An Eye Is Upon You - 209: Welcome to the Dolls House

Published: 06 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 209, March, 2012

When I was about eight years old I collected novelty erasers, my older sister collected pig-related paraphernalia, and we both owned perfectly scaled dollhouses that were immaculately and extensively furnished.

I don’t believe the desire for these matching multiples started with us, but rather, they were impressed upon us by well-meaning great aunts and toy shop-weary parents. Easier than imagining original gifts, assorted distant familials added to, expanded, and extended our collection, and the novelty amassments grew like weeds without any real effort on our part. Perhaps there is complex law known only to physicists that explains the gravitation of like-objects to each other or perhaps the truth is more simple, but the fact remains that one stuffed pig toy begat another, and the same applies to other collections. People will and do collect almost anything, be that stamps, matchboxes, or indeed, tattoos.

As a parent and regular member of society I often meet new people, people unfamiliar with alternative culture; curious folk, folk who approach my noticeably tattooed self with familiar questions. Often the questions asked are ones that the questioners hope they already have answers to. Thus I am asked if I have so many tattoos because I have become addicted to the process. Whilst this assumption provides a simple explanation for pursuing an activity incomprehensible to many, I don’t believe it to be so. I don’t believe I’m an addict and I don’t believe I have an addiction… I think I have a collection.

To collect, to accumulate and gather together is well-recognised human behaviour, observed in myriad places across millennia. Collecting is such an ingrained part of the human experience that it appears in almost all video games, magazines, etc. – it’s so common, that we are barely aware of it. The practice of tattooing is just as old and widespread, and almost as common, but these phenomena combined are more recent, being of the 20th century. The tattoo collection is a modern luxury, popularised via specialist media and the Internet.

Like my long discarded rubbers shaped to resemble records and roller-skates, I didn’t set out with an end point in mind, I didn’t plan on a whole shoebox full of perfumed erasers, just like I didn’t intend to become extensively tattooed. Rather, I had one tattoo, shortly followed by another and somewhere along the path my two tattoos became many. I had found an altogether more grown up thing to collect, and like rubbers, this collection gathered pace much like an accumulating snowball.

So why do we collect? Some collect in order to study or preserve history, but the tattoo collector cannot accumulate for historical reasons, unless the concept can be extended to include the saving of mementoes from the history of the self.

Collecting can be an attempt to catalogue and order the seemingly in-orderable. It can be a quest, a life-long pursuit that can never be completed, or it can be a way to connect oneself with a seemingly unreachable passion or people. Collecting can ease insecurity and fill voids. It can be motivated by the thrill of the hunt or by competitive spirit. It is a multi-faceted and complex activity, but the one thing all collections have in common… a sense of stillness.

As with museums, placing something within a collection is an attempt at preserving it, holding it in place for evermore, like pressing a flower. We may offer these treasured things up for inspection and invite new discovery or known contemplation. Any kind of acquisitive pastime involves an element of consumerism and tattoos are no different. To be a tattoo collector you must also be a tattoo customer, but unlike those who routinely purchase certain kinds of objects, we can not be motivated by investment, after all, we cannot speculate nor profit, our purchases will always be ours alone; they end the process of buying and selling, rather than follow its usual cyclical path.

For the tattoo collector, the body is the cabinet where we put our prized tattoos on display for everyone to see, and thus our collections help to define us to others. Our collections are portable and indelible; we take them with us everywhere we go.

And those wonderfully furnished dolls houses? They predicted the future. My sister’s was immaculate, and was later sold on to a toy shop. Mine… used, a little bit broken and covered in ‘Save Worzel Gummidge’ stickers, was mine forever.


Text: Paula Hardy-Kangelos