AUTHOR: GABRIEL MILOIA
CURATOR: DR OLIMPIA BERA
In 2012, the Author started a graffiti campaign in his hometown, spraying his self-portrait more than 300 times on historic sites and public buildings. This happening was called Project Muian. The ensuing scandal generated more than 120 pages of death-threats, amateur art critique, insults, slander and blackmail attempts by local and national media, intelligentsia and common folk. After having tattooed the same self portrait between his shoulder blades, the Author created 250 temporary tattoos as a reaction to each claim against him, all including the images and identities of people involved. Some images devolved into pornography and may be viewed on adult websites. The permanent tattoo was surgically removed, cast in resin and exhibited as a relic and center-piece of Muian II.
Muian III is the conclusion of this narrative. It consists of the Author launching an international open call for artists to create two-dimensional interventions. The surface of he Author`s body will be scanned in 3D and, after being outlined according to the Curator`s concept, each segment will be open to project proposals by visual artists world wide. At the end of the open call, the Curator will select the best works and a tattoo artist of the Author`s and Curator`s choice will permanently tattoo them upon each selected segment. Throughout this procedure, the Author will have no decisional control of the final selection and will acknowledge the Curator`s selection and subject himself to it. The surface granted by the Author corresponds to his full body surface excluding the following: his head above the chin and nape; his hands beneath his wrists; his feet beneath his ankles; his genitalia and anal rim; a designated protected surface around the scar of his removed tattoo (approx 15 cmx3cm) between shoulder blades.
Muian III must be opened to the public as a work-in-progress during the inscribing of the selected works on the Author`s body. Legal measures must also be taken to reflect status innovations as outlined in the conceptual annex to this presentation. They may include: copyright contracts, insurance, donation forms and a last will and testament.
Muian III requires the following procedures:
1. An interval of time not to exceed 2 years for the Author to physically train his body so as to correspond to the given task, both aesthetically and in terms of endurance.
2. A full body scan and curatorial demarcation of the body into segments to be proposed to artists
3. An open call
4. A curatorial selection of works
5. A residency program to host the Author and the Tattoo Artist during the full interval required for creation, with all utilities proper to a tattoo studio (provided by the Tattoo Artist), as well as room for a gymnastics facility including a running-band and weights, for preparation and maintenance of the Author`s muscular tissue before sessions and access to a shower installation within the venue. Training will be open to the public. The Author will be nude and exhibited during the full span of his public visitation, with the exception of items necessary for protection during training (sneakers, socks, gloves or patches covering recently applied tattoos)
As is evident from the above narrative, the Author is pursuing connection between graffiti and tattoo via performance, body art and social art. Both are ancestral means of expression, yet have received a high level of fetishization during high modernity.
The explanation is simple, as long as we do not pursue singular causes for this occurrence. They both are connected to the modern world`s rise of literacy quotas and standardization of education and, in the case of tattoos, to cultural fusion, via post-colonial import into the western world and mass dissemination of adopted aboriginal practices. Previous to world war 2, both graffiti ant tattoos were often associated with the lower strata of society or even the criminal element. After world war 2, their inclusion into middle-class focus has lifted the economical (or class?) barrier between them and ”good society”. However, a residual conception of their naughty nature has shifted their ”class specificity” from the poor to the opposing: they are markers of anti establishment expression and counterculture, mostly within young groups, with little class-based difference in prevalence. Graffiti invades the public sphere despite it, while tattoos not only blatantly defy judeo-christian religious beliefs, but ostentatiously re-assert one`s sovereignty over the body and its image.
A further cause for their popularity is rooted within paradigm shifts occurred during modernity. Before, modernity, art, speech and thought were subjected to reason, measure and aesthetics enforced to balance out the free will`s potentially extreme manifestation. In time, these factors, although not denied, have become overshadowed by the pre-eminence of expression or self-expression as the leading force behind art, thought or speech. It is therefore not an anti-establishment, but a culturally conformist and inert force that drives graffiti and street-art to today`s apex. Graffiti is one of our days crystalizations of expression despite-it-all and in-your-face.
We find the same expression-oriented mania in tattoos, with the addition of anthropological shifts in the understanding of the body. Before modern times, bodies were tools given by God for the spirit to manifest (and be entrapped in). They are not just instruments of life, but those used by the spirit to engrace itself in the eyes of the Lord. As such, they required sustenance and care (also enforced by the doctrine that they are the reflection of God`s image), but are, in the end, shells containing the soul and useful to it in its doings to deserve eternal life.
