Visual Arts

Secrets will be revealed at Lexington Tattoo Project party

Wayne Turner showed his tattoo.
Wayne Turner showed his tattoo.

Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova started the Lexington Tattoo Project with the basics.

"We asked Bianca to write the poem, we found the tattoo artist, and we found funding for 100 tattoos," Todorova says. "Everything else from there was making it up as we went along."

Gohde adds, "And a lot of it was making it up with the participants."

It was basic concept: Lexington writer Bianca Spriggs wrote a poem about Lexington. Then Gohde and Todorova broke it up into enough phrases to be inked onto the bodies of more than 200 area residents by artists at Charmed Life studio. Each tattoo contained dots that, when put together, form an image.

That brings us to Friday night.

After Lexington's Gallery Hop, a final act of the Lexington Tattoo Project will take place at Buster's Billiards & Backroom. It will include typical party elements — music, libations, etc. — but it also will include the revelation of three big secrets:

■ The final image made up of all those dots, something not even the project's participants know.

■ The identity of the well-known Lexingtonian who has that image on his or her body.

■ The video that will put Spriggs reading her poem with images of the tattoos and original music composed by Ben Sollee.

As of early this week, Gohde and Todorova were confident the secrets were safe.

"I have talked to a lot of people who have guessed who has the tattoo, and none of them have come close," Todorova says. She adds that the most popular guess has been Mayor Jim Gray. It is not the mayor. That said, Gray has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project.

The person who has the tattoo of the entire image became involved, Todorova and Gohde say, as many people did, after being inspired by the project about building community through art.

"A lot of things have happened because a lot of people came up with ideas and volunteered," Todorova says.

Those ideas included tattooing the final image on one person, inking a participant with the poem's byline, "By Bianca Spriggs," and creating a website and a book for the project.

"People would say, 'Of course, you're going to make a book,' and we'd say, 'We don't have time to make a book,'" Todorova says. "Then we had brunch with Wyn Morris and Griffin Van Meter one day (Morris owns The Morris Book Shop; VanMeter is a marketer who was involved in the "Kentucky Kicks Ass" campaign), and they informed us that we were going to make a book."

"With their funding," Gohde adds. "They were going to organize the funding."

That will be the true final act of the Tattoo Project: February's release of the book, which is in one respect a poetry book in tattoos.

But this is hardly the end of the idea.

As the Lexington project winds down, Gohde and Todorova are working with the organizers of a similar project in Boulder, Colo., and they are talking to the Knight Foundation about creating an open-source template for other cities to launch tattoo projects of their own.

"Their vision is they want to make it a movement that can go to 40 or 50 cities," Gohde says of the charitable foundation.

He says the concept is similar to the Before I Die wall, an idea that started in New Orleans as a public space where people could write their deepest wishes. The concept has gone around the world, and a wall recently was put up for a month in Lexington, near North Limestone and Sixth Street.

"The idea is that it's an open-source artwork that can go to a lot more cities," Todorova says, noting they are still in talks with the Knight Foundation about how that would work.

Now, they are balancing the project and its offshoots with their ongoing work teaching at Transylvania University. They also are dreaming up their next project to go in line with their previous works — which include a photographic exhibit on drag queens and a photo project about discarded couches.

The artists are reflective about the experience of the tattoo project.

"I believe that there is more pride about Lexington, or at least, people are more aware how much they love Lexington," Todorova says.

Gohde says, "Every tattoo has a story, and some people make it clear that they get tired of telling the story of their tattoos."

But, Gohde says, he has heard from a number of participants that they never get tired of talking about their tattoos and the big group they have bonded with.


Lexington Tattoo Project party

What: Party including video premiere and unveiling of the final image of the project

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 15

Where: Buster's Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

Admission: Free

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