Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Journal articles

The SKIN Project by Shelley Jackson. The Tattooed Text as a Mortal Work of Art.

Abstract : The SKIN project began in 2003 with Shelley Jackson sending out an online call for volunteers to find people who would be willing to have one of the 2,095 words of her short story “Skin” tattooed on their own body, in an attempt at “publishing in forms that reflected their content” (Daffern, 2012). In exchange for their tattoo (duly proven by a printed photograph), Jackson sent the participants the story she wrote, which was to remain secret. She received over 22,000 emails for the project, and sent their word to 1,875 applicants whom she selected, but she never completed the project because one of “her words” passed away before the full story was tattooed/printed. This article delves into the complex relationship between eternity and finitude that such a project entails. Indeed, on the one hand, literature is perceived as an art inscribed in eternity (with the topos of a writer living on through his/her works after death), and tattoos are also conceived as something permanent, an inking gesture similar to that of a printing machine. Yet, on the other hand, with the SKIN project, Shelley Jackson had very early in mind that this experiment with printing material would produce a “mortal work of art” (Jackson, 2002). The project therefore foregrounds the ephemeral nature of tattooing, in a memento mori gesture. The article also explores the traces of this unique literary tattoo in the other two forms through which the SKIN project can be experienced: first, the website that called for volunteers, exposed the project and even displays a map of the location of each word. The second trace of the tattooed text takes the form of a sub-story, a video Jackson edited herself in 2011, using the home-made videos posted on YouTube by over 200 “words” who filmed themselves saying and showing their word, thus combining literature, tattoo art, conceptual art, images and sound.
Complete list of metadata

Cited literature [29 references]  Display  Hide  Download
Contributor : Maude Kerichard Héas <>
Submitted on : Monday, September 28, 2020 - 9:54:38 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, September 29, 2020 - 3:06:26 AM


Publisher files allowed on an open archive


Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


  • HAL Id : halshs-02567841, version 1



Marie Bouchet. The SKIN Project by Shelley Jackson. The Tattooed Text as a Mortal Work of Art.. La Peaulogie - Revue de sciences sociales et humaines sur les peaux, La Peaulogie 2020, La littérature dans la peau : tatouages et imaginaires., pp.145-169. ⟨halshs-02567841⟩



Record views


Files downloads