Monday, June 4, 2012

Swinging from the Ceiling

The following is an account of a private event we were recently privileged to be invited to attend and report on, held by a few members of the "body modification" crowd. Those adamantly opposed to tattoos, piercing and other "primal" means of self-expression may want to skip it, as the content is somewhat graphic in places. That said, The Easton Eccentric is dedicated to a little bit of Everything in Easton, and that means EVERYONE in Easton, along with treating everyone with respect. Comments, as always will be the case on this site, are welcome, and you're free to politely disagree with anything posted here, but those that attack people directly will be deleted. Consider yourself warned.

 

A Saturday Night Suspension Session


Some of the rigging used in
Saturday's suspension session
While most people in Easton probably spent the Memorial Day holiday weekend last week kicking back, having a few beers and hoping the rain would stop long enough to throw some food on the grill, a few other locals were gathering in the newly opened Fleshwurks tattoo and piercing shop to swing from the ceiling—literally, by hooks driven through their skin.

And, while most people wouldn't exactly call this 'fun', these folks aren't "most people."

Last Saturday, three Easton men, including Fleshwurks tattoo and piercing artist Jeremy Smart, said they jumped at the opportunity after it presented itself after Smart met members of the band “Whut?”, who'd played the week before at Mother's Bar and Grille on the Centre Square.

The Chicago-based band's members are also part of the body modification crowd, and on the side, some of them are experts in “suspension,” or the art of creating temporary piercings that are then connected to ropes, when pulled taut, hang the participant for a length of time. The idea is not only to created a visual effect, but to push limits of personal experience.

Fleshwurks, located at the edge of Wilson Borough, is also
host to a gallery that shows related art.

“This is something I've wanted to do for about 12 years. It's been a serious thought for a very long time,” Smart said. “I was just fascinated by it.”

So, after meeting band member Pervert Scum (pronounced 'Skoom') and hitting it off, Smart arranged for the band to come back after their next gig in Worcester, Mass., to do a suspension session in his studio/gallery space at Freemansburg Avenue and 25th Street in Wilson Borough.

Suspension is only done by a few members of the body modification crowd, and it obviously takes a lot of trust and skill, as well as experience in such matters, to successfully achieve this without causing lasting damage.

Those into modifying their bodies do it not only for appearance's sake, they say. The transformations they undergo through tattooing, piercing, branding and other related experiences, such as suspension also reflect their varying ideologies.

College Hill resident Blair Kettler, who also participated last Saturday, had tried suspension about five years prior at the age of 33, and was eager to experience it again.

“I call that my Christ year. I think you have 33 years to change the world, or at least change yourself,” Kettler said, adding that in addition to suspension, adding certain tattoos, all with personal spiritual significance, along with attending the Burning Man festival, were on his to-do list that year. He got the sought-after tattoos, but Burning Man didn't happen due to not being able to get enough time off from work to attend.

“You'll see my tattoos. I've a very spiritual nature. I was expecting a spiritual experience,” Kettler said as preparations were being made for Saturday's session. “That didn't happen.”

He added that the rush of adrenaline and endorphins he experienced during that event did make the experience more than a little memorable.


From left, Rachel Gumulak, Jeremy Smart, Blair Kettler, and Dave Getz,
along with two others, watch as preparations are made for the
suspension session.

“It made me very aware of my body,” Kettler said. “It made me aware that a lot of people complain about things they have no right to complain about.”

While Kettler knew what to expect, and Smart, having multiple piercings and working in the business presumably had an idea of what might happen, Dave Getz, who just turned 21 and also lives in Easton, had no experience with suspension prior to Saturday.

“This will be my first time,” Getz said, adding that he was “scared sh**less.”

But he was also excited and “a little thrilled,” despite being nervous about what he was about to do.

“I've always had this real fascination with pain. It's a motivator for people in a lot of things” Getz said. “Why not explore it? Why not see what pain you can take, what pain you can't and it's limits?”

He added, “I'm as much afraid of it as anyone else, but I'm interested in it enough to ask questions about it.”

