(This is an abridged version, the full piece will be published in next month's INKED)
From the illegal underground tattooists of South Korea to Brazilian women challenging social stereotypes, Grace Neutral’s productions with VICE offer an edifying shift away from the usual fetishizing of tattoos by using them as a conduit to highlight the often contentious social and political realms of each wearer.
Ahead of VICELAND’s 2017 series, Needles and Pins, Grace chats with me about her experiences in front of the lens and what it’s like to be an ambassador for contemporary tattoo culture.
Hi Grace. So, you were tattooing at Good Times and then suddenly you’re a media personality at VICE media. Can you tell me how that happened?
Well, I was lucky enough to be approached by i-D a few years' back to write an alternative Christmas speech about beauty which received a great response.
i-D then made a film about me and my outlook on tattooing which also went down really well. It was after my i-D series 'Beyond Beauty' that VICE asked me to work with them.
And how has that journey been for you thus far?
I started making films with VICE at the start of 2016 and we wrapped up the first series of Needles and Pins by the end of the year! It has been one amazing year, that's for sure!
Let’s talk about the shows. It’s so refreshing to have someone from the tattoo community represent contemporary tattoo culture in an intelligent and socially and politically charged manner, unlike other mainstream shows that often debase the art form. What are you hoping to achieve with these shows?
Basically, what I wanted to achieve with these shows was super simple: I wanted to tell a true story about tattooing, and offer people a proper insight into how the art form came to be the big industry it is today.
I also wanted share some of the cultures and techniques that helped evolve the art. Just like you say, mainstream shows on tattoos seem to only fetishize and poke fun at tattooing. I got sick of this - and decided I'd have to do it myself ;)
What is the extent of your role in these stories, is it limited to presenter or are you actively searching out stories and utilizing your knowledge and networks gained while tattooing? There must be so much involved!
I am not a TV presenter; it has never been a goal of mine. I simply got offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about my craft.
Being in front of the camera and guiding the audience through my adventures was definitely something I had to learn, but because I am so passionate about tattooing it was natural for me to quickly form relationships with a lot of the people we filmed.
For me it's all about finding the stories. I was very involved in the development and making of the show; For example, I knew and suggested some of the contributors you see in Needles and Pins.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt, whether about yourself or anything else, over the course of the shows?
I have learnt so much from every single place I have visited. But the one common theme that strikes me is that that tattooing is such an amazing way to build friendships and communities. I feel so lucky to be part of the global tattoo family.
Most memorable moment for you?
The most memorable moment filming the series was riding around LA on quad bikes with Venice Bad Boys ;)
Most interesting thing you’ve discovered about tattoo culture?
In one episode of Needles and Pins we go to New Zealand to learn about Maori tattooing and Maori culture - and this was the most interesting discovery for me. The Maori people are so beautiful - and its history is so intertwined with tattooing, nature and magic; it was hard not to fall in love there. It is definitely a place I will return to continue my tattoo journey and education.
Has the show received any criticisms?
To be honest, I haven't heard any bad comments about the show.
Obviously there has been the odd internet troll calling me a 'freak' because of the way I look, but I have heard it all before and I'm very good at shielding myself from any negativity comments.
All the feedback about the show has, so far, been really positive - and I'm over the moon about that!
If you could do a tattoo show about anything or anyone, what would it be?
The one I just made for VICELAND!
Would you agree that the normalization of tattoos – great for reducing stigma and allowing autonomy over one’s body – has also created a new ‘beauty’ industry / ideal? Tattoos becoming less about expressing spirit and individuality and more about acquisition: the purchase of social capital and of ‘beauty.’
Yes for sure, I think the majority of tattoo artists (well, at least the ones I know and work with) understand how sacred it is to tattoo; the energy you share with that person is so beautiful, and sometimes, even life changing.
It's been something that I have been conscious of for a long time - and I love that more and more people (not just tattooers, but also the people who get tattooed) are realising this as well.
And lastly, what have you got planned for 2017?
2017 is all about tattooing, travel and having a fucking good time while I do it!
In this second installment of the 'Interview with the Editor' series, where editors of some of the most influential tattoo publications share their two-cents, Alice Snape, editor of Things&Ink, talks about her journey as an independent publisher of a female friendly tattoo culture publication.
