Portrait n°8: Flora Amalie Leonardo Pedersen

 

Please introduce yourself.

Flora Amalie Leonardo Pedersen, I’m 35 and I am the manager and co-owner of the tattoo studio Conspiracy Inc. in Berlin. Besides that I’ve always been a pretty crafty person. I like making stuff, and I switch mediums a lot. For years I was really into millinery, and I love drawing, painting, and taking analog photos. I probably got my interest for interior decoration from my parents. I grew up in a very colorful and creative home, decorated by artist parents. So I’ve always known that it was ok to not live like everybody else, and it’s ok to do stuff just cause it looks cool, everything doesn’t have to have a practical function. Our previous studio in Copenhagen was where I really started to notice that I maybe had an idea about what I was doing, and now when I decorate a room, I feel pretty confident that I can turn it into something fun.

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You definitely created a magical world with Conspiracy Inc.

Conspiracy Inc. is at its third location now, and it’s had a bunch of different looks over the years, but the core statement of the studio has always been the same; to have a place where people can get amazing tattoos in a different type of environment, and where you can always feel comfortable and welcome. Now it’s pretty normal to walk into a tattoo studio that basically looks like your grandmothers living room and ask for a custom tattoo, but when we first started out that wasn’t exactly the norm. We were always just trying to be a bit ahead of the game and do something that hadn’t been done before. With our current studio in Berlin, we decided to start fresh instead of trying to recreate what we had in Copenhagen, so we thought up themes for all the rooms, went to flea markets and Ebay and just worked on it tirelessly until it more or less looked like it did in our heads. It’s always gonna be a work in progress though, there’s always room for improvement.

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How the idea of collaborating with Uncle Allan came up?

I actually remember that pretty well. It was in 2004 and we were in Tokyo for the first time. We’d kind of ended up there by accident. Allan had suggested we go back to the States, and I said « why not go to Japan? » cause I’d always been so fascinated by that place, and so we ended up going to Japan and staying there for 3 months. And while we were there, my world just expanded, as it tends to do when you travel, and I realized that there was no way I could go back to my old job and my old life after an experience like that. So we were sitting in a restaurant in Kōenji and I asked what he thought of the idea of me helping out at the shop, and he just said ok. And so when we came back to Denmark, I quit my job, and started part time at the shop. In the beginning I mostly just cleaned tubes and answered phones, but as time went by, I started taking on a larger role, until I eventually became co-owner of the place.

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Being surrounded by artist can be inspiring, and other days it’s annoying as hell cause they’re all so damn talented (laugh)! But we’re all good at different stuff, and for the most part I’m really grateful to be around sweet and talented people. And having guest artists coming in and out all the time is a source of inspiration, and fun, for everyone at the studio. That’s probably my favorite thing about working in the tattoo industry; the amazing people you meet.

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Did you have any wish to get tattooed at that point?

I always wanted to get tattooed, and at one point I even had an appointment with a friend to get tattooed at a studio in Copenhagen, but that just ended up never happening. Then I met Allan, who at the time wasn’t super into tattooed girls, so because of that I ended up waiting a while. But after we got married I finally talked him into tattooing me, and I gradually got more and more. You know how it goes. Even if you plan on only getting one, which I think I did initially, most people find getting tattooed rather addictive and usually end up getting more. You usually have a lot of opinions and ideas at first, of what you plan on getting and what you think looks good etc. For instance, I used to not really like leg tattoos on women for some reason, and I’d certainly never get any leg tattoos myself, and now, years later, my leg tattoos are my favorites, and I’ve never once regretted getting them done. So even if there are spots I don’t have any plans to get tattooed currently, I’m not ruling anything out.

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But I honestly never planned ahead much. In the beginning when I first started getting tattooed, I put a lot of thought into the design and the meaning behind it. I was luckily always more concerned with the design than any deeper meaning the tattoo might have, but I did think long and hard about every piece. And being heavily tattooed was never a goal for me, I only got tattooed when I had a good idea, not because I felt like I had to get covered. I was just never in a hurry. But even if you don’t plan it, you will eventually be covered if you keep getting tattooed, and once you’ve reached a certain point, you start noticing the blank spots more that the tattooed parts!