Getz was interested enough that he'd approached Smart more than six months ago to see if doing a suspension session was possible, but at that point Smart didn't know anyone that did it.

When Smart met Scum at Mother's, all that changed.

Scum has spent years around the scene and learned to assist many more experienced suspension facilitators before he felt confident enough to call himself any form of expert or attempted to run a suspension session himself, he said.

Now Scum owns Disgraceland Wasteland Suspensions, based out of his hometown, Chicago, and the business is an adjunct to the band “Whut?”. Sessions are often arranged around where the band is traveling, in addition to Scum and Disgraceland being a fixture on the national body modification scene.

Experiencing suspension with Disgraceland costs about $150 per person, and sessions are tailored to each participant individually.

The Disgraceland Wasteland team, led by Pervert Scum,
holding the rigging, begins to assemble the equipment
necessary for the suspension session.
While an outsider might not believe it, an immense amount of care is taken to set up a suspension properly. The idea is to provide the perfect controlled environment each suspendee intends to experience. Not causing lasting damage, preventing infection and controlling the amount of pain experienced according to the client's wishes is key, and this not only takes a lot of experience, but time.

Arriving around 8 p.m., getting everything set up takes nearly three hours at Fleshwurks' space.

Nothing is rushed, and Scum is assisted by a number of people, who all work carefully under his direction, though he also takes input from those also experienced in the art. He also inquires into any concerns the participants might have, as well as individually assessing their skin near the planned piercing sites so he can best determine exactly how they should hang and any potential issues that may crop up along the way.

Preparation for the participants also includes lots of water and Gatorade or Vitamin Water to make sure they are well-hydrated and have ample electrolytes, as they will likely sweat a lot during the event, along with sugary snacks and plenty of protein.

The use of alcohol or drugs is forbidden prior to a session.

Smart explains the preparations are similar for tattooing and piercing.

“You're exerting yourself. It's a lot of adrenaline, followed by an endorphin rush,” he said, adding that making sure one has enough to eat and drink before lessens the chance of fainting or vomiting, both clearly things to be avoided.

While the rig is being set up, a small mountain of these things are procured from the Wawa down the street by the participants along with a few invited friends who have come in support and to observe the special event.

While the foodstuffs are being chosen, first thing, three holes are bored in the rafters in the studio according to Scum's specifications. Two will hold the suspension rigging, similar to one for climbing or rappelling, and the third will guide the rope smoothly.

Next, the rigging is assembled from brand new rope. Despite that there is little chance of them coming in contact with any body fluids, blood or sweat, every precaution is being taken. All the ropes that are used are discarded after the event and all the other equipment used is sterile.

Pervert Scum, leader of the Disgraceland
Wasteland team, attaches the final
ropes to the rigging.
At least six people are involved in the assembly process, and most are experienced, in addition to Scum.

While the participants are clearly eager for the event, they mostly remain outside the front door of the studio, smoking and somewhat nervously chatting about a variety of topics with invited guests.

Occasionally, they peek in to see how things are going during the preparations.

As they near completion however, they and guests begin to gather in the front room gallery space.

Only one of the observers regrets she will not be participating—Jolene Bliss, of Whitehall.

Bliss said she would have jumped at the opportunity too, only she found out too late and was short of cash.

“I feel it's definitely a spiritual thing. Every tattoo I get makes me more aware of my body and it's primal nature,” Bliss said.

Kettler's live-in fiance, August Rabinsky is there in support of the event too, though she said she has no desire to try suspension.

“I'm all for people trying to experiment with spirituality and body modification,” Rabinsky says.

Others, while clearly supportive of the participants and the event, are a bit more ambivalent toward the method of their personal experimentation.

A friend of Smart's, Rachel Gumulak, who is from the Pocono region and works in a psychiatric hospital, was clearly a bit conflicted, even apprehensive about what is about to unfold.

“It's really very interesting,” Gumulak says with a slight grimace. “Controlled chaos is the only thing that comes to mind.”

Signed release forms. They
include a warning that
shock can be life threatening.
As it becomes time for the reason everyone has gathered to really begin, a few last things are finalized.

