by Sara Shea
Medium: Parchment, New Inks
Artist: Jacob Hugh
2074 – 2120
This museum wing contains “Parchment”, masterpiece created by artist Jacob Hugh. “Parchment” is exhibited behind climate-controlled casing, guarded by military personnel and monitored by twenty-four hour state-of-the-art surveillance. Photography of any sort is strictly prohibited. Please remain behind the velvet ropes and supervise children. Once you have viewed “Parchment”, move to your right, so others may have their turn. Proceed into the corridor and board the travellator, which will transport you through halls displaying panoramic 3D footage of scenes from Hugh’s life. Debark in the South Wing. Exhibits of historic photographs, videos, media clippings, memorabilia, ephemera from Hugh’s estate, and interactive displays are housed in the South Wing. Do not re-adjust your earpiece. Your multimedia guide will automatically correspond to your shifting location within the museum. To pause the narration at any point, simply think of the color red. Think of green to re-start.
Be sure to visit the gift shop. Holographic clones, body scan magnification apps, documentaries, accessories, holographic skin suits and temporary appliqués are all available for purchase.
The Colorful Life of Jacob Hugh
2074 – 2120
Multimedia Biographical Guide
Jacob Hugh’s masterpiece compares to works by Michelangelo, Escher, Klimt, and Warhol. In his lifetime, Hugh became one of the most influential and highly valued artists in history. Born in Tahiti in 2074, Jacob Hugh was the only child of courtesan and political spy, Cora Hugh. Scholars and critics place great emphasis on Hugh’s earliest childhood years in Tahiti. Captivated by color and light, Hugh often described his childhood as “a kaleidoscopic realm where tanagers and iridescent parakeets flickered in emerald jungles; where prismatic fish drifted through aquamarine seas, and sunsets the colors of frangipani flowers gave way to phosphorescent tides and starry nights.”
The identity of Hugh’s father is unknown, although academics surmise he was of Polynesian descent. Little is known regarding the true identity of Hugh’s mother, Cora. There is evidence she served as a social media savant and undercover geo-tagging analyst for the French Government. She held passports under several pseudonyms. Regardless of her mysterious origins, there is no doubt Cora Hugh was a cultured, intellectual woman. After leaving Tahiti, Cora traveled extensively with her young son, residing intermittently in luxury apartments and finest hotels of Paris, Milan, Berlin, Qatar, Rome, Singapore and Bangkok. She hired an elite contingent of private tutors to educate her gifted son.
Nurturing Hugh’s early artistic aspirations, Cora spared no expense on the finest paints, pencils, tablets and graphics programs. Though Cora never enrolled her son in any traditional school, she equipped him with an eccentric but extensive discipline in the visual arts. In interviews, Hugh later admitted that his mother had “frequently vanished for days, or weeks at a time, with no explanation.” When tutors or other caretakers were unavailable to look after Hugh, Cora deposited her young son in the halls of museums and art galleries, instructing him to memorize works of art. Jacob Hugh credited his unusual upbringing as the foundation and inspiration for his masterpiece.
By age nine, the ambidextrous Jacob Hugh was producing accurate reproductions of works by DaVinci, Escher and Klimt– entirely from memory. Most of these early works were lost in a fire that ravaged Cora Hugh’s Milan apartment in 2087. Recently, however; five of Hugh’s exquisite sketches were discovered in a safe deposit box that his mother purchased in Paris in 2085. Four of these original drawings sold for over fifty million dollars a-piece, in a Dubai auction. The fifth drawing is now displayed in the South Wing of this museum.
Cora Hugh died in London in 2089. Medical records cite her cause of death as an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. She was thirty-seven years old. Whether this overdose was accidental or intentional is not known. Regardless, the tragedy left Jacob Hugh orphaned at the age of fifteen. He began work on his masterpiece that same year.
Funded by a considerable inheritance, the grieving Jacob Hugh returned to Polynesia, where he apprenticed himself to a traditional tattoo artist; a Samoan Chief named Tyrian Freewind. Under the guidance and tutelage of Freewind, Hugh gained recognition as an emerging tribal tattoo artist. Hugh inked the initial tattoos on his own arms during that period in Polynesia; elaborate bands of geometric designs that morphed into scales of coiled serpents circling his biceps.
