Everyone is talking about Illma Gore – an Australian-based artist who is tattooing strangers’ designs and names on her body in her new art project ‘Tattoo Me‘.
In researching it from start to finish, I’ve completely changed my initial opinion of her campaign.
In the articles I have read about Illma so far from national newspapers, they have all been quite non-judgemental but don’t really go into so much detail about the reasoning behind the project. You read the quick media headline statement ‘get a tattoo on this woman’s body for $10‘ and are initially shocked into the opinion that the whole thing is impulsive, pointless and regrettable. That’s why it’s in the news. People will have a lot to say about it. There are strong opinions out there on tattoos in general (and there’s nothing wrong with that) so this is bound to spark some debate.
From $10, anyone can request a name or message to be permanently inked on Illma’s skin, but donations go up past $100 depending on what you want inked. The project initially ran on Kickstarter but was inexplicably closed-down for breaking rules and regulations (Illma hasn’t been told why). She’s now relaunched it on GoFundMe, where she has raised $10,656 of her $6,000 and so exceeded her target already.
When I first clicked through to her site I honestly expected requests for rude words, ridiculous messages and offensive sayings. The general response to tattoos is that the public love a good regret story, that’s why most of the TV programmes are about the mistakes and regrets. We love to tune in and gasp over something horrific that’s ruining someone’s life. We’re nice like that.
Aside from the odd weird name (Captain Dribbles, Weed Gaze, Double Meat), and requests for company logos and phone numbers, the majority of messages on the GoFundMe page are meaningful, uplifting and inspiring. Couples who would love to see their names next to each other to declare their eternal love, memorial tattoos and messages from people who are battling with cancer and want their words etching to give them personal strength and raise awareness.
One comment reads, “I’m not a tattoo type person, but if I was, I would get one of a semicolon because I had colon cancer, and if it could be in blue the colour of colon cancer awareness that’d be great too.” There’s a chap who claims tattoos are a big part of his life, and because he’s not able to work at the moment, can’t carry on with his future ink… but now he can continue his tattoo dreams through Illma. She’s giving people an opportunity they originally wouldn’t have considered.
People’s comments are of admiration and appreciation: “my wife and I are so excited to be part of the coolest piece of art we have ever heard of!” I had originally been so cynical, but reading through warm comments, support and encouragement, my faith in the human race had been restored. Shucks. People are actually pretty nice.
Illma’s intention is to create an absurd piece of artwork. She’s a very talented artist and explains in her video that a huge part of the project will be the aftermath of meeting these people involved, painting their portraits and hearing their stories.
She says, “It’s about striving to give oneself to others on a canvas that breathes, a canvas that can’t be sold in a gallery. That’s what interests me. Tattoo Me is about exercising ultimate individualism, while handing oneself over to the whims of the world we live in.”
For her, it’s interesting that she is creating a canvas that can’t be sold or imitated. Ever. And that won’t live as a timeless piece of cardboard in a gallery, it will live and breathe as part of her own journey.
The project really isn’t about impulsive, naive decisions, it’s not about regret, being controversial, or even the way the art looks. The meaning lies in the message behind the process, her relationship with the hundreds of people involved and what her project says about the impermanence of the human body and the transience of life.
The body is precious, these people are precious, and so are their stories. She’s exploring the human image, the power of art and being completely original in her use of canvas, paints and inspiration. As one person comments on the fundraising page, “the best art is always breaking the rules.”
Artists give up their time, money, emotions and often other careers and ambitions to chase something they love doing. All art does the same thing. Be it a movie, a painting, a book… it always has the same purpose, to tell stories. Brave and admirable Illma is telling her stories by making the ultimate artist’s sacrifice.
Our initial response when we hear about it, is to imagine the final product – a highly tattooed body that she might regret. But really, it’s not about how Illma will look when she is older. It’s about the journey, the process, the story.
Isn’t that why we tattoo ourselves? Actually, isn’t that just what we all do life, in general… we gather and tell stories along the way, not thinking about what we’ll be in the end?
Photo by Illma Gore