Denis (@dsmt) is a Ukrainian tattooist currently based in Kiev. Interested in graffiti for much of his youth, he came to realize that he appreciated the opportunities it provided to explore illegal sites more than he did the art itself. He worked as a practicing lawyer for three years before pursuing full-time work as a tattooist—a change that he owes to the inspiration of his wife. He now tattoos out of Kiev but regularly guests in major European cities such as Berlin, Zurich, and Stockholm. We talk to Denis about the video featured above, which he created with his friends to document a tattoo session carried out in an industrial bus yard.
What interests me about your video is the fact that it feels spontaneous—despite the obvious logistical planning needed to explore different sites, transport all of your tattoo equipment, and create a stencil. What were your motives behind integrating this unique location into what looks like an otherwise very traditional and professional tattoo procedure? How did you end up tattooing in a bus yard?
I have friends who make series about post-soviet buildings and areas that really inspire me. They (illegally) visit private spots, making videos about their histories and their architecture. I went with them a few times just for fun and then I had an idea to do a tattoo session in one of these places. Because they were super busy filming their project, I had to wait a year just to have an opportunity to make the session happen. It was important to me to show the cold atmosphere of the bus yard; it felt like part of some anime movie.
There are more tattooists than ever before working outside of a traditional studio context—whether it’s at a private studio or in a public place. Often times, it is stick-and-poke artists who work in these settings. In contrast, in this video you use a rotary machine and a portable power supply. What kind of role do you see for relatively new technologies, like portable power supplies, in enabling tattooists to work in new environments? What kind of future do you see for electric tattoos done outside of a studio context?
I think technologies will help tattooers go ‘out of the box,’ making tattooing into more of a private, special ritual. It opens new possibilities to go beyond the context of a regular studio session. The sad thing is that most new technology is created solely for its own sake. A lot of stuff is made just to draw attention to the brand producing it, but doesn’t end up being innovative within the tattoo community.
Do you feel any aesthetic affinities with this decaying urban milieu? Does location act as an extension of your style and imagery as a tattooist?
For sure: my style of tattooing, the location of the session, the action itself—it all started to flow like one whole symphony and I am very happy about that. When people see the video they will understand that I tattoo in my own way.
How would you describe your style?
Slava Kononov had a huge impact on what I’m doing now. I also think that Slava’s influence extends to the whole ‘blackwork scene’ in Russia and Eastern Europe. My style is also influenced by anime like Ghost in the Shell and Akira. Those inspire me a lot. I want my tattoos to look undead and cold. I love to draw cyber stuff because I really fear the future. I think life is only going to get harder in the future—everything will be controlled by new technologies and this gives me a lot of inspiration.
Could you tell us more about getting inside the bus yard? It looks like there were some acrobatics involved. Your choice of location foregrounds the fact that, while these ruinous, often post-industrial places are abandoned, that vacancy does not make them public space. Was tattooing in the bus yard a gesture attempting to reclaim that location as a public space?
Yes. The spot was chosen by my friends one day before the trip. We were noticed by the yard security in the beginning so we decided to run into the yard. It was really hard to catch us inside because all of the buses made it like a labyrinth. The problem was that if they caught us they’d beat us. We hid for a while between buses and when they realized how hard it would have been to find us they just left.
After I finished tattooing we saw that there were three cops in the yard searching for us. If you get caught by cops in these situations officially you just need to pay a fine. But, since Ukraine is so corrupt, if the cops are really angry and they catch you they will beat you hard; then they will bring you to the police station and beat you more, holing you in the police station for a day or more. It’s illegal for them to do his, but in Ukraine there’s no contesting it.
We were lucky. They searched for us for an hour, but then they just decided to close all the doors in the yard and wait for us outside. We were smarter and found another exit from the bus yard.
Do you have plans to carry out tattoos in any other interesting locations?
I have plans for summer 2018. I want to work more in this way, showing more of the cold atmospheres of post-soviet Eastern Europe. I’m in contact with some other visual artists to do some collaborative projects in places similar to this one.
You can see more of Denis’ work on Instagram: @dsmt