Thursday, 26 November 2009

REVIEW: ExInked Exhibition

Published: MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL, 26th November 2009

"ExInked exhibition: Thalia Allington-Wood questions whether getting a tattoo of a spiny lobster on your back is really a good idea"

Heralded as a ‘social experiment’ to celebrate Charles Darwin’s bicentennial birthday, this exhibition organised by art co-operative Ultimate Holding Company will certainly leave a mark on you, particularly if you're one of those who have volunteered to take part.

Getting something permanently inked upon your body is not to be taken lightly, especially if it is a rare type of fungus.

The concept? 100 endangered species. 100 drawings. 100 tattoos upon 100 volunteers. The result? 100 ambassadors for animal conservation, each with their very own permanent reminder of disappearing wildlife.

Each species is available for one person only. The tattoos are free. To be a volunteer an application must be filled in, with a preference of three choices and a statement to support the application.

The exhibition itself is simple and effective. The drawings, each on a plain piece of cartridge paper, are displayed on a lit table in the centre of the room. You look down at the images, as if into a museum cabinet. The drawings are presented like dead butterflies rather than as artworks hanging upon a wall; a reminder of the future that remains for many of the animals shown.

The ink illustrations are delicate depictions that recall old encyclopaedias and scientific nature drawings. Meticulous and precise. From corn flower to spiny lobster, water vole to tadpole shrimp, long-horned bee to golden eagle. The variety is a stark comment on the pervasive damage being done to species in the UK. Three conservation groups, the Marine Conservation Society, Buglife and The People's Trust for Endangered Species, were all involved in creating the exhibition.

All this is very comfortable and conventional until we get to the tattoos. Ultimate Holding Company has enlisted the expertise of Ink Vs Steel to tattoo the volunteers live in the exhibition. It seems rather sinister, certainly masochistic, to watch people have a drawing of a scarlet malachite beetle being scratched into their flesh with a needle.

Similarly, despite being undoubtedly a worthy cause, is it a good reason to get a tattoo? What does an ink drawing on someone’s back, which will remain for the most part underneath a T-shirt, really do to help conservation?

Getting something permanently inked upon your body is not to be taken lightly, especially if it is a rare type of fungus. When walking around the exhibition, it did feel slightly like people were shopping for a free tattoo rather than supporting the preservation of endangered species.

I just hope that the people raising their hands for the ‘boring millipede’ or ‘erratic ant’ have thought long and hard about the fact that tattoos are often judged to represent their owners.

Whatever the results, ExtInked is certainly contentious. Let's just hope the species last beyond the tattoos.

ExtInked, 108 Chapel Street, Salford, M3 5DW, 10am-6pm, until 29 November. Tattooing commences on 26 November at 7.30pm.


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