• June 16, 2021

In 2003, Shelley Jackson, an artist and writer, launched the Skin Project, a novella that is published solely in the form of tattoos on volunteers from around the world. Each participant is given one word from the 2095 word story and must have it tattooed on his or her body. Only those who participate in the project are allowed to read the narrative.

Prospective participants must contact Shelley Jackson regarding interest in her work. Jackson tries to choose volunteers who stand out, there is nothing systematic about the process. If they are accepted, each participant is required to sign a contract and waiver releasing Jackson from any difficulties that may result from the tattooing procedure.

Jackson is still taking applications to be in the project, but the odds to be chosen are slim due to the high number of applicants. She has received almost 22,000 emails related to The Skin Project. Jackson first gained popularity from her electronic writing, Patchwork Girl, which was published in Storyspace in 1995. Patchwork Girl became an important work of hypertext fiction. Shelley Jackson became notorious for her cross-genre experiments and risk taking.

Even though the project was first launched in August of 2003, it is not complete. The most recent status report was on April 20, 2010. Approximately 550 words were inked on volunteer’s skin in the seven year time period. Jackson refers to The Skin Project as a “mortal work of art.”

The “mortal work of art” can only be altered by the death of its participants. Jackson calls her volunteers that are tattooed “words.” The author considers herself the word “Skin”, which is the title. If someone were to attempt to piece together the story, it could never be fully assembled.

According to Jackson, “ Skin is ceaselessly remixing itself as its words wander around the world, and in a sense my original story is only one of countless stories that it tells.”

Jackson takes pride in her work, something that is very different from any other form of literature. Publishing a story through the form of body art makes the narrative both physical and short-lived–eventually the author’s words will die out. By having Jackson allow only the participants to read the narrative and it not being published in any other form but body art, inspires other young men and women who want to also want to take risks when it comes to literature.

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