Beneath the Circuits, the Tree of Life

I am in the process of getting a new tattoo. The image is a “bio-mech” tattoo in which the skin is ripping open to reveal a circuit board beneath it. The skin is tearing because the tree of life, which is growing behind the circuit board, is bursting through. It’s an especially splendid idea.

The design reflects a nearly life-long fascination with the dualism of nature vs. technology. This particular fascination probably began with Star Trek, and and got nurtured through old sci fi like Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Ursula LeGuin. Of course, in learning about feminism, I discovered the gendering of this dualism (along with the gendering of the nature/culture divide, hard/soft sci fi, and pretty much everything else).  All of this culminated with Donna Haraway, and a little bit of The Matrix thrown in for good measure.

reflected tree

This is not a tree

During a moment during my late teens, the juxtaposition of nature and technology crystallized for me. I was sitting outside one of those new glass office buildings in downtown Houston and studying the reflection of a tree in the windows. Although the adult in me sees many things in that image, the teenager simply recognized a juxtaposition with the naive anguish of meaning that characterizes late adolescence.  Think Ricky Fitts and the iconic plastic bag scene from American Beauty in which nature and technology dance as a plastic bag gets tossed around by the wind:

Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world. I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.

You can probably predict where this might go. But on to the tattoo instead, since that’s more fun.

Bio-mech tattoo

I’ve been contemplating a new tattoo for many years now, but nothing ever called out for the design. About two or so months ago, I started actively hunting for images. I’ve always loved the cover of Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, but that wouldn’t make for a good tattoo. Matrix code wouldn’t work well either. I rejected a dream catcher with a circuit board and various computer parts because it’s cliche and cultural theft of Native American culture. With the image of circuit boards in my head, I started hunting through tattoo artists’ portfolios, and discovered several appealing bio-mech tattoos. I really loved the ripped skin (*shiver*) exposing the robot inside the body, but the Terminator-style robotics did not appeal to me.

Circuit board tattoo

Then I found a circuit board with a plasma ball bursting out, which is appealing except that the tattoo wasn’t framed by anything. It was just ..well..there. Put two and two together, and you get the skin ripping around a circuit board. The plasma ball did not interest me. So on to something from nature bursting out such as a flower, or butterfly, or bird. Cliche, yes, but at least it would provide contrasting color and explain the skin ripping.

With that vague image, I went to Art Addiction and talked to the artist, Kristin Mayeaux. This continues a commitment to supporting women professionals for every service I need. Kristin’s cool. As I explained what I wanted, *pow*, the idea of a tree popped into my head. And thus the tree of life was born beneath my skin and behind my circuit board.

I can now reverse engineer the symbolism of this image, which is how story-telling always works. It was destined because of the reflected tree always carried in my mind. It speaks to my fascination with nature and technology, which attracted me to Haraway’s work. So the tattoo is cyborg, with the whole idea of the tree successfully bursting through the circuit board, suggesting that nature is poised to win the eternal struggle. Still, the battle is not yet won. The tree of life has many meanings across religions, mythologies, and ways of thinking. The image is rife with symbolic significance. And Lord knows what data traverses the branching circuits beneath our skins.

My therapist’s preferred reading is to wonder what part of my nature or my insides is trying to break through. She left the technology part unspoken, but hopefully that is the rest of the question.

In the end, the image is open enough to interpret in multiple ways, which makes it a great tattoo.

 

My tattoo stage 1

My tattoo – outline

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