For modernity, man is no longer the image of the Lord, but that of his individual endeavor and intrinsec value relative to his contemporary social mores. What imaginary hypnotism traditional religion has lost during the process of secularization, relativism and the self have gained, all in the general ideological frame of modern thinking.
As man`s social role was enforced by liberalism and democracy – to the expense of his de facto social functions and networks in previous times – and societies, under the thrust of industrial though, were pushed forward, as gigantic locomotives, towards a fetishized technological progress, this happenned at the expense of previous autonomy – before, societies were mosaics, today, they are more ore less functioning machines, and people within them are pulled into their working with larger personal freedoms, yet lesser control of self development – and of the familiarit of organic growth. Mechanization of ties between people has been largely discussed, but one must not neglect mechanization of the self: modern man is not the image of God, but a social machine, not just in the eyes of others, but in his own: each new academic degree corresponds to a software update; housing conditions are ”optimized”, as one moves from a two-bedroom to a three-bedroom apartment; children in turn become affordable; medical conditions require prompt service, similar to engines or gadgets etc etc. Man`s body today is not the instrument of grace, but an industrial tool to benefit himself and – via Adam Smith – others. Bodies are taken to the gym not in pursuit of beauty or health, but of accordance and recognition; hairstyles and fashion enforce our social mechanization as they indirectly affirm our willingness and understanding of the need to comply and harmonize; self expression via fashion has quickly turned to the lucrative, as bodies become support for publicity, political messages or aesthetic trends launched by celebrities and ultimately profitable for them. Man is more and more man-made, either by himself or by others . This frame of mind applies to tattoos; they are, first and foremost, objects of self-expression, largely falling into cathegories:
1. Decoration: people wish to make their bodies desirable by positive additions (my body plus something), sometimes under the aegis of fashion. However, as trends fall out, tattoos do not fade away.
2. Expression of values: symbols or compositions that give tell-tale signs about the person, either simple crosses, swastikas etc, tribal elements to suggest savagery, outright texts delivering punchlines or large compositions giving ”the sense of it all”: suits of armor suggest a soldier`s bravery, wild animals – a wild or free temperament, clock-work-like mechanisms or robotic insignia suggest precision, lack of empathy etc etc. Without giving thought to each persons`s integrity with claimed values, these tattoos reflect one`s vision of oneself as a marked product, much like companies place logos on their merchandise; in this case, however, the merchandise is not fully object-like in its nature, so logos tend towards the metaphysical. We must also see the influence of marketing therein: as promos lean towards the minimal, the punchline and the 3-second attention span, many tattoos that express value resume beyond questioning systems of thought that require more than immediate perception.
3. Mementos, portraits of children for young parents (although the babies will grow up to look very different), names of lovers (sometimes accompanied by mermaids), totems of past experiences or signs to show affiliation: anchors for sailors (however, there are so many non-sailors with tattooed anchors, that real sailors must find a new symbol and keep it between themselves), prison tattoos etc. This last cathegory is the most sincere and acknowledgeable one, it is, however, also subjected to touristification via mass-media and internet culture. In instances of tattoos serving the purpose of true recollection, we can notice the transfer of memories from the mind (and soul) to the body, much like notes we place not in a drawer, in case of need, but under clothing. Can the mind truly not be bothered with the memories of one`s children, lovers or prison experiences, or can it not hold on to them?
4. Finally, there are also instances of tattoos made for cosmetic reasons, designed to hide flaws, scars, or even previous tattoos that one no longer fancies.
Anthropologically, the western world has included tattoos in its daily routine with a high dose of half-measures, in which we find most of the toxic shifts inflicted upon the perception and self-perception of man. Depending on where they are placed, tattoos may be highly visible, for all to see, expressing themselves to an abstract audience. In this case, the level of expression is the same as in graffiti, the acknowledgement, however differs: the man with a tattoo on his neck or hand ”stands for it”, while a graffiti artist, however expressive, cowers from responsibility for his acts. In other cases, especially when tattoos are very large, they are noticeable and manifest; however, modern, abstract ties between people discourage contemplation thereof. If we meet a person at the swimming pool displaying a large tattoo, it is obvious and often expressive beyond the necessity of words, conversation or having to know each other. It is a public matter. Yet the modern self is not devoid enough to allow detailed, closer looks: no matter how flamboyant the tattoo, we cannot stare or follow the person around in order to properly see it. It is in the same time public and private, expressive and secret, a state of affairs rather schizophrenic in nature. The body is a canvas jealous of itself.
