THE HARTFORD GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

The Hartford Girl and Other Stories 

The Hartford Girl and Other Stories was featured in "Stigmatics", a collaborative, cross-disciplinary project involving artist Angela Su, cultural historian Sander L. Gilman, musician and composer Ah-Kok Wong and curator Valerie C. Doran, exploring issues related to the phenomenon of self-mutilation practices in contemporary society, from tattooing to body modification to self-harm, and their implications in both general society and artistic practice. 

Catalogue Essay by Valerie C. Doran
In her artistic process, Angela Su combines the analytical approach of a scientist with a deep sensitivity toward the felt experience. While she is perhaps more widely known for her intricate drawings where delicacy of technique is contrasted with ambiguous and sometimes unsettling content (such as the fantastical biomorphic forms of her Paracelsus’ Garden series), there is another, very different side to her art-making: the creation of performative works in which the artist documents, often through both image and text, an experiential process in which the she places herself under physical stress or even in a state of danger. Like Marina Abromovic, Su explores the state of consciousness of both performer and  observer in situations of vulnerability and exposure to physical pain; and brings home the realization that the self can be at once both victim and perpetrator. Her work for the Stigmatics project, the video and photographic installation The Hartford Girl and Other Stories, is a multi-layered, allegorical narrative whose central image is the creation of a complex, inkless tattoo of 39 lines or ‘slashes’ composed purely of lines of text. The tattoo visually and symbolically references the ritual scourging of the body in Christian tradition as a means of seeking spiritual purification. In the Bible, Jesus is said to have received 39 lashes on his back at the hands of his persecutors; a number believed by the Roman authorities to be merciful, as 40 lashes was considered as deadly. The video is a close-frame documentation of the tattooing process, which was filmed over an four-hour period in the privacy of the Experimenta space. The photographs reveal the finished work, a cross- hatching of linear scars of text covering the artist’s back, written free-hand by the tattooist. 

The work’s literal narrative exists on two levels: in the text inscribed in the tattoo and in  the video voiceover. Both are collages created by the artist, and are drawn from different sources. The tattoo is composed of fragments of prayers that are never fully legible to the audience, representing an abstraction of the implicit search for healing and forgiveness. The video narration is a complex, carefully constructed collage that, like a camera, zooms in and out of different frames, juxtaposing aural ‘clips’ composed of personal experience, descriptions of fictional characters in the writings of author (and surgeon) Richard Selzer, actual self-harmers’ testimonies, song lyrics, news report and random facts. The central character, the ‘Hartford Girl’, is taken from a chilling American newspaper account of an attack by a crowd on a vulnerable, demoralized girl. The creation of the inkless tattoo addresses questions posed by the artist as she developed the concept for her work: what if the two main qualities of a tattoo are taken away, so that the tattoo is no longer decorative and permanent—would the focus be solely on pain itself? And as, over the weeks, the scars of the tattoo heal and fade away (and with them, the inscribed prayers) will other levels of healing take place?

Please click here to view the video.

Video 11min20sec

Video Stills


C-print, 80 x 52 cm

C-print, 65 x 43 cm

C-print, 75 x 51 cm