Back around 2004, I saw a documentary about tattoos and tattooing. One of the people they interviewed was an artist, Shelley Jackson, who was writing a book… on people….
Her idea was to write a book and then have the words in the book tattooed on people. The only public representation of the book would be the “words”– the people on which the words were written. The book was to be titled “SKIN“.
I was fascinated by this idea and wrote to Shelley. I received an answer and an invitation to submit an official “resume”, a letter outlining why I wanted to participate and a brief bio. I did and then received a confirmation that I was to be a word in the book.!
Almost two years elapsed from the day I sent in my request to the day I received by word. It was only 3 days later that I “became” “preserve”…
The word was very carefully chosen by Shelley. In ny “resume” I talked about my work in history research involving Indian Residential Schools; my interest in genaeology; the fact that in many ways, my past had been hidden from me by the actions of my birth father in preventing contact between me and my siblings; and other things which revolved around the idea of “preserving”. I had no idea, nor did Shelley, of what word she was going to give my until Shelley settled on the word “preserve” for me. I was lucky. Many more people would be assigned the words “and”, “to”, and “the”. Interestingly, many of those “words” felt a sense of appropriateness for the word chosen.
Once my word had been received from Shelly, I was to have it tattooed, in black, in a book font (no “fancy” script or lettering… no embellishment, no decoration), and uncapitalized unless the word was the fist word in the sentence. Evidence of the tattoo had to be submitted and the requirements were that there had to be a close-up image which showed that it was a tattoo not simply drawn on, a photo of the “word (the person who is the word, not the word itself, without the word being visible unless it was unavoidable), and the date on which the person became the “word”.
I would later (more than a year later, receive the only traditionally printed version of the story, a privately printed presentation copy for each participant. This book is only permitted to be read by the participants and the author and the only way anyone not involved in the project would be able to read the book would be if all the participants gathered and were grouped together and read in sequence. With almost 3000 words spread around the globe, no easy task….