Nick Dixon and Annie Harrison talk about ExtInked tattoos

Nick Dixon with a tattoo on his shoulder of a Capercaille, and Annie Harrison with a Cornflower tattooed on her ankle. What do they have in common ?  They are two of the 100 selected ambassadors from the unique ExtInked partnership project spoke about their work, including their motivation for taking on the challenge, the experience of the tattooing and subsequent endeavours on behalf of their endangered species.

ExtInked is an art and ecology project in which one hundred original drawings of endangered British species were tattooed onto one hundred volunteers.

Nick Dixon Extinked ambassador

The result of the unique three day performance was an army of ‘ambassadors’ for threatened and rare birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, plants and fungi from around the UK.
The project began in November 2009 and was a collaboration with tattooists Ink Vs Steel and photographers Anatomy Projects. It was supported by Arts Council England and MIRIAD. ExtInked was identified as one of the RSA’s arts and ecology project highlights of 2009

Here is the talk they did in Manchester, coordinated by Susan Brown and hosted by The Castle Hotel in the Northern Quarter.  Nice ale, excellent room.  Lots of thanks to Gary Boast for recording the podcasts…



Appeal for the Western Capercaillie

Although the tattooing element of extInked is now finished, the project is far from over with many of the ambassadors launching fundamental follow-up awareness raising projects. The ambassador for the Western Capercaillie, Nick Dixon, is starting a grassroots group to support the RSPB affiliated ‘Friends of the Western Capercaillie’.
Nick is looking for people to donate £2 to receive a periodic newsletter from ‘Friends of the Western Capercaillie’, giving information about the conservation progress made to keep this Scottish species alive.  He can be contacted throught the extinct project:


Below is some footage of the Capercaillie which Nick suggested to be played on the night but did not get around to playing:


western capercaillie



Annie Harrison Ambassador portrait

Annie Harrison is interested in bringing back into consciousness hidden and forgotten narratives. Her recent work has concentrated on the historic and contemporary urban environment. She creates installations and objects in a variety of media which respond directly and personally to the stories she uncovers.

Hello, my name is Annie Harrison and I am an artist working on issues of history and memory, particularly uncovering the unrecorded history of the working people of Manchester’s industrial past.

My experience is the complete opposite of Nick’s. I chose the cornflower because it’s a cheerful and optimistic flower which I had planted many times.  When I started to look at how I could be a good ambassador for the cornflower, I contacted the organisations that work on plant conservation, but while one of them had a cornflower project, it was not active.
I found out that the remaining clusters of native cornflower populations are on the south coast and on the Isle of Wight, but with no organisational support, I was unable to take my responsibilities any further.  I haven’t visited the cornflower habitats or been involved in any conservation work.


However, my cornflower tattoo does it’s own work as an ambassador. Lots of people notice it and ask about it and are surprised and concerned to hear that the cornflower is an endangered species, and it raises questions about habitat and conservation – for which I have very few answers.
Like Nick, I spent some time at Manchester Museum, talking to the plant conservator about the cornflower, and the issue of the extinction of plants.  She said that their plant collection is internationally significant.  Her responsibility is to conserve the Museum’s collection and she doesn’t necessarily know what the situation is in the field.  She is concerned that the collection should contribute to the broadening of knowledge, and is committed to it being used by researchers throughout the world.

She told me of one instance when she shipped a plant sample to a researcher, I think it was in New Zealand, and only after it was returned home some months later, discovered that the specimen was from a species that was now extinct. She mused on whether she would have risked sending it so far for so long had she known beforehand.  She might at least have registered the parcel!

After our conversation, she said that perhaps the musuem should institute some kind of traffic-light system which could be displayed on the outside of the specimen boxes, with amber for endangered species and red for extinct, which would help them to identify the most rare and precious specimens.
However, as an artist, my interest in this project was as much in its place within the contemporary art world as it was in the environmental campaign.  I see the Extinked project as part of a fairly recent art movement which has not yet been completely defined.  Suzanne Lacy calls it ‘new genre public art,’  Nicolas Bourriaud calls it relational aesthetics and Grant Kester calls it  dialogical art.
They are all concerned with slightly different aspects of the movement, but what they have in common, is that these theorists are describing art that is socially and politically engaged, and which is created in conversation and dialogue with members of the public, that is, people who do not describe themselves as artists.
In this case, the initiative for the project came from UHC, an arts collective based in Hulme, who have both a design and an art practice.  They focus on work with a social and political agenda, often to do with the city and the politics of regeneration. But this project is no longer solely owned, controlled or directed by UHC.  This project involved 100 volunteers who were motivated for whatever reason to have a tattoo. The volunteers are now co-curators of the project, making their own decisions about how and where it will be shown, and how it will be described and experienced by its audience.

While the importance of the message about the extinction of plants and animals is undoubtedly important, I am also interested in watching how this project plays out in the future and what other initiatives it inspires.

Thank you…

The full references to the books that I referred to in my talk are as follows:

Bourriaud, N. (2004) Relational aesthetics. English ed., Paris: Presses du Réel.

Kester, G. H. (2004) Conversation pieces : community and communication in modern art. Berkeley ; London: University of California Press.

Lacy, S. (Ed.). (1995). Mapping the terrain: New genre public art. Seattle, Washington: Bay Press.

If you want to know how you can think, live and act more sustainably in an age of built in redundancy, wasteful packaging, limited energy resources and pollution, have a look at the sustainability resources:

Click Here for Sustainability Resources


Also you might be interested in the Ragged Sustainability blog…

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