Furthermore, there is the element of addition brought by tattoo interventions, an off-shoot of 19th century positive thinking: one must always add in order to better. The tattooed body suggests it is not enough without the tattoo. The aforementioned shift from divine representation to man-made item is the equivalent of a falling from grace: the tools that are our bodies are bestowed more dignity upon before modern times, as they are the image of God, than in the frenzy of our self-making: we are never good enough, never complete without sparrows on our ankles or syrenes on our arms. Should it be in our own eyes, it doesn`t stand, as much of our body is invisible to us; should it be in the eyes of others, it still doesn`t hold, as the other may rarely come close enough to contemplate, due to our current customs. It is rather the knowledge, both for ourselves and others that something has been added that counts.
Tattoos are nowadays described as art. They are not, if only for the reason that art is dignified and cannot condone the instrumentalization of the self as that of a car in need of ”pimping”. But there is a second, more technical reason to this ”non-artness” of tattoos: they are self expressions of relative relevance and uncheckable acknowledgement. One will not tattoo concepts on oneself, nor images one disagrees with, but only that which one personally fancies . In this we see again the half-measure induced by modern thinking: one`s body is abstract enough to recklessly (even tastelessly) modify, yet never all-the-way, never renouncing oneself. This condition reflects modern man`s fethishized dependency on his body: not the instrument of fulfillment, having to provide conditions to perform the acts necessary to engrace oneself, but rather an instrument of gratification, used for attraction for sexual encounters, expression of what the mind and speech need not say or elaborate upon, support for self publicity (or publicity for others) and ultimately superior to the spirit that coordinates it: by these means it will be fed, it will work, it will progress, it will survive etc.
This presentation focuses more on tattoos than graffiti since the latter has been already dealt with during Muian and Muian II. The common problem with both in contemporary thought is the mechanism of acknowledgement they involve, leading to both their popularity and alienating force. For graffiti, the Author`s solution was full acknowledgement via self portrait.
For tattoos, the Author sees an exit from the current predicament by an acceptance of modern man`s interpretation of his body as an artificial (man made or self-made) instrument and taking this to its ultimate finality, with the help of graffiti experience. As graffiti is only logical if accompanied by full acknowledgement as outlined during Muian (along with aesthetic and ideological consequences thereof), the acknowledged graffiti-like approach to the human body will explicitly transform it into nothing more than a canvas, devoid of the owner`s preferences, opinions, desires or fears. Artists involved acknowledge their creation, while the Curator acknowledges her selection and the Author acknowledges his lack of presence. In so doing, the modern instrument that is his body ceases to be a useful object (to the Self or to Itself) and becomes an artifact, the apotheosis of any object, bringing it if not back to the grace of God`s image, to that of man`s greatest achievement. In so doing, the Author`s body becomes art, an object lacking mechanical function, yet graced with holiness. The Author believes that this full-fledged renunciation of property upon his body`s image will clear the industrialized agglutination created by modern man around the connection of body and soul: with its image being no longer its own or reflective of the Self, the body can do no other than come back to its primary function, that of sustenance for the spirit`s endeavors.
There are, however, anthropological issues that will need clearing. Artists are required to sign strict contracts, preventing multiplication of submitted images.The Author`s body will be no longer fully his own and the artists` works – no longer theirs. As a person becoming an artifact, the Author must behave as such, since any nudity corresponds to an exhibition, and any harm to the tattoos – to an act of vandalism. It is interesting, working with modern mindsets, to figure out the net worth of this art on the market and to establish proper insurance thereof.
It must also be mentioned that, in the aftermath of Muian III, any public display of the Author`s body will occur free of charge and, in the event of his death, his body will be donated to a museum or a number of museums selected by himself and the Curator for permanent and non-commercial display.
1. We can also speculate about the nature of intervention, given the legacy of religious thought on the matter: by tattooing oneself, one claims one`s body back from God and deals with it as a victor would with his trophy, in a de facto act of self-antagonization which corresponds to contemporary mind frames encouraging one to ”push one`s limits” and better oneself, although the explanation of both the flaw and the improvement are often dubious.
2. Much like a tea-cosy one knits for home use with images of one`s choice; not only is it ultimately utilitarian in nature, but the tea cosy will also have little chance to mean something and shine without the owner.