I got my hands tattooed fairly recently, one in August or September last year, and the other in February. It’s something I’ve been wanting for a long time, but I’m pretty old fashioned and I really believe you should at least have your arms covered before moving on to hand or neck tattoos. It’s not necessarily a popular opinion these days, but I think highly visible tattoos like those is something you somehow earn by getting lots of other work done first. Also, I think hand tattoos without sleeves look pretty silly. So I obviously had to follow my own rules and finish my arms first, and even after that, I still waited a while. I’m very happy with them, though, and I don’t feel like I’m looked at or treated any different than before. Not that I’d give a shit, probably.

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There seems to be this great divide when it comes to tattooed people and symbolism. Is meaning really necessary or is it all about the aesthetic?

It’s like half of us need every tattoo to have some very deep and personal meaning, and half of us just want that shit to look good. And personally, I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I usually think of the design and appearance first, but somehow they always end up representing something important. My elephant tattoo by Uncle Allan reminds me of living in India years ago, and my thigh tattoo from Shige represents my love for Japan. I have a lot of tattoos that basically depict the environment and nature I grew up around in Copenhagen, and I also have a bunch of tattoos of things I love, like coffee, food, my favorite books and tv shows, shoes… you know, the essentials. I don’t think a tattoo has to mean anything to be good, or to be important to the person getting it, and many people put too much emphasis on the meaning of tattoos, to the point where they sacrifice aesthetics. But personally, because of the kind of person that I am, they just always end up being very personal.

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You mentioned an interesting point with women leg tattoos. In the end do tattoos have any impact on our feminity?

I feel like we put too much emphasis on femininity in general. Like a woman is not a real woman unless she’s feminine. That’s bullshit, and I also feel like a tattoo isn’t going to make a person any more or less feminine than they already are. I know a lot of heavily tattooed women who are very feminine and a lot of women with no tattoos, or tiny ones, who are not. So basically I think it’s a matter of who you are as a person. But in my personal experience, I don’t feel any less feminine because of my tattoos. I’d almost say on the contrary, as they make me feel stronger, and as a result of that, more confident, and therefore more sexy… but I could just be imagining that!

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I also know a lot of women who have trouble finding their style, or feel like they can’t dress a certain way, after getting tattooed. Like if they wear a lot of patterns for example, they end up looking too « busy », or as one of my friends put it, like a Christmas tree. But I’ve always felt like my tattoos were these awesome accessories that made basically makes everything look better. If I wear a fancy dress, that look is made more interesting because of the tattoos, and if I wear jeans and a tank top, which I almost always do, I still don’t look as boring as I maybe normally would because I have the tattoos. So for me, good tattoos basically just makes everything look cool.

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I think the ritual aspect gives tattoo sessions this special feeling. How important it is to you?

I think most people have their own little habits and rituals that help them have a good session or at least I do. I used to get terrible panic attacks in the days leading up to a big session, so getting mentally prepared was very important for me. I’d have a mantra to keep myself calm, and I’d make sure to get a lot of rest the day before. On the day of my session I’d only eat certain things, and while getting tattooed I’d usually stick to apple slices and maybe a banana. I basically lose my appetite when getting tattooed, but you still need that energy, so it’s important to find some light snack foods that work for you, I think. When getting tattooed in Japan, I’d always get on the same train from Tokyo to Yokohama early in the morning, then go to a cafe and get coffee for the guys at Yellow Blaze, and I’d always have a book with me, and a fully charged Iphone so I could listen to music and play solitaire. And I actually really miss those trips, even though they used to make me super anxious!

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I know Japan is kind of your second home. How was the whole experience of getting tattooed by Shige?

