There is one question that I have struggled with ever since I got my first tattoo – whether the desire to perpetuate something on your body is driven by the need for self- expression or by the highest level of narcissism, by the arrogant side of us that desperately wants to brag about its aesthetic tastes. Nowadays, with modernity progressively taking away the authentic out of the ordinary, we have found ourselves in the trap of what Adam Advirdsson calls the existential insecurity of the ‘late’ or ‘post’ modern societies. Therefore, the desire to depict our inside world on the outside could easily be triggered by the fact that modernity forces us to display who we are or who we want to be perceived as through a variety of consumer resources, instead of authenticity. Or maybe this drive is simply a response to the modern person’s fear of oblivion, the fear of the destruction of the traditional society and the maturing of a new one, in which every desire could be fulfilled with a single click.
Nevertheless, in an interview with Aesop Rock I recently came across the only irrefutable statement about tattoos I have ever heard
Just go for it. They’re only as permanent as you are
What makes it so strikingly true, though, is not the statement itself, but the context of modernity it is spoken in. Our society is one of instant gratification, society in which the words “permanent” and “forever” simply do not exist anymore. Having been raised in an era of technological revolution, we have gotten used to the idea that the only concept that has stood the test of time is the concept of movement, development. We are, in this sense, a generation of faithless peregrines, chasing the blurred concepts of happiness and fulfillment, which we are incapable of defining due to the fact that we are incapable of believing they truly exist.
Our generation is at the same time incredibly narcissistic and unbelievably self- conscious. In our generation anxiety and arrogance are tied together. Our generation tends to be afraid of clear lines and definitions and therefore we put life, death and art all together under the category of the abstract. We do, however, find comfort in the past, in what has already been lived, not susceptible to transiency, protected from the force of change we have to acknowledge when facing the presence or the future. Precisely this fear of change is the fear that pushes us to follow trends, to jump on the bandwagon and move through the presence, following already established models of behavior, interests and lifestyles. In this society tattoos are a trend that is at the same time about the past, the present and the future. It is a craft that serves as a bridge between tradition and modernity, a craft that reassures the modern man that the gap between faith and negation stands on the comforting edge of a needle. This, however, is not the needle on which Eyedia stood barefoot, a jump away from heaven. This is not the needle that has taken the lives of my heroes. The needle that offers comfort to us is the one that has the power to depict our inside world on the outside.
I see tattoos as an opportunity to establish order in the chaos of the modern experience, as a cure to the human condition, to the need to perpetuate the mortal. After all, if my tattoos are as permanent as I am, as my consciousness is, I have the right to be buried with my skin telling the story of my memories, my loves, my friendships, my heroes, my anxiety, my fears, my insecurities, my inspiration, my soul. And I’d like to think that we’ll be a generation, buried with our souls, painted on our bodies. The way I see it, this is the perfect end of a generation of extremes and paradoxes, of pain and lack of boundaries. A generation that staggers between the search for happiness and the firm belief that it doesn’t exist.
If the only equilibrium we will ever know lies in the portrayal of our thoughts and desires on our bodies, it simply doesn’t matter whether it’s provoked by a feeling of anxiety or self- obsession. If something as simple as ink has the power to bring peace to a generation of raging teens on the edge of becoming adults, then for us the idea of tattoos embodies Aristotle’s concept of kinesis, the constant movement from the imperfect towards perfection. If movement is measured by perfection and we truly are a generation of faithless peregrines, then for us the craft of tattooing is Aristotle’s ultimate self- possession and “wholeness”. As we are a generation of non- believers, we achieve wholeness in the fusion of body and soul under the needle of the artist. After all, there is no one with the power to deny us the right to manipulate mortality and to merge it with art.