To have a tattooist drill into your spinal chord when the practice is illegal in the country – so much so that businesses don’t even advertise signs and hide in odd spots such as the basement of an apartment building or the top of a Kimbop Heaven restaurant – is comparable to discovering bits of blue glass in a creek as a child and scarring yourself for life under a holy spotlight… I think.
This guy has a lush studio in the basement of a plain apartment building in one of the wealthier parts of Seoul. His portfolio showed me that he’s inked celebrities, so the “reputation” is there. Plus, what illusions can you associate with a Korean trained in Japan where he was given a Japanese title by his master? Anyway, I remember trying to suppress the visual that went along with the pain while house music was blaring out of surrounding speakers, and it was that of being dragged along uneven concrete on my bare back for an hour. I also remember him being intensely attractive for conducting this illegal practice in what felt like an exclusive VIP velvet room – there is even a pool table and giant fish tank in the waiting/shooting area separate from the office and tattoo table. The experience brought me back to a Dietrich film where under the rubbles is an opulent whiskey and piano bar clouded by black market smokes during German post-WWII era. Except I am in Seoul, South Korea, in the year 2008 where freedom doesn’t necessarily over-extend itself. What I will carry out of this though, is my witness to these intensely creative spaces, like fantasies that come alive only by phantoms inhabiting the darkest of places.
*Have your body covered, and get discharged from mandatory two-year military service.