Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Tattooed Poets Project: Kat Zemmel's Twisted Clock

Kat Zemmel is a poet and Master's candidate at the University of Tennessee.

Her amazing "twisted clock tattoo" is on the right side of her torso.

Kat explains the story behind this time piece:

"The design is the work of the tattoo artist--I came in one day, and said that I'd recently been enamored with antique clocks, antique watches. I love old mechanical things, the care with which they are put together is something that is hidden in the everyday present American culture. We buy computers, coffee makers, cars, and watches expecting them to work, and for the workings to be concealed. I think that there is something vulnerable and exposed about antique watches--their need to be daily wound, the care one puts into having such an object.

Sheri Matlack is the tattoo artist who drew the design--at the time she was working at Lone Wolf Body Art in Nashville, but since has opened her own tattoo shop: Electric Athena Tattoos (also in Nashville). We had discussed the placement of the tattoo--I wanted it on the ribs, and she thought to twist the watch/clock to fit the contour of my body. The number 8, featured prominently in the lower square, is a favorite number, a good number for me. The design, overall--the shape of the twisted watch-face, the way that the watch itself is segmented, everything--was Sheri's work. I only directed the theme, and she executed it, perfectly. I think that when I first saw the design, I was hesitant and unsure--it was too strange to my eyes; since I've had it done, I've loved Sheri's work, and have come back to her faithfully, for almost every tattoo. I still think it's the best damn black and grey work I've ever seen.

The tattoo was done over two 2.5 hour sessions in December of 2006.
Kat sends along some additional biographical information, including how the art of tattoo influences some of the classes she teaches as a graduate student:

"...As in many programs, graduate students are assigned to teach some sections of first-year composition; second-semester composition courses, while still courses in writing, can be centered around a theme chosen by the instructor. Thus, I am presently teaching a course called "Inquiry into Body Modification." I had some doubts about being able to sustain students' interest in the subject matter, but have had little trouble so far. With this course, I wanted to make students aware that body modification is something people do every day, that it also includes the likes of plastic surgery, body building, dieting, as well as piercing and tattooing. I hope to teach my students to look at every body critically, to read the argument a body makes, to be able to understand a body's stance within culture. Presently, they are working on a paper assignment (Historical Inquiry unit) that asks them to trace the changes in a body modification practice over time, or to study a body modification practice that has been transplanted from another culture... In either case, I ask them to make an argument about the nature of the appropriation or change--for example: how is Chinese foot-binding similar to the Western practice of wearing high-heeled shoes? or: how do Western tattoos differ in meaning from their earlier ancestors? These, and many other questions, are important, I think, to consider--especially in a culture that takes body modification for granted.

I am presently teaching a composition course at UT, but it's a little different because the second semester freshman comp (102) is a theme-based course. The theme of the course that I'm teaching is Inquiry into Body Modification, so my students and I talk a lot about tattoos, and the way they are viewed--the way that tattoos change the surface of the skin into a thing to be viewed differently. It almost gives people permission to look at a body, to enact a weird kind of voyeurism.

Kat is also part of Shelley Jackson's Skin project:

I am a word in her story, and that has also has changed my perspective of tattoos. Having a tattoo means that I am a part of a community, but one in which the members don't necessarily know each other...
I want to thank Kat for sharing her incredible tattoo with us here on Tattoosday, and telling us a little about the courses she's involved with at the University of Tennessee.

Be sure to check out one of Kat's poems over on BillyBlog.

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