Tuesday, July 27, 2010
For those who seek beauty in the macabre, there is one spectacle you simply cannot miss. Late last night, I was brought along to witness a quiet ritual in a friend’s studio referred to as body suspension. The ancient custom involves suspending the human body by hooks (in this case, shark hooks), which are pierced through the flesh. After spending a few minutes brooding over his options, he calmly opted for the ‘suicide’ position, in which the hooks are placed in the upper back to suspend the person upright, thus giving the appearance of a person being hanged. When he pulled off his shirt, I remember seeing the grisly appearance of back. Blistered and savagely scarred with some wounds still raw from recent trauma, his skin displayed the frightening marks of what had been almost three years of enduring the bizarre practice. The sight of the suspending body was surprisingly serene. There was no self-loathing, heavy metal music blasting through the speakers, the room was neat and sterile and the air smelt of fresh coffee and antiseptic, faintly redolent of a dentist’s office. With his skin stretched to impossible lengths and his head lowered in what almost seemed to be a sincere spiritual reverence, the vision seemed to at first spill over the brink of realism, until eventually exuding both stirring terror and numbing beauty. It is extraordinary to watch, let alone to experience, though I don’t plan to be able to offer a description of that anytime soon.
The practice of body suspension dates back to the ancient tribes of India, the Middle East and North America. These were performed as part of a sacred ritual, typically as a right of passage, healing rituals, penance, rituals of worship and spiritual ascension. The Modern Primitivism movement saw the resurrection of this practice in contemporary Western cultures and today, while many will participate as a form of deviance or entertainment, the objective of attaining a new level of spiritual consciousness is still one of the primary reasons for undergoing this procedure. My friend explained that body suspension was his personal way of proving to himself that he was more than his body, and despite his cowering shoulders and bleeding flesh, the spirit in his expression certainly reveals a rare glow of self-contentment. However, according to the other suspension enthusiasts, this prolonged state of bliss is not always the outcome. Many people noted that instead of the euphoric, floating sensation many claim to experience, they endured terrible nausea and panic attacks as their mind and body wavered between a state of shock and extreme pain. Personally, the thing that inevitably caused me to refuse the generous offer of having shark hooks pierced through my flesh was pure and utter vanity. Spiritual ascension or not, the scars, boils and blisters left in the skin are enough to easily ensure a lifetime deprivation of backless dresses. I think I’d opt for meditation instead.