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Ötzi

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

May 27, 2021 – June 27, 2021


Public Programs

Opening Day Talk: Nicole Wilson with Nina Katchadourian
May 27, 2021 at 1 pm ET
View the recording here.

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


A Project Nearly 10 Years, or More Than 5,000 Years, In The Making

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 with mysterious tattoos found on his body. A world away in the United States, the artist Nicole Wilson learned about Ötzi and the marks on his body. 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.

Nicole Wilson being tattooed with Ötzi’s tattoo designs in her own blood, by Mat Moreno at Three Kings Tattoo. Photo by TJ Proechel

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

Visitors to the exhibition 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.

The exhibition will travel to Three Kings Tattoo locations in Brooklyn (October 2021), Los Angeles (2022), and London (2022).


Learn about Otzi the Mummy

Ötzi is a mummy that was miraculously naturally preserved in a glacier dating back to a time before the Egyptian pyramids were built. He is 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). Researchers have been able to reconstruct Ötzi’s state of his health at death, his clothing, and even his last meal. However, the exact significance of these tattoos will remain a mystery.

To learn more about Ötzi’s life, death and legacy, click here to visit the museum site.

An image documenting Otzi’s tattoos, the basis of Wilson’s research. Courtesy The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Limited Editions of Ötzi’s Tattoos

A silhouette of Ozti and location of the tattoos. Courtesy The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

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.

A purchased tattoo will include the file for the mark, the edition, information about the location of it on the body, and a copy of the terms and conditions. Each design is registered on the blockchain. Learn more about the digital Ötzi tattoos by clicking the link below.

View Tattoos

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