Hugh’s quest for enlightenment, his passions for art and adventure, led him from Polynesia to India. In 2093 He traveled from Calcutta up the Ganges River to Bangladesh and Delhi, studying with various Swamis, learning the practice of yoga, the art of henna and godna tattoo. Shocked by the extreme poverty he found in cities along the Ganges, Hugh gave away his inheritance to the children, the poor, the sick and hungry of India.
He trekked on toward Nepal, traveling at times by foot, by bus, by camel and caravan. He became disoriented and lost in the Himalayan Desert during a sandstorm. He suffered dehydration, starvation, extreme exposure to sun and wind, and early stages of photo keratitis– desert blindness. His sunburned skin began to peel. Distinct hues and colors of the surrounding desert began to blur, fading slowly into a vast white light. When death seemed most certain, Hugh came upon an ancient formation of metamorphic boulders; fantastic geological forms, eroding in harsh desert weather. The boulders offered shade, protection and relief from violent winds.
Hugh discovered a gnarled pomegranate tree growing safely in a rock fissure amidst the boulders. The miraculous tree bore one ripe fruit. Hugh survived for seven days, curled within the fissure, staving of starvation by rationing his consumption of pomegranate seeds and blood-colored juice. On the seventh day Hugh was rescued by Tibetan monks, who found him and carried him to the safety of their Zen Monastery. Under the care of these monks, Hugh recovered his strength. His vision and perception of color slowly returned.
Hugh adopted Buddhist practices of the monks. He shaved his head and donned a monastic robe. He spent the year of 2094 with the monks, fascinated in particular, by their tantric art of sand mandalas. Hugh assisted the monks in gathering substances used to create the mandalas; colored sands, granules of lapis lazuli and ruby dust. He helped the monks to collect desert flowers; first drying the flowers, then employing mortar and pestle to grind blossoms into colorful powders. He knelt with the monks, painstakingly arranging colored grains into elaborate patterns.
Hugh identified the moment of his spiritual awakening as a day in the monastery: “I balanced a single indigo grain of sand in the palm of my hand,” Hugh explained in later interviews “admiring it in rays of golden sunlight. Suddenly, I saw my whole life reflected in that grain. As Himalayan wind swept the grain from my palm, I understood the purpose of my life.”
Hugh parted ways with the monks, traveling on to Paris and Amsterdam where he served brief stints of employment in various tattoo parlours, inking under the pseudonym T.J. Windhue. During this period (2095-2098) Hugh began to experiment with inks, pigments and carriers. He began an extensive correspondence with European and Asian ink manufacturers, as well as other notable tattoo artists. He began developing recipes.
In 2099, Hugh rented laboratory space in a science building owned by the Berlin University of the Arts in Germany. (Hugh’s early notes, along with sketches and recipes for his masterpiece, are exhibited in the Berlin University Gallery.) In Berlin, Hugh began importing small quantities of heavy metals; cadmium, chromium, cobalt, barium, cinnabar, as well as azo chemicals. He corresponded with chemists and gemologists, obtaining dust from finely crushed Aubergine Tahitian pearls, jadeite, black opals, blue garnets and various precious gems. He experimented– mixing platinum, silver, copper and crystalline gold dust; with rare earth elements, ultra violet pigments and liquid crystals. He refined recipes for carriers and binders. All the while, Hugh funded an elite team of Berlin University engineering students, whom he’d commissioned to develop a laser-precise tattoo gun.
Over the next year, Jacob Hugh illustrated his chest with stunning layers of tattoo; silver dust, aquamarine, indigo. He captured dazzling waters of the south Pacific, adding images of tropical fish, sea fans, starfish and turtles. He etched an over-layer of ultra violet ink, until his chest and shoulders glowed with a phosphorescent aura. On the rippling surface of ultramarine, just over his heart, Hugh inked a portrait of his mother. Her gentle face floated faint, diaphanous; as though distant and viewed through deep water. Some critics claim that Hugh mixed his mother’s ashes with various ink pigmnts and silver dust to achieve her vitreous portrait.
The complexity of Hugh’s project evolved as he illustrated his body with memories of his fantastic travels. Phosphorescent waters of the South Pacific spilled down his torso, swirling into darker waters of the Ganges River, which ran the length of his left thigh. Faces, exquisite portraits of his spiritual leaders, shimmered like holograms emerging from dark currents of the Ganges.
