Define Me performance/installation
"Define Me" features the artist getting a tattoo on his stomach. This tattoo comprises a series of identification numbers and letters which start at his belly button and spiral clockwise out to cover his belly. The characters are in sequence, but not separated by punctuation, starting with his birth date and proceeding through the various identifiers that he accumulated in his life so far, including: Irish social security number, Irish passport number, Irish driving license, US alien registration number, US social security number,US naturalization number, US passport number, US driving license and more.
This is an ongoing project whereby the artist will add characters as they are allocated to him throughout his life. The final set of numbers and letters at his death, will define the life he has lead and reflect the various legal quantifications that have been imposed upon him in his lifetime.
Above: performance at DUMBO Arts Center, 2007
The artist recorded his tattooing with a macro camera and broadcast this extreme close up video of each numeral as it appears in his flesh, to a large screen nearby. Onlookers were able to watch the tattooing or choose to watch the screen with a very intimate level of detail. They saw the numbers draw blood and irritate the flesh; watched the realization of this spiral out from the navel, the original source of life and caregiving and the birthplace of identity (severing of the umbilical cord produces separation and is the birth of identity).
Above: performance at The Activist Front Gallery 2015
In order to live in the modern world one's status needs to be determined and defined; hence the need to identify everyone. Our various numerical identities give us power (such as the right to live in a certain geographical area or the right to operate a type of vehicle, while also defining us as a certain "type", which is often exclusive of other possibilities of type. To have a certain passport excludes you from having another certain one etc. The defining of people according to the many unrelated criteria for identification, limits their ability to be. Categorizing is a form of quantification, but also a form of quantizing, whereby idiosyncratic smaller details are omitted to generate a "bigger picture". It is the details that really define us, that make personality, that make each of us unique. These details exist outside of the numbers.
In Define Me, the artist is taking control of the numbers that he had no part in creating. He is taking them and really making them part of him; he is possessing them, owning them and turning them into something bigger. Unrelated numbers from unrelated systems are amassed into a living, evolving whole that is greater than its parts, that perhaps goes some way further in defining him than was ever envisioned by the bureaucrats that instigated the systems. The numbers become flesh, become living and fade with age, and suffer deterioration from abrasion and wounding, as does the artist. The spiral will grow, gaining new life each time the artist is redefined by some system. The absurdity and randomness of the numbers is brought to the fore by the lack of punctuation; any number can start anywhere and end anywhere.

© Gearóid Dolan, 2008. All rights reserved