The Written Image: "Skin"

From the January/February 2007 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In the summer of 2003, fiction writer Shelley Jackson, the author of the novels The Melancholy of Anatomy (Anchor, 2002) and Half Life (HarperCollins, 2006) as well as the hypertext novel Patchwork Girl, announced that she was starting a new writing project. The "mortal work of art," as she called it, would be a short story titled "Skin." Over three years later, Jackson still hasn't completed her work of art—even though she finished writing the story a long time ago. These photographs were taken by participants in Jackson's project, each of whom

agreed to tattoo one word from "Skin" on their skin. The full text of the 2,095-word story will be known only to the participants—as of this writing, nearly nineteen hundred people have signed up to get tattoos, and over ten thousand have expressed interest. Once a person is accepted for participation in the project, Jackson replies with a registered letter specifying the assigned word, which can be tattooed anywhere on the body (unless the word is a specific body part, in which case the tattoo may be anywhere but the body part named). The participant must then send a signed and dated photo of the tattoo to Jackson, who replies with the full text of the story. On her Web site,, Jackson refers to the project's participants as her "words" and states that "they are not understood as carriers or agents of the words they bear, but as their embodiments…. As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the story will also have died."