Recently, the very creative writer Shelley Jackson had the clever idea to publish a story using ink, but no paper: each of the 2,095 words1, comprising the text of her short story “Skin” would be tattooed on the flesh of her readers. As of this writing2, the “mortal work of art” is just over halfway complete—1051 volunteers have been branded with nouns or verbs or adjectives and adjacent punctuation marks.
Yankee Pot Roast thought this was the swellest, niftiest, grooviest idea around. Saves trees, challenges convention, develops a very small and exclusive cult, and, hell, just does something different. The idea of somebody forever marked “the” or “and” or “or” sparks thrilling existential/ironic questions. And when the whole Y.P.R. canon exists solely in malleable digital format—1s and 0s easily erased for eternity with the click of a mouse—we admired the (immediate) permanence of words branded onto bodies. Also, we know a good publicity stunt when we see one.
Deserving Y.P.R.’s sincerest praise, “Skin” was quickly parodied: We conducted a Cheap & Stupid Stunt for Shameless Self-Promotion That Nonetheless Guarantees a Good Time for One and All, wherein a volunteer was called upon to serve as canvas for a short story written from head to toe upon the body in water-soluble marker.
Many potential blank pieces of human paper contacted us, and we selected Brooklyn-based artist and photographer Anna Fleshler as our lucky victim. To see some of Ms. Fleshler’s pictures ’n’ portraits, please visit her site, TrashStyle.
As the fates would allow it, Ms. Jackson caught wind of our puerile project through the Internet grapevine3. Lucky for us, she has a good sense of humor and happily gave her blessings. She even stopped by Y.P.R. HQ to watch the scribbling process in action.
The short story that adorned Ms. Fleshler’s flesh was a fractured fable titled “Skin; or The Tale of the Girl with an Uncleanable Body.” It is about a fair maiden named Gladys, a talking frog, and a princely display of jellies and jams. It is ~1500 words long and was written under the influence of alcohol and very little sleep.
Characteristically, we got off to a bit of a late start, and our very excellent photographer, Seth Melnick, had another gig later that afternoon (one that was less fun, but better paying), so there was a bit of beat-the-clock writing action in order to hit the words “The End”4 in time for a decent photo shoot. Many mistakes were made in transcription: horribly embarrassing spelling errors, skipped words or sentences, and a very poor appropriation of space. There was no time for erasing. We crammed the last words in, very, very small, on Anna’s foot, and in the end, we made good on what was promised: a good time was had by all. Shelley was lots of fun, told some really interesting and enlightening stories about her and her “words” (what she calls her tattooed volunteers), and was incredibly tolerant of many annoying questions from some brand-new fans. Anna was a great sport and a very patient model. Many laughs were shared with the peanut-gallery spectators.
We’re told that pictures are worth 1000s of words, so we’ll shut up now.
But not without a great big thank you to Anna Fleshler for being very cool to people who could have been deranged lunatics.
Many thanks to Stacey St. Onge, who expertly served as Ms. Fleshler’s makeup artist.
A great big bushel of thanks to Seth Melnick (who really ought to have a Web site5) for taking some sublime photographs and charging a hell of a good price. 6
Thanks also to Doug and Jen for allowing us to commandeer their furniture-less living room, computer, and cookies.
And oodles of thanks to Shelley Jackson, who was incredibly cool to the jackasses who were satirizing her work.
3. We realize that’s a mixed metaphor. So what. You should see literary transgressions within the story.
4. On the soles of her feet, naturally. We realized too late that the story should have included footnotes, written on her toes. *Sigh.*
5. He designs them for a living.
6. Zero dollars.