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The human canvas: live tattooing

14 July 2010

Next Thursday sees the culmination of Wellcome Collection’s tattoo competition, with the winning design being inked on volunteer Caisa Ederyd live at the venue’s late-night opening.

The event is programmed to accompany ‘Skin’, a major temporary exhibition at Wellcome Collection, which runs until 26 September 2010.

‘Skin’ tattoo competition
Thursday 22 July, 18.30-22.30

Wellcome Collection, Euston Road, London

For the last month, artists and designers have been submitting their entries to our competition, hosted by the Don't Panic online art community, with members of the community casting their votes for which one they think should be inked onto Caisa for life. Voting has now closed and the winner will be announced shortly before the tattooing begins.

Human canvas Caisa produced the artistic brief for the design herself, which will be up to 36 inches square on the left side of her ribcage. "I wanted something that reflected what was going on under my skin, I think there is great beauty in the way we are put together both inside and out. This is also an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate the quality and creativity of the work that is being produced using skin as a medium."

You can hear more about the brief from Caisa herself in this short video on YouTube.

Tattoo art is a fast-growing industry in the UK, with one in eight of all adults and one in four of all 18-35-year-olds sporting a tattoo. The market is split equally between men and women, and over 2000 tattoo parlours service the growing appetite to have the body decorated with this increasingly sophisticated form of art.

Tattoos are not just the preserve of servicemen or the product of drunken nights out. As Ned Dalleywater, Editor of 'Skin Deep', reveals: "The demographic of people having tattoos is changing, the market is becoming older, with tattooists even reporting customers in their 90s, the most recent of which was a woman who wanted to be tattooed with 'Do not resuscitate'. Customers are becoming much more discerning, with over 70 per cent of designs being individually commissioned. Many fine artists who graduate today will move immediately to take their designs on to skin rather than canvas."

Tattoos have a long and mixed history; James II, George V and even Queen Victoria were fans of the form and today's celebrity 'royalty' are no exception with Angelina Jolie, David Beckham, Robbie Williams and Amy Winehouse adding to their tattoo collections on a regular basis. The Beckham Angel is one of the most popular designs on the tattoo circuit.

Ned Dalleywater concludes: "Tattooing has moved from the back street to mainstream. The industry hit the 21st century running. Tattoos have lost their taboo; they are no longer hidden but proudly on display. The 'Skin' exhibition is the perfect way to celebrate the art form and its importance in society today."

Visitors to the live tattooing will also have the opportunity to explore the 'Skin' exhibition, which will be open until 22.00. Taking a predominately historical approach, 'Skin' invites visitors to re-evaluate the largest and probably most overlooked human organ. The exhibition traces the changing importance of skin, from anatomical thought in the 16th century through to contemporary artistic exploration.

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