A shrine-like nook sits at the top of the stairs in Serendipity Stage’s studio apartment. Two wine bottles with tall candles in the spouts flank a triangular painting. Stage painted each corner a different primary color and connected each of them to the center with light swirls. The center features a tiny white stick-figure inside of a blue eyeball. A key floats underneath the eye, teeth facing up.
“So this is called 'Unlocking The Dream Body,'” said Stage as she presented her artwork. “I haven't necessarily finished it on the sides; I play with the whole thing. I need dimensions to it. I want to say ‘the body holds all the answers, but some locks require keys,’ and so that's what that's going to say when it's done.”
Stage twirled the triangle, blurring the colors as she revealed the painting’s naked edges. She drew inspiration for “Unlocking The Dream Body” from her dance/movement therapy classes, specifically a reading on “moving the dream body.” Stage explained it as being in a state of constant dreaming to practice mindfulness throughout different levels of consciousness in the connected body and mind.
Serendipity Stage is from St. Croix Falls, Wis., but considers the river valley that unites St. Croix Falls and Taylor’s Falls her home. She is in her third year at UW-Madison working towards a Bachelor in Fine Arts with a certificate in dance/movement therapy. Stage has been using her passion for art and the human experience to start a stick-and-poke tattoo collaboration out of her apartment.
This December, she created a social sculpture entitled “Sculpting Skin and Spirit.” She sat down with three strangers and created a symbolic design based on ways they wanted to transform themselves, then hand-poked the design into their skin. This inspired “New Moon Magic,” a facet of her tattoo business.
Once a month, at the beginning of the moon cycle, Stage gives someone a newly-designed tattoo in exchange for whatever the client deems “of equal value.” In some spiritual practices, the new moon represents a time chock-full of potential, the perfect opportunity for someone to clarify intentions or manifest goals in their lives. Stage’s tattoos center on the recipient’s desire for intentional self-change.
Previous “New Moon Magic” clients have exchanged handwoven baskets — pictured left — and handmade corset and skirt set and spell jars for Stage’s custom tattoos.
Stage enjoys the dynamics she forms with her clients and approaches each tattoo appointment like an artistic collaboration. She intentionally creates a warm and welcoming environment in her home with scents and music to counteract the sterility and wastefulness of the tattooing supplies.
“One of the things that I disliked about tattooing is [that] it's very wasteful. Everything is single use. Obviously you're being sterile and you don't want to mess that up,” said Stage.
Stage wiggled a small orange container filled with used needles, wrinkling up her nose. She found a company that creates biodegradable razors and bottle bags, which is an important step in making tattooing sustainable but also safe.
“It's such a quandary because it's like, I can't exist without making art, but I also want to not worsen than the state of the planet and the environment,” said Stage.
Emotional sustainability is also important in Stage’s tattooing practice. Stage sees tattooing as an emotional and therapeutic experience that can sometimes be draining.
“I am pooped after a day of tattooing. It's a total emotional exchange, that's how I really relate it to therapy. We're helping someone else work through their issues or just whatever's on their mind, even if it's not like this huge, deep, pressing matter,” said Stage. “It's still being there for them. It's like having a really long heart to heart with a friend and doing multiple of those in a day.”
Stage finds emotional connections more inspiring than draining, though. She admires raw intensity in other people and speculates that it’s because she has had to work against depressive tendencies to instill passion in herself.
“It's kind of just really fun to draw off of someone's energy and like, just keep going. Like, yes. Even if this is not what I'm intense about, let's get it,” said Stage. “I also love creating a very chill environment. I just like being able to explore both of those ends. I guess I really love people who are very much so one of those ends of the spectrum.”
Stage looks forward to collaborating with Abigail Arkley, a vocal performance student at UW-Madison. In 2018, they lived in The Studio, a learning community in Sellery Hall, and worked together on multiple musical art projects.
Arkley describes the project as a creative dialogue. She will go through the process of writing a song in Stage’s studio. Stage will create an artwork based on that process, and tattoo it onto Arkley.
“I'm going to, as a gift, essentially give her the song. Like ‘this is for you! This is our artistic exchange! So I'm really, really excited for that,” said Arkley.
Arkley is excited to work with Stage, specifically. Arkley appreciates her ability to “meet someone where they are” — a crucial skill in artistic collaboration. It involves understanding a person artistically, emotionally and spiritually, and using that knowledge to find boundaries to create within.
“I'm fortunate to know her. I always walk away feeling very inspired, very filled, and like I just had a very meaningful experience,” said Arkley. “The way that I see her is like how her life is art, and she views people as art, and she views the Earth as art. And she's very dedicated to not only understanding those things, but seeing them all the time and appreciating them.”
Stage believes that the mind and body hold all the answers, but some locks require keys. Her artwork is not only unlocking her own doors, but inspiring others to unlock theirs.