It’s hard to explain. I’ve wanted to come to Japan since I was a kid, without ever really knowing why, I just needed to go there. And when I arrived there the first time, it just instantly felt like home, for some reason. I believe we all have a place we’re supposed to be, a place we feel at home in, and it’s not necessarily the place we were born. And for me that place is Tokyo. I know that city better than I know the city I live in. I love the culture, the food, the people, the vibe. It has its flaws, just like every place does, but there’s just something about it that makes me happy.

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The piece with Shige ended up taking about 5 sessions spread out over a few years. Getting tattooed by him is just horrible painful, but always a pleasure anyway. I love him and his family, and the studio and business he and Chisato have built is something I admire a lot. They’re just great people, and I love coming there, even though my tattoo is done now. Getting tattooed in Japan, and especially by Shige, I suppose, is also just a very different experience. You’re expected to sit for as long as it takes, so you do. And as you well know, long sessions, especially the ones you travel for, are very intense, and going through an experience like that makes you grow as a person, in some weird way.

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The pain, horrible as it is, is also transformative. You have a lot of time to think and reflect, and when the pain is most intense, you really get to know yourself better, and you find out what you’re actually capable of. It’s almost like a rite of passage, and for me personally, I’ve always come out on the other side feeling like a slightly stronger and better version of myself. I imagine it’s the same feeling people have when they’ve climbed a mountain or something like that? And even though I don’t miss the pain, obviously, I do miss having a large piece in progress, and I miss the rituals I used to have when going to Yokohama to get work done. And I’m actually looking forward to starting my back at some point in the hopefully not too distant future.

Was the piece supposed to be this big? Bigger is better right? The last time it happened to me I ended up getting my whole torso tattooed (laugh).

It was definitely not supposed to be that big! I had requested a (much) smaller thigh piece to match the one I had one my other leg, but on the day of my appointment, Shige informed me that he’d made some changes, and that it was maybe a little bit bigger. Then he showed me a wonderful drawing that looked like it was about the size of my back, pointed to a big flower and said « that’s going on your knee ». And I just thought « oh crap » followed by « what the hell, it’s gonna look amazing ». He’d gotten every little detail I’d asked for in there, and the design was absolutely perfect. And it wasn’t like I had any plans for my knees anyway, so it all worked out. And in the end, Shige actually ended up talking both me and Uncle Allan into making my other thigh tattoo bigger, so they’d match! And obviously it looks so much better than it would have if it had been smaller. So yeah, 90% of the times, it makes sense to go bigger.

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Being involved in the tattoo community both on the personal and professional level must have changed a lot your perspective on tattooing.

Oh yeah, definitely. You see things from the artists perspective first, and the client perspective second. Being married to a tattooer for that long has made me a better client when I get tattooed, because I understand their side of the process better than most people, kind of in the same way that getting tattooed makes me more empathic when it comes to the needs of the clients at our studio. It has also made me kind of a snob when it comes to tattoos, cause I can tell the difference between a good tattoo and a poorly executed one! I also think in most relationships, you have a tendency to merge your interests and sometimes even morph into each other. And not always in a healthy way. Like we talked about, I love ornamental black work, but my ex husband doesn’t, and since I obviously wanted him to think I looked good, I just never got into that style. I don’t know if I would have gotten any black work done if we’d stayed together, but I most certainly will now.

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Also I’ve been having a really hard time with the direction the tattoo industry has been headed in the last few years. Tattooers all of a sudden being celebrities, the industry getting exposed via television to the whole world in a very scripted and unrealistic way, every asshole with a pencil and a neck tattoo wanting to become a tattooer. And this is something that used to be able to make me furious when I thought about it. But recently, and this may be due to apathy or getting older, it just doesn’t make me angry the way it used to. And I’m hoping it’s not just aging, I’m hoping that maybe the industry is headed towards another turning point where it’s less about money and fame, and more about making good art, and making clients happy. And I may be naive, but I think that it’s bound to happen at some point, and that the leaches who’s been taking advantage of the industry will decide to move on to something new and trendy and more profitable. And maybe, if we’re lucky, tattooing will regain some of that mystery that a lot of us were so drawn to in the beginning.

Interview & Pictures by Céline Aieta – Video by Adlan Mansri

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