Jessica Walker’s “how small”

“I regret the day that I hesitantly clicked ‘maybe’ on the invite to be a part of the Lexington Tattoo Project, with the reason being (at the time) that I couldn’t think of a place on my body that I would want another tattoo. In retrospect, I realize that it wasn’t about that issue at all. It was because I wasn’t ready. And I wasn’t ready because I wasn’t the ‘real me’ yet.


I’ve lived in Lexington for over half of my life now, which is all of my adult life. I feel willingly bound to the city and its inhabitants and activists who are my friends, but apparently I didn’t fall in love with the idea of tattooing a phrase from the Lexington Tattoo Project poem on my body at the onset. However, I got to be a part of the project’s evolution—from implementation to grand reveal and publication, through multiple friends’ experiences and by performing with the March Madness Marching Band at the reveal party. My interpretation of Kurt and Kremena’s philosophy behind the project—connecting people with art, poetry, and location, through a ‘taboo’ art form that usually separates people instead of uniting them—was intriguing and titillating. One little idea on the tip of a finely sharpened piece of metal that would indelibly last on so many minds and bodies—the way good art should…


When Love Letter To The World came about, I was ready. I was so ready that I became an ambassador for the artwork, with the launch to be made at Burning Man 2014. I had been to Burning Man for the first time the year before LLTW launched and had had an experience like no other. I’d heard about Burning Man while in architecture school, and had marveled at the philosophy behind the event. It was a validating trip for me and my life. I felt small, yet significant. My mind, imagination, beliefs, and actions matter in the grand scheme of things. I felt the same way when I read Frank X Walker’s words. The attentiveness with which he describes the magnificence of the world and how we are safe, guided, and reminded to always be mindful hearkened back on my Burning Man experience.


When the poem and phrases were released to the select ambassador group, I was asked if I’d get the phrase ‘architecture’ (near the end of the poem) tattooed on my skin, for very obvious reasons. In response, I said “Ha, no—too obvious … it’s associated with it though.” The part of the poem that struck me the most was:


When we invent poisons and no antidotes

and build monuments to ourselves

you send tornadoes and hurricanes

to remind us of how small we truly are.


This phrase in particular:


‘how small’


My reasoning is simple, yet significant. A side effect of going through architecture school is an inflated sense of ego. You can decide whether or not it is warranted, since our buildings change every buildable landscape and skyline that exists, and hold in their halls the life, safety and welfare of their inhabitants. Life in the modernized, consumer-based, capitalist West also has an inherent arrogance. Make it, buy it, or take it—whatever’s easiest in most cases. While Burning Man is the response to capitalism and commodification, tornados and hurricanes reduce design to dust.


I chose ‘how small’ to remind myself to always be humble and helpful, while staying curious and creative. I put the tattoo on my left shoulder blade where heavy loads and heavy responsibilities are borne. I am responsible not only to myself, but to my city, my state, my world, and everyone in it. Small things like me matter. Small ideas matter. With goodness at the center, they can grow monumental. And here, mere hours from the premiere of the Cincinnati Tattoo project, I am reminded again how great ideas can spread, one pin prick at a time.


The Love Letter To The World tattoo artwork and Burning Man mark a small but important moment in my life when I became me.”

Jessica Walker's "how small," Burning Man 2014

Jessica Walker’s “how small,” rehearsal of the Burning Man Orphan Band at Kentucky Fried Camp, Burning Man 2014 (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)