The Himalayas rose along Hugh’s shoulder blades, jutting into a pale blue sky at the base of his neck where desert wind swept grains of sand into thin air. Brilliant dots of color rose up the back of Hugh’s neck, gathering at the top of his skull and swirling into a more cohesive pattern; the edge of a mandala. It took Jacob Hugh seven years of painstaking work—dot, by dot,—to complete the tattoo mandala that eventually covered his entire face.
There was no anonymity for Hugh once his facial mandala was complete. In the streets of Berlin, people stared. Media and paparazzi pursued him, demanding interviews, answers and explanations for his unbelievable art. Tattoo artists begged Hugh to publish his innovative ink recipes. His Berlin laboratory was burglarized.
In 2101 Hugh retreated to a small island off the coast of Greece, where he continued to work on his masterpiece; adding mysterious neon inks to illustrations of urban streetscapes and skylines of Paris, London and Amsterdam that ran the length of his forearms. But public curiosity could not be satiated. Finally, in 2102, at the age of twenty-eight, Hugh agreed to an interview and photo shoot with a young reporter from the London Art Review. Then came the exorbitant offers. A preeminent gallery in Basel, Switzerland offered Hugh one million dollars to pose, nude, for three days in their gallery, in conjunction with the opening events of Art Basel. Hugh accepted the offer.
Art critics went wild. Those who saw Hugh in the flesh during that first exhibition described the experience as pure rapture. They claimed his flesh “glowed and glittered; as if he’d been dipped in stars.” They praised his elaborate designs of sea creatures that morphed into Escher-like tessellations. They described his facial mandala as mystical, breathtaking, holographic; a layered millefiori of vibrant color. The medical community voiced concerns regarding toxicity of ingredients in Hugh’s inks. The public demanded more showings of Jacob Hugh.
Some critics proclaimed his art as genius, revolutionary, the future of modern art. Others condemned him as a grotesque, deviant, circus freak. A prominent gallery in Rome invited Hugh to display his nude body, but the Vatican forbid the exposition and censored all media coverage. Protests, strikes and riots ensued in the streets of Rome.
Hugh was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2105. Prestigious art schools bestowed honorary degrees upon him, inviting him to teach and lecture on the intersection of Ethnographic art and Modernism. Once again, Hugh began to travel. Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Madrid, Moscow, Cairo, Mexico City, Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Lima, Cape Town, Sydney. Galleries, museums, and art institutions worldwide scheduled exhibitions of Jacob Hugh. All the while, Hugh embellished his masterpiece. To him, it was always a work in progress.
Hugh took great pride in inking himself by his own hand. He commissioned a select group of renowned tattoo artists to assist in completing his designs on areas of his body he could not reach. There was ink between his toes, on the soles of his feet, his tongue, his gums, his earlobes and eyelids, the corneas of his eyes, his genitals. He had his fingernails and toenails sliced away, in order that he might access and illustrate the pink ovals of empty flesh below. Fine art photographs and nude videos of Jacob Hugh circulated through the Internet, appearing in pornographic websites and erotic publications worldwide. Much debate centered on Hugh’s illustrated genitals.
A pomegranate tree rose from Hugh’s loins, its windswept branches arced the length of his penis. On the right side of his scrotum, an ancient boulder shielded the tree from desert winds and gold rays of a neon sun that stretched over his right hip, blazing into his abdomen and pelvic region. On the left side of his scrotum, a fragile branch bowed with the weight of a single, crimson pomegranate.
While visiting China in 2107 to lecture at a Beijing university, Hugh disrobed in a public park, exhibiting his tattoos to a group of art students. He was promptly arrested and imprisoned. The President of the People’s Republic of China chastised Hugh, labeling him as “vulgar, perverted . . . masochistic.” Hugh spent forty days and nights in a communist prison while international governments negotiated his safe release. This experience likely led to Hugh’s addition of the gleaming metallic handcuffs he inked around his wrists. He was banned from China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Syria and several other countries. Media coverage of his artwork was censored in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Sudan and Turkey. Hugh was offered political asylum in America, and granted American Citizenship through Refugee Status.
