Tim Kern - My Evil Twin

Published: 29 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 221, February, 2013

Secret governmental experiments on past generations and growing up under powerlines in Missouri have made him a seventh generation twin. At least that’s the theory. Today, Tim Kern adorns skin with realism in a teeny, tiny studio in New York’s trendy East Village by the name of Tribulation Tattoo.

Tim Kern’s journey to becoming a tattooist in New York went via Chicago, but it all started in his home state of Missouri, where he grew up as a seventh generation twin.

“I was also born with a lazy eye and I think that has to do with growing up under powerlines in St Louis,” he says with a smirk. “Also, it was disclosed a couple of years ago that the government had performed secret war experiments there, releasing toxic chemicals in the air to see how people reacted.

That really bothers me because my Mom’s health is kind of bad.”

Needless to say, his interactions with the government are now kept to a minimum.

“I try to ignore it. I pay my taxes and vote, and that’s it.”   

The path of tattooing was started upon at the age of 23, still in his home state.

“I went to an art school in a small university town called Columbia in Missouri, and I had a lot of friends who were tattoo artists since I had been getting a lot of piercings, but at the time I had no tattoos. Anyway, they liked my drawings and encouraged me to start learning. I got an apprenticeship at a studio, but my brother actually started tattooing nine months before me, in Chicago. We learned together but in different states. My apprenticeship was more formal, but he had more good artists around him. We used to talk over the phone and exchange ideas.”

After a couple of years Tim reunited with his brother in Chicago for a while before he came to New York in 2002, grown weary of the Windy City.

“I was bored. I needed something new and different and Chicago wasn’t doing it for me. I liked New York and luckily I got hired by Paul Booth at Last Rites, where I worked for five years.”

And the move turned out to be not just a geographical one.

“In Chicago, I used to do a lot of the big-eyed cutesy stuff. You know how you do one thing and then everyone wants that. I did a biomechanical cover up on a Japanese MMA-fighter and when I went to Japan after that I did nothing but biomech, but I’m over with that now. I like images, things, not abstraction. If I do biomechanical, I try to make it look like pieces of antique toys. Anyway, Paul hired me because I did colour. Nobody did that there at the time, and once I started working there I got asked for more dark stuff. I’d always been into that, but I was never asked. Sometimes I still do cute and fucked up, but I basically grew away from that.”

Basically it seems like it’s all about not getting bored.  

“I like to do stuff that I don’t do all the time. I don’t get asked for portraits much and when I do I get all excited. People say that I have a style, but I don’t see that. I think I’m all over the place. I want to mix things and keep from getting bored. I want every tattoo to be unique.”

Speaking of portraits and dark stuff, one of his clients chose to display people from a category of interest for Tim on her body.

“She wanted Albert Fish and Jeffrey Dahmer, both serial killers and cannibals. I’m interested in serial killers in general, and have done a lot of reading on the subject. But she got really crazy tattoos; she had one of a butcher chopping up a little girl as well.”

We’re sitting in Tim Kern, and his business partner, Dan Marshall’s current tattoo parlour, Tribulation Tattoo on 6th Street in New York’s East Village. Three stations are set up like a small train in this miniscule studio.

“If our customers are alone it’s not a problem, but if they bring friends or if one of them has to lie down, then it gets a bit tough. But hey, this is New York.”

Soon enough it will be a little more comfortable, though, as the third tattooist in the studio, Liorcifer, is opening up his own shop.

“Not that I want him to leave or anything, but it will probably be more comfortable. It’s hard to find someone you click with. I’m not a very social guy. I don’t like talking on the phone except with my Mom – and my wife and I mostly text each other, so adding one person to the group might be more than we could deal with. It’s more important to be comfortable.”

All three of them worked at Last Rites, which at the time was located in the East Village as well, before they decided to take the next step about five years ago.

“We didn’t have a specific plan. I tattooed out of my apartment for a about a year, Dan was in Williamsburg, and Liorcifer in Queens before we found this place. We all worked under the name of Tribulation Tattoo, though, when we went travelling.”

