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Ötzi

NICOLE WILSON’S GROUNDBREAKING YEARS-LONG PROJECT SPANS PERFORMANCE, TATTOO, AND DIGITAL MEDIA

Artist’s Talk: Nicole Wilson with Nina Katchadourian
May 27, 2021 at 1 pm ET
Register here for the Zoom session

The Genesis: Ötzi’s Tattoos from Skin to Blockchain
A Conversation with Nicole Wilson, NYU Professor Amy Whitaker,
Fairchain’s Max Kendrick and Charlie Jarvis
June 3, 2021 at 7 pm ET
Register here for the Zoom session

In the 1990s, a body was discovered in the Alps on the border of Austria and Italy. This glacier mummy is now known as Ötzi, a Copper Age male (scientists date him to 3300 BCE) whose body is preserved, cared for, and researched at the

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy. According to the museum, “61 tattoos were found on Ötzi’s body, all in the form of lines or crosses. Unlike modern tattoos, they were not made with a needle; they were fine incisions into which pulverised charcoal was rubbed. The tattoos are located near his ribcage and lumbar spine, on his wrist, knee, calves and ankles.” Ötzi is considered the oldest tattooed human mummy yet discovered (in 2018, nearly contemporaneous tattooed mummies were discovered in Egypt).

A world away in the United States, the artist Nicole Wilson learned about Ötzi, Europe’s oldest known natural human mummy. An artist who has focused on sculpture and durational, process-driven works, Wilson created this work because “Ötzi stands in for an archetype, his marks are the signifiers without the signified. In that way, I saw an opportunity to use that lack of meaning (or our inability to to find meaning) as a way to go further of what this mummy means to us contemporaneously and access him as an archetypal figure of ‘man’.”

In 2012, using the most current research available on Ötzi, Wilson tattooed images of the mummy’s 59 known tattoos on her body using her own blood. Her body reabsorbed almost all of the blood back into itself immediately following the tattooing, but left behind dark scars where heme, the pigment within blood, slowly disappeared from the skin’s surface.

In 2016, Wilson decided to re-execute this project following a new study that discovered more tattoos on Ötzi. Researchers used non-invasive multi-spectral photographic imaging techniques and found that there were more tattoos on Ötzi than originally believed. The research confirmed that the corpse contains 61 total tattoos divided into 19 groups.

In December 2016, Wilson brought two vials of her own blood to Three Kings Tattoo in Brooklyn. From the existing research, she had already rendered Ötzi’s tattoos concisely into digital design files that were then used to make stencils on site. The tattoo artist Mat Moreno tattooed the designs on her skin, using her blood as the pigment. Once again, her tattoos and placement matched Ötzi’s.

Over the next four years, Wilson documented the tattoos as they faded. Photographs of this process will be on view in the exhibition, and are included in the forthcoming artist book.

Reflecting on the ephemeral nature of the tattoos, Wilson once said: “As empowering as the initial action may be, I cannot keep his marks; they slowly disappear over time and leave me. But, this poetic action simply mirrors that the connection between any two bodies are beholden to the laws of the universe and circumstantial limitation.”

The Exhibition

Nicole Wilson’s Ötzi exhibition at Praise Shadows is the world premiere of this work. After nearly 10 years of research and time-based documentation, this exhibition is the nexus where time, artistic media, and technology meet.

Visitors to the space will experience Ötzi via two long gallery walls of Wilson’s photographs, documentation of the tattoos as they faded over time. On the reverse of each framed picture, the artist includes source material on the tattoo design. In the center of the gallery, the artist will feature a special collection phase folder (editioned at 30) in the style of the Fluxus box, containing items such as the artist book, a screenprint of a drawing made in Wilson’s blood, print of the Score (set of instructions for collecting digital files of the tattoos), and an index of a selection of images from the process of tattooing at Three Kings.

Tattoos on the Blockchain

Over the years, tattoo aficionados around the world have asked Wilson for her tattoo design files. Until now, these have never been available for purchase. The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology has granted permission for the artist to move forward with sharing digital files of the tattoo.

Praise Shadows has partnered with Fairchain, a new framework for equity and trust between artists, galleries and collectors. This is the gallery and Fairchain’s third exhibition partnership. The digital tattoo files featured in the exhibition Ötzi will be authenticated and registered on the blockchain. (Note, these are not NFTs.) Digital files of the tattoos will be editioned for collectors, who are then provided with the artist’s instruction on printing the artwork on paper for their tattoo artist. If a collector has purchased the work and tattooed the design on their body, the collector can put the digital file up for sale in the secondary market, where the artist receives a royalty for each sale.

More information on the editioned tattoos, including edition and sale information, will be available on http://www.praiseshadows.com beginning on May 10.

Two Public Programs

The public is invited to join a talk between Wilson and artist Nina Katchadourian, Professor at NYU Gallatin. Katchadourian is an interdisciplinary artist whose work includes video, performance, sound, sculpture, photography and public projects. Her video “Accent Elimination” was included at the 2015 Venice Biennale in the Armenian pavilion, which won the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. This program will provide an overview of Wilson’s journey from the beginnings of Ötzi to the current exhibition. The event will take place on Zoom on Thursday, May 27 at 1 pm EST. Registration is free and available here.

The public is also invited to learn more about the infrastructure and philosophy behind putting Wilson’s Ötzi tattoo designs on the blockchain. Nicole Wilson will be in conversation with Amy Whitaker, author and faculty member at New York University. Her white paper on fractional equity for artists using blockchain was cited in The Art Newspaper, Artforum, Artsy, ArtsDaily, and Forbes. Panelists also include Fairchain co-founders Max Kendrick and Charlie Jarvis. The event will take place on Zoom on June 3 at 7 pm EST. Registration is free and available here.

Artist Book

Printed with Small Editions, the 96 page artist book Ötzi will be available for purchase at $50.

About the artist

Nicole Wilson is a visual artist with an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University and a BFA in Sculpture from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Through mold-making, conceptual conceits, and long process-driven projects, she makes objects that articulate and own absences and empty spaces. Wilson has sent the President of the United States a letter every day for the past 12 years and had her father design her coffin. In 2019, she was an Artist-in-Residency at the Bemis Center (Omaha, NE), and is currently an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR).

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