Tim Steiner sold his tattooed back to German art collector. The contract stipulates that his skin will be removed from the body and framed when he dies, but until then hewill sit in the galleries and expose his tattoo.
“The work of art is on my back, I’m just the guy carrying it around,” says the 40-year-old former tattoo parlour manager from Zurich.
On his back is drawn Virgin Mary surrounded by traditional motifs by tattoo masters – Mexican skull, roses, Japanese koi fish, lotus flowers, swallows, and the sun’s rays that emerge from aureole.
The author is Belgian artist called Wim Delvoye, known by many works of contemporary art, but also for his controversial work tattooing pigs, and Steiner got in touch with him thanks to his then girlfriend.
“It’s the ultimate art form in my eyes. Tattooers are incredible artists who’ve never really been accepted in the contemporary art world. Painting on canvas is one thing, painting on skin with needles is a whole other story,” Steiner says.
Delvoye worked 40 hours on Steiner’s back, and an art workd that bears name TIM sold for 150,000 euros to Rik Reinking in 2008. A third went to Steiner, and a two-thirds to Delvoye.
“My skin belongs to Rik Reinking now,” he says. “My back is the canvas, I am the temporary frame.”
After Steiner’s death, his back is to be skinned, and the skin framed permanently, taking up a place in Reinking’s personal art collection.
“Gruesome is relative. It’s an old concept – in Japanese tattoo history it’s been done many, many times. If it’s framed nicely and looks good, I think it’s not such a bad idea,” Steiner says to those who find the idea macabre.
In addition to posthumous work, the contract includes an obligation for Steiner who must exhibit the tattoo by sitting topless in a gallery at least three times a year.
Last year marked the tenth anniversary of work, and Steiner was in the middle of his longest-ever exhibition, a whole year at the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart, Tasmania, working five hours a day, six days a week.
“I did this for 1500 hours. It was by far the most outrageously intense experience of my life. All that changed throughout the days was my state of mind – sometimes heaven, sometimes hell, always totally alert. I’ve been touched, blown on, screamed at, pushed and spat on, it’s often been quite a circus. “But I wasn’t touched a single time on this trip, it’s a miracle,” he said.