“What if a tattoo was first of all a noise? The sound of a needle sinking into the skin, the skin crying out? Because the noises are there: the electrical crackling of the device, the silent flow of warm blood, the muted sound of the sponge absorbing the blood, the indistinct cry of the skin when the needle enters the flesh,” writes Vincent Estellon in his book Tatouage sur corps ou envers de l’expression *. In the tattoo parlour chair, it is indeed the endless cry of a taught body, undergoing the fierce incision of ink-drenched needles, which is stifled by a tenacious will to deal with the pain. The bulging eyes of the (self) mutilated man weep over this black ink that eats into his skin raw. Bilious blood oozes from markings which wickedly striate over his chest. The body seems to forcefully vomit out this ink that’s trying by any means to make its mark, but the man resists, because this is the challenge he has chosen to undertake.
1. The tattoo as means of surpassing oneself
The people behind the Brutal Black Tattoo Project are Cammy Stewart, Valerio Cancellier and Phillip 3Kreuze. Three artists specialising in blackwork tattoos (large-scale, all black tattooing). A Scotsman, an Italian and a German, united by the same mantra "no pain no gain" and their unprecedented tattooing is portrayed in the Vice documentary as sessions of veritable torture. However, behind this satanic trio and their apparent sadism lies a very real desire to offer a unique experience in total opposition to contemporary tattooing practices where pain must be minimised. Here, tattooing is seen first and foremost as a gruelling process, resulting in a black mass over the entire body from head to toe, covering the face, the arms and the hands. Some see it as social suicide. Others as a way of finally achieving the ideal image they have of themselves.
“The people who take part in this project have established a sort of companionship with pain,”explains sociologist David Le Breton. In his book Expérience de la douleur, entre destruction et renaissance (2010), he explains how it’s imperative to distinguish "pain" from "suffering". One is essentially physical while the other remains subjective and concerns the soul and the spirit. Thus illness and death can be the prerogative of true mental suffering, but the pain of voluntary tattooing has a constructive dimension. We shouldn’t forget that those taking part in the Brutal Black Tattoo Project are indeed “consenting victims”. By submitting to the good will of the needles, they’re accepting that their bodies will be abused for hours and will look completely different at the end. Because the shape of the tattoo is a mere detail. Covered with thick lines, the bodies radically change in appearance during the sessions, the face is swathed in a black mask as the spirit becomes more reckless.