By Tim Farrell, September 28th, 2010

In August of 2003, Shelley Jackson began a new project, simply dubbed “Skin”. This project in particular took what we consider to be “literature” to its most abstract. What Jackson calls a “mortal work of art” began with her putting out a open call for volunteers to be a part of this living experiment in literature. She was searching for people who would tattoo a single word, anywhere they please on their bodies, with the only restriction being that it must be in black ink, in a “classic book font”.

First, people from around the world reached out to her online, (grossing a total of over 21,000 emails worldwide), and then they would receive a release form. After signing off on the project, the individuals would receive their word, sometimes just a letter, (a, I, etc.) and now it was up to them to get the tattoo. Upon documenting the tattoo, and submitting that documentation, the individual would receive a full copy of the full text. This work would never be published to the public. So far, 553 words have been tattooed, with 1445 more volunteers who have already been released, awaiting their day in the tattoo chair.

Shelley needs 646 more volunteers to complete the story. The literature world has never seen a project of this scale, nor this level of user-based interactivity. Not only will this story only exist on the bodies of the volunteers, acting as their pages, but it can only last as long as they do. In this writer’s opinion, Shelley Jackson has created an entirely new concept, and therefore changed the face of what we know as “print” forever. As a matter of fact, I am considering joining this group of volunteers, becoming a page, and forever being a part of this human literature experiment.

Shelley is now teaching at the New School in the Graduate Writing Program.
If you are interested if becoming part of the project visit http://ineradicablestain.com/.

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