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Skin Series 2: The Singing Detective Reloaded
14 September 2017

for bpf members




This is the second event of the Skin Series and follows the meeting held on 4 March 2017. A precis of that meeting can be found below, but in summary it was a very successful event exploring the tattoo, its recipients and the tattoo artist. Towards the end of that meeting skin complaints and their connection with psychological meaning emerged as a theme hence our plans for the second event details of which are below:

“Skin Series 1: By the Skin of our Teeth”

The inaugural meeting of the Skin Series was held at bpf Kilburn on Saturday 4 March 2017. With representation from different sections within the bpf, the series has begun with a very open atmosphere of exploration and collaboration. Using the theme of tattoos and the tattoo artist, we have begun to explore the nature of skin both embodied and psychic.

Starting with a dream matrix set the series off with a culture of enquiry. This inquisitiveness was present throughout the day. It being a BPF wide event may have helped explain how the most pressing themes for the organisation appeared in the material of the matrix. This included the nature of the BPF, its identity (skin) and the need for new blood to enliven the community. With one of the aims of the series to be the involvement of new members in writing and presenting clinical work there was something helpful, encouraging, even if uncanny.

The dream matrix was followed by Dr Giles Allen’s presentation of clinical material from his training patient, a tattoo artist. He expanded on the history and cultural significance of tattooing which stretches back into the dawn of human history and cuts across all cultures. Drawing on a range of psychoanalytic writers and others interested in tattoos we began to consider the nature of skin as a liminal space which could receive projections from within as well as from outside. Thinking of a tattoo as process it can give power to an individual, hold disparate parts of them together, as well as become proof of an encounter. As such a tattoo is a paradoxical, static, fixed moment as well as a living symbol capable of evolution.

This then brought us to consider the tattoo artist in a similar light to that of an analyst. Both appear to help their “patient” to develop a space of liminality onto which projections from the primitive and their individual past can be manipulated. Despite the desire to eschew, and perhaps pathologise, the tattoo it was soon apparent that such simplicity was falling apart in our meeting. That is not to say the more regressive aspects were not also apparent, but it was evident that there was a complexity to this practice. In the clinical presentation, we heard how the patient used tattoos to project their own violence and as a psychic retreat which left the wearer safe but unconnected. In such a way, it both managed but perpetuated loneliness and could decapitate thought from feeling. Yet it had also been essential for survival and what growth was possible, there being few other options open to the patient.

For the last part of the day these themes were expanded upon in small group work. We delved deeper into thinking about when the healthy became unhealthy. Familiar themes of acting in and out, impulsivity, compulsion to the point of addiction and the concrete versus the more symbolic acts were explored. Control over one’s body and that of the object became other themes. We recounted patients having tattoos in therapy breaks as a way of transmuting emotional pain into the physical “real” pain to name just one dynamic

In our final moments, together we touched on the rise of tattooing in modern times. We considered the tattoo’s ritualistic and medicine-like qualities sitting alongside the relationship with the artist holding a more shamanic quality. The technical management to prevent infection through sterile gloves and the wound care underlined this medical feel to the process. We pondered on the origins of medicine from the temple of Asclepius and how this has been replaced by something more knowing, technical, sterile delimited to just the body. All together less mysterious with little space for the sacred or the soul. We wondered if Tattoo art was a way for people to manage this divided body and soul.

At the very end of the day we touched on other themes that the series might explore, skin eruptions and dermatology being one that jumped out. This is where our considerations will take us next.


Skin Series 2: the singing detective reloaded

Some psychological functions of the skin - Kate Moss

Skin diseases alter the interface between self and world, a disturbance reflected in levels of psychiatric comorbidity across the range of skin disorders.  Psychodermatological classification tends not to illuminate the developmental roots or internal meanings of skin experiences to patients.  Dennis Potter vividly explores these in The Singing Detective, the famous 1986 BBC mini-series.  Philip Marlow, his Chandleresque alter ego, tracks the aetiology of his crippling psoriatic arthritis through the mean streets of memory and desire, to the inarticulable fury of a pre-pubescent boy witnessing mother's infidelity from his treetop refuge.  In homage, through two case vignettes, we will trace ways in which such 'leper complexes' may play out as life long dramas, testing the capacities of sufferer and onlooker to tolerate the blemished.

Kate Moss is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist working in the Dermatology Department at St. Thomas' Hospital, London.  Her interests include the symbiotic relationship between skin and psyche, disability and character formation, and embodied countertransference in complex diseases.


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Event Details
Reference SK2
Start Date 14/09/2017
End Date 14/09/2017
Start Time 20:30
End Time 22:00
Location bpf
Venue 37 Mapesbury Road, London NW2 4HJ
Tel: 020 8452 9823 Registered office: 37 Mapesbury Road, London NW2 4HJ
Company number 8238969 registered in England and Wales Registered charity number 1150806