Setting up Not Quite Under_Ground (the official tattoo studio of Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017), as both an installation and a fully operational tattoo shop offering deep discounts to seniors aged 65 and older, Michael Smith links this particular thread with aspects of urban and cultural tourism. Visitors are invited to get tattoos, designed by past and present participants of Skulptur Projekte Münster, as well as Smith’s personal friends and local tattooists. The spectrum of tattoos ranges from miniature visualizations of Skulptur Projekte Münster projects, to stand-alone motifs. In addition, a video is embedded at various tourist attractions and on sightseeing buses, dramatizing a spirited elder group’s journey into a brand new world bonded by tattoos.
Smith’s project is the result of combining local and general observations of everyday life. It not only caught his eye that a large number of culturally interested senior citizens are heading for Münster, but also—irrespective of this realization—that tattoos, as a form of symbolic body language, have become increasingly socially acceptable, since the 1990s. Long tainted by prejudice, tattoos have now become prevalent lifestyle brands and means of self-expression that have lost their provocative potential, especially for younger generations. Tattoos, as a painful remodeling of the membrane separating the internal from the external, not only serve as physical decorations but also confer a certain identification with the selected design. Smith’s work underscores this moment of transformation, which is inherent to the medium, and touts rejuvenation—not without a touch of irony—by helping people conform to a more youthful appearance. Not Quite Under_Ground is also linked to the history and format of Skulptur Projekte: in contrast to the temporary character of the exhibition, tattoos can provide permanent souvenirs of an art experience, leaving physical marks in the storage medium of the skin, long past the closing date of the show. The cooperation between artists and tattooists does not merely eliminate singular artistic gestures in favor of a collective authorship; it also blurs the boundaries between exhibition art and the visual media of popular culture. The ambiguously humorous title refers not only to the fact that tattoos have been part of the mainstream for some time, but also to the growing popularity of the exhibition in Münster, and the advancing age of the target demographic to which Smith himself belongs.