January 29, 2013

The Lexington Tattoo Project


One of the tattoos that will be featured in the Lexington Tattoo Project, which will animate a poem, word-by-word, written permanently on people’s bodies.

Lots of people have literary quotes or snippets from favorite poems tattooed on their bodies, but the Lexington Tattoo Project in Kentucky has taken things to the next level.

Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, professors at Transylvania University (a liberal arts school in Kentucky, not Romania), launched the project last fall, commissioning a poem from poet Bianca Spriggs and getting lots of locals to tattoo a word or phrase from it on their body. Once the ink has dried, Gohde and Todorova will take photos of all the tattoos and use them to create a short film that animates the poem.

Spriggs’s poem, titled “The ___ of the Universe,” was released to the public on Thanksgiving 2012. It’s a contrapuntal poem that can be read as three different poems: there’s one on the left-hand side, another on the right, and they can be read as one cohesive work, too. You can read it on her website here.

Once the poem was available, the Tattoo Project asked people to send them their top three choices for the words they wanted most, and set up appointments for free tattoo sessions at the Charmed Life tattoo parlor that will have been completed by the end of January. The cost of the tattoos was covered by the project’s sponsors, which you can see listed on its Facebook page.

Here are some of the tattoos people have gotten, taken from that Facebook page. In addition to the words from the poem, they all feature small circles that look like they could be bubbles. I would guess these will play a part in the animation once that’s put together, but Gohde and Todorova are keeping the final design of the video for the poem.

It looks like the launch date for the video is April 17, so keep an eye out for it around then. Gohde also said on Facebook that they’re looking into the possibility of turning the series of photos into something like a coffee table book.



Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.