Since he first started working in East Village, a lot has happened. An increase of rent has made a big part of the artistic community that once inhabited the area move out to Brooklyn and Williamsburg. It’s just not what it used to be, according to Tim. At least to some extent.

“Ten years ago this place was quite different. Prices went up and when the crisis came it all went to south. Landlords still think they can charge the same, but all you get is a lot more empty store fronts. At the same time, it used to be pretty tough here and now it’s a lot nicer. East Village is still East Village, just a lot less. It has its own character and a good mix of people.”

And the mix of people is one thing that, despite not being a “very social creature”, he really enjoys about his profession.

“You get a lot of interesting customers here, especially at Last Rites. A lot of colourful people and that’s what I like, meeting interesting people.”

Secret War Experiments

Project MKUltra is the code name for a covert research operation experimenting in the behavioral engineering of humans (mind control) through the CIA’s Scientific Intelligence Division. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and ‘officially halted’ in 1973. The program engaged in many illegal activities; in particular it used unwitting US and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy. MKUltra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate people’s individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.

The scope of Project MKUltra was broad, with research undertaken at 80 institutions, including 44 colleges and universities, as well as hospitals, prisons and pharmaceutical companies. The CIA operated through these institutions using front organisations, although sometimes top officials at these institutions were aware of the CIA’s involvement. MKUltra was apparently allocated six percent of total CIA funds. In 1977, a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a cache of 20,000 documents relating to project MKUltra, which led to Senate hearings later that same year. In July 2001 some surviving information regarding MKUltra was officially declassified.

The Agency poured millions of dollars into studies examining methods of influencing and controlling the mind, and of enhancing their ability to extract information from resistant subjects during interrogation.

Some historians have asserted that creating a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ subject through ‘mind control’ techniques was a goal of MKUltra and related CIA projects. Alfred McCoy has claimed that the CIA attempted to focus media attention on these sorts of ‘ridiculous’ programs, so that the public would not look at the primary goal of the research, which was developing effective methods of torture and interrogation. Such authors cite as one example that the CIA’s KUBARK interrogation manual refers to ‘studies at McGill University’, and that most of the techniques recommended in KUBARK are exactly those that researcher Donald Ewen Cameron used on his test subjects (sensory deprivation, drugs, isolation, etc.).

One 1955 MKUltra document gives an indication of the size and range of the effort; this document refers to the study of an assortment of mind-altering substances described as follows:
1. Substances which will promote illogical thinking and impulsiveness to the point where the recipient would be discredited in public.
2. Substances which increase the efficiency of mentation and perception.
3. Materials which will cause the victim to age faster/slower in maturity.
4. Materials which will promote the intoxicating effect of alcohol.
5. Materials which will produce the signs and symptoms of recognised diseases in a reversible way so that they may be used for malingering, etc.
6. Materials will cause temporary/permanent brain damage and loss of memory.
7. Substances which will enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion during interrogation and so-called ‘brain-washing’.
8. Materials and physical methods which will produce amnesia for events preceding and during their use.
9. Physical methods of producing shock and confusion over extended periods of time and capable of surreptitious use.
10. Substances which produce physical disablement such as paralysis of the legs, acute anemia, etc.
11. Substances which will produce a chemical that can cause blisters.
12. Substances which alter personality structure in such a way that the tendency of the recipient to become dependent upon another person is enhanced.
13. A material which will cause mental confusion of such a type that the individual under its influence will find it difficult to maintain a fabrication under questioning.
14. Substances which will lower the ambition and general working efficiency of men when administered in undetectable amounts.
15. Substances which promote weakness or distortion of the eyesight or hearing faculties, preferably without permanent effects.
16. A knockout pill which can surreptitiously be administered in drinks, food, cigarettes, as an aerosol, etc., which will be safe to use, provide a maximum of amnesia, and be suitable for use by agent types on an ad hoc basis.

A material which can be surreptitiously administered by the above routes and which in very small amounts will make it impossible for a person to perform physical activity.

Tribulation Tattoo

627 E. 6th Street
East Village, New York


Text: Simon Lundh; Photography: Simon Lundh & Tribulation Tattoo


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