MORBID INK
The Human Memorial Tattoo with Dr John Troyer
At Brompton Cemetery Chapel on Saturday 19th October 2019 at 1 pm

In 1891, Samuel F. O’Reilly of New York, NY patented the first “…electromotor tattooing-machine,” a modern and innovative device that permanently inserted ink into the human skin. O’Reilly’s invention revolutionized tattooing and forever altered the underlying concept behind a human tattoo, i.e., the writing of history on the body. Tattooing of the body most certainly predates the O’Reilly machine (by several centuries) but one kind of human experience remains constant in this history: the memorial tattoo.

Memorial tattooing is, as Marita Sturken discusses the memorialization of the dead, a technology of memory. Yet the tattoo is more than just a representation of the dead. It is a historiographical practice in which the living person seeks to make death intelligible by permanently altering his or her own body. In this way, memorial tattooing not only establishes a new language of intelligibility between the living and the dead, it produces a historical text carried on the historian’s body. A memorial tattoo is an image but it is also (and most importantly) a narrative.

Human tattoos have been described over the centuries as speaking scars and/or the true writing of savages; cut from the body and then collected by Victorian era gentlemen. These intricately inked pieces of skin have been pressed between glass and then hidden away in museum collections, waiting to be re-discovered by the morbidly curious. The history of tattooing is the story of Homo sapiens’ self-invention and unavoidable ends.

Tattoo artists have a popular saying within their profession: Love lasts forever but a tattoo lasts six months longer.

And so too, Dr. Troyer will add, does death.

Tickets £12 including a Hendrick's gin cocktail.

Dr. John Troyer  is the Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. His interdisciplinary research focuses on contemporary memorialization practices, concepts of spatial historiography, and the dead body’s relationship with technology. Dr. Troyer is also a theatre director and installation artist with extensive experience in site-specific performance across the United States and Europe. He is a co-founder of the Death Reference Desk website (http://www.deathreferencedesk.org), the Future Cemetery Project (http://www.futurecemetery.com) and a frequent commentator for the BBC. His forthcoming book, Technologies of the Human Corpse (published by MIT Press), will appear in 2020.

 

 

Brompton Cemetery, London.