Tattoo Collecting: Living Art and Artifact
This thesis examines the possibilities of the tattoo as a collectible. Specifically, three different modes of collecting and displaying tattoos; as a living museum on the body of the tattooed subject, as a skin specimen separated from the body and displayed in a variety of museum settings and, finally, as an image abstracted from the body in the form of photographs of tattooed sitters. Implicit in this journey from body art to artifact is a consideration of the changing meaning and significance of tattoos in the evolving discourse of visual culture. Once regarded as markers of social deviance - as symbols of exclusion or marginalization - tattoos have become a much more popular and widely accepted form of body art - signs of community, affinity and inclusion. The growing popularity of tattoos has also led to a reconsideration of their status as an art form, an elevation of what was once considered a 'low art' process to the realm of high art. This shift has only recently led to an increase in scholarship about tattoos within the discourses of both art history and visual culture. In this thesis I examine this new scholarship about tattoos in visual culture, and then go one step further by considering tattoos as visual objects within the culture of collecting. Specifically, I examine tattoos as collectible 'souvenirs', as specimens and, when reproduced as photographs, as socially resonant signs of identity and meaning. These case studies examine tattoo art from various perspectives. Primarily, as art collected on the body, but also as imagery existing separate from a physical form, just like the majority of collected artwork.