Hugh became the wealthiest man in the world. He achieved status in The Guinness Book of World Records in 2109, as the most tattooed human in history; creator of the world’s most the vibrant tattoo art. He was celebrated as “a man who stood beyond the bounds of race and skin color… beyond categories of ethnicity.” With funds raised from exhibitions, he launched art schools, galleries, elite tattoo parlours, color research corporations, environmentally responsible ink manufacturers, progressive advertising design firms, and art museums. He brought art schools, art initiatives and museums to far, impoverished corners of the globe.
In 2111, at the age of thirty-seven, Jacob Hugh was diagnosed with the HIV virus. American tabloids claimed Hugh had contracted the virus from a homosexual lover in Tahiti. Those rumors were never substantiated. Art critics now claim that the virus came from an infected tattoo needle. Hugh sought treatments; but the virus quickly progressed into AIDS. Lesions began to rise through the ink of Hugh’s priceless masterpiece.
The public clamored for a cure for Jacob Hugh. Hugh donated billions to research and pharmaceutical companies in search of a fast-acting cure. He agreed to serve as a test subject for a new, experimental AIDS antidote. In an unprecedented, internationally broadcast reality television series, Hugh shared his real-time experience with AIDS and the experimental antidote. Fifty Hues of AIDS became the provocative, reality television series of an era. The visceral series ushered in a new genre of reality television. Reality Pharmaceutical Trials: Cures and Futures. Real People, Real Progress: Yesterday’s Epidemics and Tomorrow’s Drugs.
The AIDS antidote was hugely successful. In a matter of months, Hugh was entirely cured. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Time Magazine honored Hugh as Man of the Year, and published his iridescent face on their cover, along with the caption “The Man Who Became Art, the Art That Became the Cure.” Jacob Hugh became the spokes model and avant-garde advertising campaign for the pharmaceutical company that patented the antidote. Hugh honored the young biochemist responsible for discovering the antidote, by illustrating the man’s portrait on the palm of his right hand. The pharmaceutical company copyrighted the slogan; “Let’s give a hand for the cure!” running that tag line, accompanied by their logo; across a photograph of a joyous and grateful Jacob Hugh, applauding. The advertisement became an icon for changing times; end of an epidemic.
Produced from a particular genetic protein found only in a near-extinct species of deep-sea starfish, the AIDS antidote was prohibitively expensive; only available in the United States, and only in limited quantities. As scientists worked frantically to duplicate the protein synthetically, distribution of the antidote became the hugely controversial issue. Distribution was carefully controlled by a new, government-run, health care initiative. Waiting periods were lengthy. Applications for the antidote were processed in order of most-to-least extreme AIDS cases. In a backlash against the government health care act, Hugh voiced concerns and protests, advocating for the establishment of privatized antidote distribution centers.
As Hugh’s fame escalated, so did concerns about his safety. Everywhere he went, people wanted to touch his radiant skin. He was mobbed in the streets by fanatics. In 2116, The U.S. government required Hugh to employ body guards. While visiting the Caribbean in 2117, Hugh was approached by a masked man carrying a vessel of battery acid. Fortunately, one of Hugh’s body guards wrestled the would-be attacker to the ground in the nick of time. Both the body guard and the attacker were grotesquely scarred and disfigured in the incident.
Following the horrific attempt on Hugh’s life, the government designated Jacob Hugh as a National Treasure. The government demanded a halt to Hugh’s international travels and placed strict restrictions on his passport. Hugh vehemently protested these restrictions. He went into hiding in the mountains of northern Idaho, refusing to exhibit his masterpiece, granting only radio interviews.
Over radio broadcasts, Hugh proclaimed; “Below the ink, I am no different from anyone. My skin is merely my chosen media for recording my life story. Freedom of artistic expression and freedom of travel are imperative to my journey. I need to be with the people! I must share a masterpiece symbolizing transformation of my life journey into spirit. My art is merely a map and archive of my time here. I must travel and teach about the impact of art and ideas on social consciousness.”
Eventually, the American government lifted restrictions on Hugh’s passport, assuaging him with a private jet to assist in his international travels. Hugh immediately scheduled a retrospective exhibit in Tahiti. En-route to Tahiti from LAX, on May 1st of 2120, Hugh’s jet was hijacked. The jet vanished entirely from tracking systems. And Jacob Hugh disappeared.