Medical supplies, including boxes of sterile gloves and gauze are laid out, and Scum makes sure that everyone's release forms are properly signed. He also checks to make sure no one is allergic to latex or has any other concerns.

It is decided among the three local participants, all of who will be doing a “suicide” hang, or two piercings through the skin at the shoulder blades, that Kettler will go first, Getz second, and Smart third.

There is one more participant, Shea (no last name given), from Brooklyn, who will go last. She's very experienced, “a pro” as one person puts it, and she will be attempting a “resurrection” suspension—in this case, four piercings in the stomach region from which she intends to be lifted off the ground.

Shea's reasons seem a bit different from the others', though clearly she is also testing her limits, as the position will be a new one for her.

“I get a nice release out of it,” she said of her many suspension experiences. “It makes all the bad stuff go away. Your really can't understand it until you see it.”

With everything set and ready to go, Kettler takes off his shirt, and Scum checks out the places to be pierced.

“I'm very happy to go first,” Kettler tells Getz. “Those nerves you're dealing with, as they build, I'll be over and done with. I'm doing this with as little drama as possible.”

Kettler goes to lay down on a chair in the shop's piercing area, and Shea massages his skin to relax the area.

Scum explains that everyone is different, and Kettler's skin is very thick. He'll be choosing the piercing and hooks accordingly.

Blair Kettler, of Easton's College Hill neighborhood, checks
out his hooks after being pierced.
“We try to make it as comfortable as possible,” he says to Kettler. “We'll work with your breathing. If you need a break, just let us know.”

But Kettler doesn't need a break, and the piercing and hooks are installed quickly. There is a surprisingly little amount of blood.

Kettler checks the handiwork out in a mirror, takes a swig of water and a few moments to mentally prepare himself. He then positions himself under the rig, declaring he is ready to go.

Blair Kettler takes a swig of water
and eyes the rigging, preparing
for what comes next.
Scum attaches him to the rigging, and the rope is gently pulled taut by another, with a third behind him for safety, and also to take up any slack.

Blair Kettler, as he gets off the ground.
It's then slowly pulled tighter until Kettler's skin is pulled up with the rigging, though his feet are on the ground. He grimaces—clearly this hurts, though the pain is controlled and perhaps less than one might imagine, given the circumstances.

But he breathes through the sensation, under Scum's direction, and as he gets used to it, he gives the go-ahead for the rope to be pulled more and more, until he is no longer standing on the ground, but suspended in mid-air. Applause and cheers from the small crowd break out.

Once air-borne, Kettler declares that he feels great. Somewhat incredibly, he's smiling and laughing. He jokes, mostly about hanging, and “hookers”. To intensify things, he swings around a bit, all the while chatting about various subjects with assembled guests, many of who are taking pictures and recording the event on their cell phones.

All in all, Kettler spends about 40 minutes in the air, suspended by the piercings through his shoulder blades. He's reluctant to come down, he's having such a blast.



Blair Kettler has a great time,and stays suspended
for about 40 minutes. He's actually laughing
and joking in this picture.
 But though no one pressures him to end the session, he very graciously explains that since he's tried it before and others who haven't are waiting, not to mention it's past midnight, he's satisfied.

Shea bandages Blair Kettler's wounds after his suspension session.
Back on the ground, it's a quick trip back to the chair to have the hooks removed. At this point, the wounds ooze some blood, but it's a lot less than one might expect.. He's quickly bandaged up, and he's still smiling and quite happy.

“I feel good. I feel really good,” Kettler says.

It's now Getz's turn, and the process is repeated, though Scum chooses a different style of hook for him.
Getz's skin is much thinner and he's taller too, which changes things slightly.

Pervert Scum checks Dave Getz's
piercings prior to his suspension.
It takes Getz a little longer than Kettler to get used to the sensation, and he seems to be in more pain. At one point, he goes a bit green, and there seems a danger of him passing out.

Everything stops. He takes a swig of Gatorade. Scum checks the piercing sites, a small amount of oozing blood is sopped up with sterile gauze, and he assures Getz that it's okay to quit. But Getz regains his composure and wants to continue.

