Friday, 27 July 2012

Skin: a mortal work of art


As anyone who is remotely familiar with the goings on of the Publishing industry - or, indeed, anyone who reads - will be aware, stories are no longer confined within the pages, covers and bindings of the traditional book.  New media is taking the Publishing industry by storm: with the growing popularity of e-books and e-readers and the astonishing success of Fifty Shades of Grey two notable victories in the ongoing revolution.  Like Fifty Shades, which began life as a Twilight fan fiction published episodically on websites, many authors are now using the internet as a means of publishing their own work and Penguin's recent purchase of the self-publishing company Author Solutions suggests that publishers are taking these new media very seriously indeed.

Just as I was beginning to get my head around all of these new ways of writing, publishing and reading stories, Shelley Jackson's name appeared on my computer screen.  As a writer and artist, Jackson is known for her hybrid genre experiments and her project Skin takes the use of new media in publishing to a whole other level.

Launched in 2003, Skin is described by Jackson as 'a mortal work of art'.  It is a 2095-word story published one word at a time in tattoos on the bodies of numerous volunteers, referred to as "words".  The story in its full form will be provided only to words, on receipt of proof that they have been tattooed - and the story will die with its words, constantly morphing until the last word's demise. If 2095 volunteers fail to materialise, the incomplete story will be considered definitive.

Personally I have always been rather uneasy about the idea of getting a tattoo, but I absolutely love the idea of a story published on the human body.  Sometimes I feel such a fierce connection with the words on a page that they may as well be branded on my skin.  And perhaps the thing I love most about literature is the endless variety of interpretations that can be made of a single text - what a collection of words means to you is exclusively yours.  No one will ever feel exactly the way that you did when reading those words and your interpretation dies with you, just as Skin dies with its participants.

As much as I admire Jackson's project, I don't think I have the guts to become a participant.  Can you imagine getting a really bland word, like "a" or "the"?  Or some kind of curse word or insult?  However, if you're a great deal braver than I am, Jackson's project is currently only approximately 553 words complete - although she does have over 10,000 applications for the remaining words to sift through.  But there's no harm in trying your luck, particularly as applications are accepted in no particular order: as Jackson states "you could write to me today and get in".

For details on how to apply, or for more information about the project itself, the following links may be of use:
Call for Participants
Project Status

You can visit the web page for the Skin Project here and Shirley Jackson's website here.

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