Hysteria rocked the world of modern art. IT ON Had Hugh been kidnapped?IT OFF The FBI and the CIA launched an extensive investigation. Art critics raised the possibility that Hugh had grown weary of fame, fortune and publicity . . . and finally staged his own disappearance.
Two days afterward, the President of the United States addressed the nation; revealing news that the White House had received a ransom note. Hugh’s captors demanded that billions of dollars in U.S. aid be funneled to key embargoed countries. His captors demanded a lifting of certain U.S. trade restrictions. And, they demanded a supply… of the limited antidote. The terrorists would guarantee the safe return of Jacob Hugh, only after their demands had been met.
An emergency UN summit was held. Negotiators were called in to work with the terrorist. U.S. embargos and trade restrictions were temporarily lifted. A medical distribution task force was readied to transport the sensitive antidote to an undisclosed location on a moment’s notice. As the nation endeavored to appease the terrorists, the FBI traced clues regarding Hugh’s kidnapping and whereabouts.
Seven days after his disappearance, FBI agents located Hugh and his captors on a tiny island near French Polynesia. Employing satellite surveillance and body scan technology, FBI agents pinpointed the unmistakable glow of Hugh’s elaborate tattoos. In a secret meeting, on May 8th of 2120, the President of the United States authorized a covert operation to liberate Hugh from an island prison guarded by terrorist kidnappers. FBI agents and SWAT teams planned a night raid to overtake the compound.
But something went amiss, in the jungle, on the dark tropic night. A flock of florid parakeets startled one of the kidnappers. Two American Green Berets and an FBI agent were killed in a sudden burst of machine gun fire. Remaining SWAT team members opened fire and took the compound by storm. But they were too late. In an apparent suicide pact, Hugh’s captors had taken their own lives, as well as the life of their hostage. A single bullet to the chest had pierced Hugh’s heart, as well as the diaphanous portrait of his mother, Cora.
Hugh’s body was flown to a forensic morgue in Washington, DC. As news of his death made its way around the world, investigations and international litigations were launched against the U.S. government. Italic on Had the government covered up crucial information? Mystery, controversy and conspiracy theories swirled as the world mourned.Italic off Memorial services were schedule in Tahiti, Nepal, India, France, Germany, the US, and an array of other countries.
Hugh left no heirs, and no known family. As lawyers struggled to untangle Hugh’s estate and assets, several countries began to argue over his body. Tahiti petitioned for the return of their native son. The U.S. upheld Hugh’s status as an American Citizen and National Treasure. Monks from the monastery pleaded for a traditional cremation ceremony in the desert. The Pharma Company that had cured Hugh of AIDS, produced and publicized a document Hugh had signed; donating his body for exclusive, scientific research by their company.
“Who Owns the Late, Great Jacob Hugh?” ran headlines of the International Herald Tribune. Litigation dragged on for months as Hugh’s body lay in cold in the morgue. Finally, the case reached U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court initiated the process of dividing complicated ownership of Hugh’s body. Hugh’s skin was granted to the U.S. Government as a National Treasure, under conditions that his flesh be removed and adequately preserved by a select team of medical experts and parchment archivists. Hugh’s internal organs became property of the Pharma Company, on conditions detailing the transport of all bones and unused parts to a grave site in Tahiti and a Monastery in Nepal.
Today, millions of guests arrive annually to experience “Parchment.” Many describe the journey as a pilgrimage. Those who knew Jacob Hugh in his lifetime claim that the priceless “Parchment” has lost its once vibrant glow. Yet, children, who never knew Hugh in the flesh; marvel at its fresh, halo-like aura. Italic Every visitor describes different sensations, different experiences with “Parchment.”
Some visitors are fixated by the colors, vibrant hues, designs and patterns. Others seek meaning in the timeline of geographic travels. Some are awed by its potential to influence and impact. Some express horror, disgust, guilt and shame; or anguish, denial and grief. Still, others experience healing and spiritual awakening. Many admit their perspectives on “Parchment” are dynamic and shift over time. Most express concerns that despite all efforts toward preservation, “Parchment” will ultimately crumble to dust.
This concludes your multimedia tour. In an effort to further this exhibit as a progressive, educational and interactive experience; the museum offers feedback stations. We invite you to reflect, share and upload your responses to “Parchment” in the guest tablets provided.
Thank You for Visiting “Parchment”