Don't forget, paint "violates" the pristine whitness of canvas, and a finished painting, on display, "violates" a pristine wall.

Aesthetics is one of the few undeniably relative things; one man's violation is another's aesthetic fulfillment.

ziemer said...

i have the citation to lochner tattooed on my arm.

i guess i should get free bread from the baker.

Beth said...

I find myself agreeing there's some link with tattoos and intimations of immortality (I figure if I quote Wordsworth, my tattoos will seem more classy). One of my favorite tattoos is found on the mummified arm and shoulder of a Scythian chieftain; it is a column formed of the leaping images of horses, sheep, and stags. The same images are found on other mummies from the period, making them the first "flash" or stock tattoos. The artist probably made felt templates of the designs.

Coincidentally, I was getting a tattoo tonight, a pelican image from the works of Gulf Coast artist Walter Anderson.

HaloJonesFan said...

"While stationed in Japan, as a young medical Lieutenant, he and his Chief went to a hot-tub for a soak, and in the steam an "invisible" tattoo emerged on the Chief's shoulders. He said that it was an intricate lattice-workk design that appeared on the heat-flushed skin - a tattoo done without ink - a "covert tattoo," so that the Chief as an officer wouldn't get into trouble with Navy restrictions. When they got out of the pool and cooled off, it basically disappeared."

Sounds like Gully Foyle in Bester's "The Stars My Destination".

brockbron said...