#255: Skin (2011)

Art is in the eye of the beholder, as we’re always told. But what about when said art is created using ink, a needle-gun and a whole load of flesh? Music video director Ryan Hope’s debut feature Skin is a documentary that tests the relationship between tattoo culture and the propensity of high-art consumerism.

After distributing a series of flyers offering free tattoos, Hope introduces the willing participants who jumped at the opportunity for some free ink. Asking what fascinates them about the art form, how it moved from sailor culture onto the football pitch, and whether it can feasibly be considered as art at all? They all have varied opinions on the subject, but they are all in agreement that tattoos have shaped, or designed, their lives.

Far from the world of tramp-stamp tattoos, these lucky ‘walking canvases’ are marked with one-of-a-kind creations designed by their favourite artists from across the world, most notably Damien Hirst, Black Flag logo extraordinaire Raymond Pettibon, and London’s Family Business tattoo shop boss, Mo Coppoletta.

A short forty minute running time, Skin feels like more of an ongoing project than the finished article. Its finest moment comes when YBA troubadour Damien Hirst stares at a tattoo he once devised on paper, now placed on a woman’s vagina. A man that has made an art career out of being a provocateur, even Hirst is stunned to see how his work has become eternalised through the tattoo process.

Skin is a beautiful visual essay from the frontiers of contemporary art, but it only ever toys with interesting issues of art commodification without ever fully tackling them. Hope’s documentarian style is artsy, accentuating how the subject’s are presented, rather than the subject’s themselves. This could lead to frustration, but such gloss appropriately matches the aestheticism of the impressive tattoo work itself.

Although it may be slight, Ryan Hope’s documentary is thought provoking and inspiring for any tattoo fan, and perhaps even the prudish naysayer.

★★★☆☆☆

You can watch the whole documentary over at Ryan Hope’s website.

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