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Symbols

December 31, 2014

Two symbols cover the inner sides of my underarms. An ancient stone tool on the right, an symmetric geometrical figure on the left. In short, they represent form and function. The complete story behind them is lengthy and I fail to give a short, concise answer to the question about their meaning. So, this note is here to tell this story and to remind myself should I ever forget.
Tattoo Illustrations

The symbol on my right arm is a hand axe of the Paleolithic with its first appearance about 1.76 Million years ago. The object features a round basis to fit neatly into the palm of a hand and a pointed top to manipulate softer materials. Refined on both sides, these tools were the first to be optimized for both, the problem they needed to solve as well as the human handling it.

The symbol on my left arm is a geometric body called dodecahedron. It’s composed of twelve regular pentagonal faces, with three meeting at each vertex. In its regular version, it is one of the five platonic solids and represents the fifth element, aether or spirit, after a definition by Aristotle. Plato obscurely described it as the one “…the god used for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven”.
Tattoo Right Arm
Tattoo Left Arm

Beside their obvious aesthetic value, each artifact embodies an important, underlying quality. The dodecahedron represents venustas (lat. beauty) and the tool stands for utilitas (lat. utility). Or put simply: form and function.  Although being different in purpose and impact, both qualities are highly desirable in their essence. And they compensate for each others weaknesses.

Creating things that embrace form and function is what I see as my mission as a designer and as a human.  There’s a sentence that's stuck in my mind about this idea. «My brain tells my hands to unify beauty and utility.» That's the reason why the tattoos are placed on my arms. This way, they are part of my limbs that allow me to create things. They are a visible reminder to myself should I deviate from this mission.

Note 1: While sketching the shapes, a sense of symmetry and stability was important to me. I’ve built an underlying grid and outer structure that guided design decisions. The dodecahedron is predefined by its geometry, but the hand axe was constructed from scratch over a series of iterations. What ended up on my body is version number 16. Although I strived for a good balance between the two shapes, the perceived visual weight was more important than exact equal dimensions.

Note 2: The tattoos have been inked by my friend Simon Marthaler better known as Billy Jones. He used all black ink and his thin three needle machine to get the cleanest lines possible. Thanks to his incredible skills, all lines are sharp and connected to perfection. If you’re interested in his work, you should get in touch. He’s for real.

Acknowledgement

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