Video from Sally Rose's performance "Out of Body" at The Living Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, November 16 2017. Video and photo documentation by Aleck Venegas.
Tamara Santibañez: How did you first come up with the concept of the performance for Out of Body?
Sally Rose: The conception of this performance served two functions. I had been thinking about tattoo related performance art and intentional tattooing but I was becoming frustrated at my inclination as an artist to position myself as the most important person in the room. I was seeing this in mainstream tattoo culture as well, the focus being taken off of the recipient and being placed primarily on the artist. I considered what would happen if I took myself out of the process. At the same time I was having experiences in which I felt the meaning of 'tattoo' had been diluted by western capitalist ideals. What capacity could a tattoo or tattoo session hold if there were no personal, cultural, intellectual or financial biases? No space for vanity or ego. No choice, no skill, no preconception. I essentially wanted to remove everything other than the act of giving and receiving a tattoo. This also informed the necessity of those participating in the event to remain anonymous. By inverting the process that I typically took as an artist or that I had seen in tattoo culture, while trying to reduce the experience of a tattoo to it's most basic form, it ended up that I would be on the table and the tattoo machine in the audience's hand.
TS: What were your feelings approaching the performance itself? Were they different between the initial show in London and the second version in New York?
SR: As an artist, I'm typically thinking about the facilitation and aesthetic of the performance - making sure that all the pieces are in place and are aesthetically contributing to the purpose of the event. Emotionally, once I settle into the performance, I begin processing more superficial concerns ie. are people going to show up? Will they participate? In London this was supplemented with elation and curiosity because I had never done it before. I was certainly very excited in London, whereas this time I was a bit more nervous. I have an incredible community in New York and I was at once looking forward to inviting them to participate but also nervous about my ability to sustain a high level of participation!
TS: How did you find the experience as both a practice of vulnerability and as a physical challenge?
SR: There is great power in vulnerability. I enjoy the process of giving myself completely to the world around me and therefore having nothing left to lose. It's scary and freeing, painful but beautiful. I also really enjoy the interaction people are encouraged to have with my body, a completely different interaction than we are used to as a society. To permanently mark me without any restriction or prior relationship necessary. Granting strangers radical access to my relationship with my body. The physical challenge of the performance holds an underlying opportunity to be removed from mental distraction. During the performance I work on mindfulness - leaning in to the pain and approaching it from a place of acceptance. Pain can also denote a sense of purpose, a sacrifice in the name of new experiences.
TS: Do you relate to your body differently since receiving these tattoos from strangers? What relationship do you have to the tattoos themselves?
SR: I have never been the type to be overly concerned about the tattoos that I have on my body, but the element of mystery is definitely exciting to me. It is a faith in strangers and a level of resignation towards my body that I had not reached prior to the performance, but I feel very at home in that mind frame. My relationship to the tattoos themselves however is so special. They are so open and expansive. I will wonder about, reflect on and consider the meaning of them for the rest of my life. They represent an incredibly intimate but entirely indiscernible moment with a stranger, immortalized on my skin. They weren't given to me by way of a popular artist, I did not make any decisions based on content or style, they are not valued by a capitalist system. They are the manifestation of people's desire to engage with and impact another person in a permanent and meaningful way. I wonder if this is perhaps closer to the original purpose of tattooing?
TS: Is this something you think you could repeat indefinitely? Do you plan to repeat it again in the future?
SR: I do think it could repeat indefinitely. I plan on completing installments in LA and Toronto in 2018, for the future goal of publishing a physical artifact, archiving the tattoos, spaces, participants and reflections of the piece.
TS: What do you think tattooing you was like for the individuals who participated?
SR: I'm not sure! I am still blown away that anyone actually participates. Some people I could sense had tattooed before. I hope they were excited, encouraged and enjoying the ability to interact with the human body in a special way. I hope they gained the sense that they were contributing to the relationship I have with my body in a very special way. And I hope they understand that they are all very important to me now; that I am grateful to carry their gifts with me until I die. I also hope that they might take with them a more relaxed perspective on aesthetic control or perceived 'requirements' of participation in body work.
Find Sally at: http://sally-boy.tumblr.com