Jason Fitzpatrick's skin city | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Jason Fitzpatrick's skin city

Artist Jason W.F. Fitzpatrick lends his back and blood to his MSVU gallery performance, Bite and Burn Encore.

Ruddy Art A printmaker blots blood and ink tattooed on Jason Fitzpatrick's back, copying the image.

Jason W.F. Fitzpatrick hopes to "stir things up a bit and challenge the way people think" at Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery this Saturday night, by deliberately making himself and others feel uncomfortable. Fitzpatrick talks excitedly of his plans to rig up a "floaty, kind of bouncy stage" out of pink insulation and gyprock, upon which he'll lie half naked, while Halifax artist Amber Thorpe gives him a tattoo of his own design, and Toronto printmaker Dax Morrison takes prints from his blood- and ink-covered back.

Gallery-goers can expect to be immersed in the sounds and smells of a tattoo parlour. "We're going to mic the tattooing," says Fitzpatrick. "We'll have a gun and we'll make it louder...the sound is completely irritating," he adds gleefully.

Part of the excitement for Fitzpatrick, 38, arises from the fact that prints may not turn out as planned. "There's this tension in the performance that it may not work," he says.

"Plenty of things could go wrong," says Morrison. "With this kind of printing, it's kind of up in the air. What happens if there's not enough blood?"

In the Bite and Burn series which Fitzpatrick performed across Canada, "the tattoo artist was really into making Jason bleed," jokes Morrison. "This guy just loved the idea of pulling Jason's skin and pushing it together...those prints were pretty juicy." But whether or not Thorpe, who has never worked with Fitzpatrick before, will make him bleed enough during Bite and Burn Encore remains to be seen.

Fitzpatrick hopes to create a tension-filled atmosphere by forbidding dialogue between himself, Thorpe and Morrison while on stage. Though he's the event's creative mastermind, Fitzpatrick jokingly calls himself "just the meat," as he leaves control of the final product to other artists. A local alternative band, Realiser, will also play before and after the tattooing and printmaking, adding yet another level of tension in that the audience can't easily talk to the artists before or after the show.

"It's kind of become this freak-show act," Fitzpatrick jokes.

But Fitzpatrick didn't always throw himself into uncomfortable situations. "I had a really hardcore advisor...she was disappointed with a lot of the things I was doing because she thought I was Mr. Comfy," he says about his work during his MFA at the University of Windsor. Fitzpatrick's Seven Roses exhibit at the Khyber in 2003 sounds pretty comfy indeed. The piece consisted of him making stew and shovelling sand, a far cry from having his skin slapped around to induce bleeding.

His recent work focuses on tattoo performance art, because tattoos have been an important part of Fitzpatrick's life since the age of 13, when he gave himself his first with a needle and India ink. Bite and Burn Encore is partly inspired by the three previous Bite and Burn performances, which paid homage to the tattoo culture of his youth, revolving around the theme of acceptance though ritualism.

"In North American culture, there are no rituals for manhood," he says. "We created our own whether we knew it or not. Tattooing is one of them. If you get a tattoo, you're one of the boys."

The exhibition, which continues until February 8, will include a video installation playing clips from the past Bite and Burn performances. Tour shirts, modelled off death metal shirts from the '90s, will also be on display.

But Fitzpatrick thinks of all his work in sculptural terms. He drew conceptual inspiration for this piece from German artist Joseph Beuys' sculptures from the '60s. Like Fitzpatrick, Beuys' sculptures were made from non-conventional materials such as cloth, fat and dead animals.

Fitzpatrick hopes his new prints will also honour the work of artists such as Vito Acconci (who taught in Halifax during the '60s and '70s), who had a profound impact on him while taking his BFA at NSCAD in the early '90s. He's scoured the NSCAD lithography archives for inspiration, while making sketches for a new tattoo. The final details for the tattoo won't be worked out with Thorpe until just a few days before the performance.

Jason Fitzpatrick's Bite and Burn Encore performance, Saturday, January 10 at MSVU Gallery, 7:30-9:30pm, 166 Bedford Highway. Exhibition continues until February 8. Not squeamish? Look for a review of the performance at thecoast.ca.

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