ABOVE: SCOTT CAMPBELL. PHOTO COURTESY OF VICTOR BLUE.
In “Whole Story,” tattoo artist Scott Campbell‘s temporary installation at Milk Gallery, the emphasis is on interactive work. For four days, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to get inked by Campbell and walk away as a permanent work. The only catch: They have no say in the design they receive and are completely blind to the process. The exhibit features one of Campbell’s paintings with a hole through it. Those daring enough will place their arms through that hole for one hour as Campbell works his magic. It is both an exercise in trust and a means of giving the artist total creative freedom.
“Every tattooer has at some point, maybe often, wondered what it would be like to tattoo if you removed the other person from the experience,” says Campbell. “It can get exhausting being caretaker and being artist at the same time—trying to bring new ideas to the medium, but always having to be aware and respectful of the input that your canvas has.”
Of course, Campbell still plans to make sure he is giving his clients something they will be happy and identify with, even if he can’t physically see them. “I will still be touching these people, and I believe there is still an exchange there,” he explains. “Being aware of the enormity of the gesture of trust that the recipient is making, it is in a way more intimate than the traditional client/tattooer relationship. The responsibility of the tattoo is 100 percent on my shoulders.”
Daunting as it sounds, this experience is about more than just separating out the daredevils. “There is something uniting about the project. In a way it de-emphasizes the individual, and makes us all a part of a community or movement. I’m covered in tattoos, some beautiful, some arguably horrible. But each of them is special to me because of the circumstances and ritual surrounding their application,” Campbell concludes.
“WHOLE STORY” OPENS TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 12 AT MILK GALLERY IN NEW YORK AND RUNS THROUGH SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15.