Tatoos in Contemporary Art


Status, 2012

Performance by Jordan Bennett 2012
 Tattooing, Technical equipment, film screening of Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance and Is the Crown at War with us? by Alanis Obomsawin 
Performed/Presented at: Eastern Edge Art Gallery, St. John’s NL
Photo: Eastern Edge Art Gallery

Artur Zmijewski:

 80064. Its title is the camp number of a 92 years old Auschwitz survivor, Jozef Tarnawa. The tattoo has faded with the years and Zmijewski meets the old man in a tattoo parlor and tries to persuade him to have it ‘refreshed’.


The old man is not to be convinced easily. He wants to be left in peace. He is worried that the renewed tattoo will not be ‘original.’ In the end, Zmijweski gets his way and the poor man submits his arm unwillingly to the tattoo artist. In Zmijweski’s own words: ‘When I undertook this film experiment with memory, I expected that under the effect of the tattooing the ‘doors of memory’ would open, that there would be an eruption of remembrance of that time, a stream of images or words describing the painful past. Yet that didn’t happen. But another interesting thing happened. Asked whether, while in the camp, he had felt an impulse to revolt, to protest against the way he was treated, Tarnawa replied: ‘Protest? What do you mean, protest? Adapt – try and survive.’ In the film, suffering, power relationships, and subordination are repeated.


About the controversial work the artist says:

“It’s a renovation of the number, a kind of the respect toward the guy, he is treated as a living monument of the past which needs to be preserved and kept in good condition. And the second meaning of it is re-creation or repetition of the act of violence toward this guy. In both movies, I wanted to open access to the past, really open it, not to commemorate it only, but only open access to it, really jump into the past. The very moment when the tattoo was done or the very moment when people were in the gas chamber […] Deifnitely artists should maintain their position and support curators and institutions which presents this exhibition and fight censorship.”

from: https://news.err.ee/115144/polish-artist-behind-controversial-holocaust-video-art-defends-work-on-etv

Douglas Gordon

Tattoo (for Reflection)

The work of Douglas Gordon revolves around a constellation of dualities and dialectics. Mistaken identities, doubles, split personalities, and such opposites as good and evil, and self and other are thematized as inseparable. Gordon’s films, video installations, photographs, and texts transform differences into uncanny, nuanced pairs.

Gordon approaches film as ready-made or found object, mining the potential collective memory that exists in cinematic fragments, and in the process, disclosing unseen or overlooked details and associations. His installation through a looking glass (1999) features the well-known scene from Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver in which Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, asks, “You talkin’ to me?” while gazing into a mirror. In Gordon’s piece, the scene is projected onto dual screens placed on opposite walls of a gallery space. The original episode from the movie, filmed as a reflection in the mirror, is shown on one wall. The other screen displays the same episode with the image reversed, flipped left to right. The two facing images, which begin in sync, progressively fall out of step, echoing the character’s loss of control and his mental breakdown. These discordant projected images seem to respond to one another, thus trapping the viewer in the crossfire. In its almost dizzying play of dualities, through a looking glassperfectly articulates the dialectical inversions, doublings, and repetitions that are the central concerns of Gordon’s work.

Gordon also uses still photography to capture performative acts, as in Tattoo (for Reflection) (1997). In accordance with Gordon’s instructions, the writer Oscar van den Boogaard had the word “guilty” tattooed in reverse on the back of his left shoulder; the tattoo can only be read via its reflection in a mirror. Gordon revels in the mixed messages found in the tattoo’s various cultural associations, from its use as an identifying mark on prisoners to its current incarnation as a subculture status symbol. In true Gordonian, reflexive fashion—with the word legible on van den Boogaard’s back only when reversed—the photograph becomes an index of an index.


Three inches, black no. 2


Douglas Gordon Douglas Gordon, Never, Never (white), 2000. C-type digital print. 62 x 76 cm (unframed). © Studio lost but found / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017.

Santiago Sierra:


David Shrigley:


First Taste – Ting

This is documentation of the first taste of the Jamaican drink, Ting. Tasting a “pink” flavoured version of a drink that I cherished as child, forces a connection between childhood memories of the past and new experiences in the present. The original flavour’s taste recalls a time when I longed to be older, while the pink flavour’s taste becomes associated with a time in which I dread entering into adulthood.


Gusto Rico, Dean Baldwin 2016 – C Print

Explaining Richard Serra Sculpture from Pearson Airport, Dean Baldwin
Dean Baldwin, Attempt at an Inventory
Dean Baldwin, Chicken

Janine Antoni – Taste of Vision and image from Lick and Lather, 1993.

Jana Sterbak, Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic (Meat Dress) 1997

Text from Marina Abramovic, Making a Gold Bowl

Marina Abramovic, From Floating Breakfast, 1979

Vito Acconci, Trademarks

Aislinn Thomas, Pancakes to Hold Up the Ceiling

April Hickox, photographing compost

Sophie Calle, from her monochromatic meals series

Jeannie Dunning, Tongue

Genvieve Cadeaux, (Her mother’s mouth above the Musee d’art Contemporain in Montreal

Fasting Sculpture

Tom Friedman (Gum)
Feces on Pedestal, Tom Friedman
Tom Friedman, Lifesavers sucked and adhered by their own stickiness

From Granta, Do Women Like to Cook

Massimo Guerrera, from Darboral

From Shie Kasai’s Survival Japanese cooking (in Holland)

Natasha Leseur – Sans Titre

Natasha Lesueur

Daniel Spoerri, Assemblage, 1992.

Swintak, Broth

Toilet Paper Magazine – Maurizio Cattelan


Ambera Wellman’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BfyHfiqgYPS/


Sha Qi Ma, or soft flour cakes is a Chinese snack equivalent to rice cake in Canada. It is originally from the Manchu population which lives in northeastern China, but is now popular across China. The version I brought to class is a Fujian variance which is a little different from the Manchu version with the addition of sesame and eggs. You can get this in almost every Chinese market in the GTA area.