"I bought a load of tattoo magazines for inspiration. Needless to say none of them appealed to me, they were very much aimed at men and none of them featured tattoos that I like or would suit me and my tastes. They were also all very much geared towards men, with half naked women legs apart with barely any tattoos on the cover."
(Abridged version first published in DAZED & CONFUSED magazine, 03/03/17) Born into a female body in Iran Touka began experimenting with cross dressing after the Islamic revolution where she would pretend to be a boy to avoid wearing state enforced hijabs. Since then he has actively used body art and modification to transcend the notion of binaries. He preferred the pronoun He for this piece.
In this first installment of the Interview with an Editor series, head honcho of Skin Deep, Sion Smith, offers advice for writers, photographers, and tattooists looking get published, while discussing life at the helm of the UK's best selling tattoo magazine.
"For writers, be original, spell things correctly (I have better things to do than watch your back), be on time, be nice to work with and don’t be a dick."
Milo's comments embracing the positives of a legal, consenting relationship between a teenage boy and older man were labelled pedophilia. So I ask three male friends to share their teenage sexual encounters with older men.
Ahead of VICELAND’s 2017 series, Needles and Pins, Grace talks about her experiences in front of the lens, riding around LA on quad bikes with Venice Bad Boys, and what it’s like to be an ambassador for contemporary tattoo culture.
Currently in her third permutation of a body suit, New Zealand based artist Jak Nola talks about her psychedelic erotic art, tattoos, and what an orgasm can do for the mind.
(Abridged version first Published in The Guardian, 23/11/16) Lying in a satin-lined coffin or wearing a bondage hood may help you face up to your inevitable demise. I attend the inaugural Sydney Death and Dying Festival to get a taste of what's to come.
(Published in INKED issue 42) “That was Ricky’s right above Pinky’s. That’s because Pinky’s had a hepatitis scare and the American navy had banned them from going there, so he just opened upstairs and called it Ricky’s. It was two shops but it was the same. They just liked names that had that “icky” sound and I just happened to be there at the right time.”
(VICE online, 27/09/16) "Isaac Comer was heavily tattooed including on his cock. Henry Findlay was tattooed on his chest, arms, hands, fingers, calves and from his knees to his groin 'after the Burmese manner’. Henry was a soldier, court-martialled in Burma, so presumably he got some pretty wild tatts during service." Discover a rich history of colonial stick & poke tattoos and wild convict stories with Simon Barnard, author of the new book Convict Tattoos: Marked Men and Women of Australia.
(INKED magazine, issue 39) On February 26th, I presented an exhibition of tattooed silicone hands and sheets at Melbourne's Neon Parlour. All profits from the sale of these works went to SafeSteps and WIRE, two Melbourne based organisations dedicated to providing support to women and children experiencing domestic violence.
(INKED magazine, issue 35) 'Tattooing in the Islamic Republic (dictatorship) of Iran' is the culmination of furtive correspondence with four brave Iranian tattooists who risk imprisonment and torture on a daily basis all for the sake of their art.
(Things & Ink, issue 10) "Tattooing is conducted during the vigil. Beside the body the near family sing the deceased's history in a rhythm made of tears. While clusters of cousins drink and gamble in little pockets of light about the village, as the ancestors one by one arrive from their graves to receive the spirit of the newly dead, as the animals set aside to die in the morning shuffle blandly, a select few receive tattoos."
(Things & Ink, issue 12, abridged on VICE online) What began as an intellectual interest in body modification within the context of BDSM ended with 250mls of saline infused into my scrotum and 500mls infused into my girlfriend's breasts.
(Things & Ink, issue 11) "I think it’s a real big kick and liberation once you’ve put on a face and the costume and you go out in public. You become a character, a different person, and so people respond to you differently, and so I can take it on and enjoy whatever it is that could potentially serve me, which is completely different every time."
My scrotum is a thin sack of skin that contains part of my reproductive system. Insert a needle, add a litre of saline, and it is apparently transformed into a serious fun bag.
(Things & Ink, issue 10, republished in INKED magazine, issue 31) "Most people understand that taxidermy is done with the leftover skins, and so it is separate from the live-animal debate, and the leather/fur debate, which uses farming. Animals are not objects, but taxidermy pieces are objects. If taxidermy is made into art for art’s sake, there is still the beauty and appreciation of the animal and the art, so it really isn’t for nothing."
(Things & Ink, issue 11, republished in INKED magazine, issue 32) A short review of Ricky Luder, a book complied and published by Done With Electricity. The book is an illustrative historical treat!
