Digital Tattoos at ISEA

Digital Tattoos at ISEA


In collaboration with Swedish national radio Unsworn set up an ambulating digital tattoo service on the ISEA2004 ferry between Stockholm and Tallinn.

Digital Tattoos is an intervention designed by Erik Sandelin specifically for SR c and the ISEA Networked Experience cruise.

Passengers passing Erik’s ambulating tattoo studio are given the opportunity to have their personal laptop tattooed with stylish, permanent pieces of software that range from the mischievous Miscalculator to the extreme High Heeled Cursor and other networked, non-visual adornments. Like physical tattoos burnt on your skin these zeroes and ones form a spectrum from intimate and subtle to extreme and in-your-face; from stylish to blunt; from visual adornments to behavioural treats, souvenirs and social statements. They are always painful to remove and might become an encumbrance in some social situations. A standard tattoo would be pointless to most people if painted on - the pain and permanence is an important part of it. The Digital Tattoos intervention raises questions of if and how the digital material – which, in its current embodiments, strives for lightness, transparency, and control – can support expressions based on a similar commitment. Perhaps a more appropriate simile would be the semi-permanent piercing. You can always format your hard-drive and reinstall the operating system. The zeroes and ones will not leave a scar. Or will they?

When radio converges with networked, digital media new issues arise. The digital material is temporal and ephemeral as well as non-degrading through its binary exactness. Digital Tattoos takes an extreme approach in reflecting on how qualities of commitment and permanence can be supported in our increasingly personal relations to computational technologies. It also demonstrates the ambition of SR c for stepping beyond traditional public service radio towards an exploration of new media – also in physical space.

The Digital Tattoos intervention has an audible afterlife through a piece to be produced for the SR c website shortly after ISEA has ended. Edited recorded sounds and conversations with tattooed festival goers will be available for public listening through a custom made, web based sound player. For each person that listens, the sound will wear down other layers of sound will “shine through”. Depending on the number of listeners the piece will be finished a few weeks after its opening, thus continuing the exploration of permanence, physicality and commitment in the digital domain.

Space Praticalities

Erik will place his mobile tattoo studio in one of the festival interim spaces, preferably in a corridor or passage between the established exhibition spaces. It will be a small open stall that requires about 2 * 3 metres of floor space. In this area there will be, besides the appropriately dressed tattooist, a patinous, three-legged suitcase containing the brick-memory – a custom made USB-memory holding the zeroes and ones (the ink). A small low table for the client’s laptop and rudimentary seating for client and tattooist will be provided for comfort and conversations. Other items include a printed menu of available tattoos and necessary surgical instruments.