“Aww, you guys made me ink!” (Sarah Bartling)

First, a Google search for the definition of “wunderkammer.” The first result: “(noun) a place where a collection of curiosities and rarities is exhibited.”

Strange that Shelley Jackson decided upon ‘Wunderkammer’ as the title of her Body project. Well, not so much strange as particularly intriguing. How intriguing is her depiction of this corporeal (“physical body as opposed to spirit”) place where a collection of personal associations and memories could be both seen and unseen. There’s what she decides to keep to herself (the skin-colored 28 tattoos), what she displays for others to see (her differently sized arms), and so on. She has presented through this project the memories that come to mind, the thoughts she ponders over, when she examines the different aspects of her body. In this way she seems to be relating the spiritual to the corporeal.

The stories involved with her eyes were especially fantastic. She described her eyelids (how the exaggerated lines surrounding them were initially lies to her but eventually came true with age), how she would close one eye and then the other and see different views, and how she cleverly infers to her right/left brain controversy and still finds herself curious as to whether or not she made the right decision. Her writing is so eloquent and so honest, like when she noted that “it upset me that I’d never know what it felt like to have a penis” and when she scrutinized her appearance that others recognized with curiosity or hostility.

After looking through the multiple hypertext-linked pages of ‘Wunderkammer,’ I switched over to her other project, ‘Skin.’

I had always been too frightened to get a tattoo. I like to convince myself and my friends and family that it’s because of the potential infections from the needles or because future me would abhor present me for marking ink on this living, breathing blank canvas of mine. But I’m really terrified I won’t decide upon something with enough meaning.

The video and story Shelley created with these tattooed individuals, however, are incredible and full of beautiful, profound meaning. Even the person with a tattoo of ‘the’, a simple definitive article. Especially considering Shelley has emphasized that it is not simply a tattoo. The person has become the word. In her guidelines she notes, “From this time on, participants will be known as “words”. They are not understood as carriers or agents of the words they bear, but as their embodiments. As a result, injuries to the printed text, such as dermabrasion, laser surgery, tattoo cover work or the loss of body parts, will not be considered to alter the work. Only the death of words effaces them from the text. As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the story will also have died. The author will make every effort to attend the funerals of her words.” She assembled strict guidelines (a particular font, you may dislike the word she’s given you but you don’t get a second chance), a crazy submission process, a skin map (predominantly Europe, the US, and Australia, might I add), skin footnotes to include your own thoughts about the words she listed, and a video that strings together this overpowering message concerning the person as the word itself. “I molt,” “if water has a law, it is to fall and we have to fall like water again and again,” “want to peel the world and leave it bare swelling with internal life,” “we fell through a tube,” “we are settlers,” and “is this who we are just skin wrapped in skin” are just a few of the powerful lines I found myself scrambling for a pen to jot down. Her concept of the relationship between skin, humans, and words, and how all three seem to blend together to be recognized as the text itself, is something totally overwhelming. Perhaps it’s been done before in a more simple way, but I’ve never seen anything like it. At least, not on a level similar to this project.

Certain words or phrases from the ‘Wunderkammer’ project were hypertext, linking a page concerning her nose to her bottom and elsewhere. There was no particular order in which I was supposed to read the material (other than clicking the banner on the home screen to take me to the corporeal drawing and its links, that is). And the video that was compiled of words/people was made of fragments strung together to form Shelley’s story. The segments could have formed an entirely different piece. In this way, this class’s question concerning “the ‘body’ of print fiction shaped by the internet & other millennial things” comes to mind. Shelley’s projects do not really use the traditional structure for the body of a text, and I’m hoping we’ll investigate other exciting works that present unconventional forms of fiction. Shelley’s story has me wanting to metaphorically molt more than I’ve ever wanted to molt in my lifetime. Shed free of my “skin wrapped in skin.”

Also, I hope you guys got the Finding Nemo reference. There’s all this talk of ink… I couldn’t help but include it somehow.


~ by sarahbartie on February 3, 2013.

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