(Things & Ink, issue 9. Republished in Melbourne Permanent, issue 1) ‘Since putting the photo on Instagram, I was like, “Wow; I didn’t realise it would become such a thing”. Someone put it on Facebook, and it turned into this big thing with over 200 comments, and everyone was thinking I was a total freak. I guess I took it a bit lightly and didn’t explain myself, it was just like “RAAAAAHHH; I’m eating my own head!”
(Things & Ink issue 4. Republished in INKED, issue 29) I speak to 5 awesome artists from varying disciplines about their work, tattoos, and meaning.
(Things & Ink blog, 23/12/14. Republished in INKED magazine, issue 30) I talk with the Bangkok based Knowing Buddha Organisation about it's objection to Buddha tattoos, and discover that it may pay to think twice before tattooing a deity on your body.
(Things & Ink blog, 14/12/14. Republished in INKED issue 32) ‘Yeah man, vultures on the streets shaking down people for payouts. I was headed back from a ju-jitsu session and I was told I’m a Russian selling coke around the red-light areas, [the officer] greedily stuck his hands into my gym bag to find a sweaty ju-jitsu gi! These guys’ other rackets are being squeezed by the military so they need to find other ways to buy Christmas goodies this time of year.’
(Things & Ink, issue 8. Republished in INKED, issue 27) ‘The first hit, your mind is full of so many thoughts; mostly you’re thinking, “Shit, what have I done; what am I doing; I can’t do this”. After a few days, I couldn’t feel my body: the pain had reached a different level. I was in another world; I was literally looking over my own body. I was simply not there.’
(Things & Ink, issue 7. Republished in INKED, issue 28) In April of 1990, an Australian toddler had just finished unwrapping his birthday gift. Ecstatically, he began shouting ‘Lollilog! Lollilog!’ Clutched between his two white hands was his first Golliwogg doll. Twenty-four years later, that same little boy sits before me in a cluster of Golliwoggs, discussing the red lipped, bow-tied, black-skinned doll tattoo on his leg.
(Things & Ink, issue 7. Republished in INKED, issue 28) ‘It’s another world in prison, there’s dos and don’ts out here, and then there’s dos and don’ts in there. The prison officers have control, but the prisoners are trying to have control, so there’s constant friction. You could fight it or just go with the flow. I used to just go with the flow, and do tattoos.’
(Things & Ink, issue 6. Republished in Melbourne Permanent, issue 1) "When you’re getting them pierced, it feels pretty brutal. So you can understand the heightened response your body and mind are having to the pain. This automatically triggers a reaction within your brain, and it compensates by flooding your body with adrenaline and all kinds of delicious endorphins. At this point I’m very happy, welcoming the old feeling of this incredible buzz within my system..."
(Modern Farmer, 01/05/2014. Republished in Melbourne Permanent, issue 1) "Suffering through a tattooing is humiliating enough, but having the operation photographed and videotaped is outright overkill. The slippery plastic flooring compounded Little Minnesota’s embarrassment as he tried in vain to maintain his footing at Saturday night’s debut…Maybe it was Little Minnesota, the Texas Tattooed Pig, who finally made the most sincere statement of the night when he urinated in his plastic pigsty."
(Things & Ink, issue 6) "I wanted a truer representation of the broadness and diversity of female bodies, such as older women or tattooed women being visible as ‘girl next door’ and not stereotyped as painted harlots or bad girls. Tattoos have become a niche in porn. Porn tends to do that to humans. Well, humans generally do that to themselves."
(The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, 09/09/14) I became synesthetic—inhaling my visions, exhaling what was heard, psychoacoustics gone awry. It was as though I had inhaled the canvas, yet the painting still stood before me—inside my body lay the very foundation of existence, a manifestation of the whole rather than an isolated organism. The shaman’s throat singing tasted like centuries of atavistic dance, movement, and gyration.
(Things & Ink, issue 3) "The motor wasn’t fast enough so I really had to stab it into the skin hard, I didn’t even have proper ink, I think I was using Balinese stamp pad ink. Anyway, we were all getting pissed and I said to them all, ‘look, this isn’t the right ink, I don’t want you all getting infected from it,’ but they were all like UGHRAAAAA, TATTOO US TATTOO US WE DON’T CARE. I had like seven people lined up."