It takes him a bit longer to get off the ground, and when he does, there's little clearance from the floor due to his height.

Dave Getz concentrates as he gets off the ground.
It's decided that it's best to lower him back down, and the rig is adjusted. Then he's slowly lifted again, with better results. He seems to enjoy the experience, though his suspension is much shorter than Kettler's session. There's a lot less conversation and most of it revolves around Getz's comfort level and sensations he's feeling this time.

In all, he's in the air for about 10 minutes before he decides he's had enough.

But after the piercings are removed and his wounds are bandaged, Getz is euphoric.

“That was...incredible! Way more of a rush than I was expecting,” he says to everyone with a grin. “Remember what I said about pain being like food? That was like crack-laced calamari!”

Now it's Smart's turn.

Though he's never done a suspension session, he's got and given many piercings and seems perfectly comfortable with the process.

Fleshwurks' Jeremy Smart clearly is clearly enjoying himself.
He's off the ground in what seems like no time, and like Kettler, is immediately smiling and laughing while he dangles from the ceiling ropes.

“This is sooo relaxing,” he says, while the crowd watches and takes photos and videos. “I could do this every day.”

“Don't do this every day,” says one member of Scum's team immediately. “But you've got the holes in your ceiling. Just call someone in New York to give us a call. We'll be right over,” he adds with a grin.

Jeremy Smart literally swings from the
rafters and bounces off the walls.
“Seriously, don't do this yourself until you know what you're doing,” says another.

“Right on,” replies Smart. “But seriously. This is great. I love it...It's not what I thought at all. It's really relaxing.”
Smart swings, and he spins. On the advice of the team, he tries a few slightly different positions while hanging. He swings some more, more vigorously, at one point pushing himself off the walls of his studio.

Then, he decides more weight would intensify the experience. He asks Gumulak for a hug.

Jeremy Smart asks Rachel  Gumulak for a hug
during his suspension session.
Directed by Scum, Gumulak wraps her arms around Smart's neck, while he embraces her around the waist. Carefully wrapping first one ankle and then the other around Smart's, Gumulak is lifted and adds her weight to Smart's. He loves it.

Smart swings some more, and ultimately spends nearly 50 minutes “hanging around” his shop. He, like Kettler, is somewhat reluctant to end the session, but he's also aware of the lateness of the hour, and Shea, who's session is expected to be more complicated, is still waiting to go.

Though Scum assures him he can take as long as he likes, Smart opts to come down. He says again that he feels great, “But I know I'm going to be sore tomorrow.”

“You will. But only for a couple of days,” says someone in the crowd. A joke about sex and being sore is made, and laughter breaks out all around the room.

Smart is lowered, piercings are removed, and he's bandaged up.

The team begins preparations for Shea's session, and everyone else takes a break.

“I can't wait to do this again,” Getz tells Kettler outside. “I can't believe you waited five years to do it again.”
Smart is also still euphoric.

“I had a blast. It was the best experience of my life...Well, one of them,” he says.

Being that he's a Marine who's parachuted four times and served for two years in Iraq, that's clearly saying something.

He figures too that his experience with “primal” body art made a difference.

“I'm an artist, so I know what skin is capable of,” he says, explaining that the mental perception of gravity and weight needs to be overcome. “ But it takes you a minute to adjust.”

Bliss, said watching didn't change her mind about wanting to try it.

“That was really cool,” she said. “I'm really glad I came.”

Others, while they seemed to have no problem witnessing the experience, said they have no intention of trying it themselves.

“I'd do it, but I hate people sticking stuff into me,” says one guy. “I love my tattoos though.”

It's now well after two in the morning, and preparations for Shea's session are complete.

She's been pierced in four places on her midriff while the rest of the crowd is outside, and when everyone returns to the studio, the mood immediately changes.

Shea is lying on her back on the now-tarped floor, listening intently to a favorite song, a smooth metal piece with lyrics about pain. She's got her eyes closed and is singing the the words softly but intently, with one hand cupping the pieces that will attach her piercings to the rigging.

(At her request, as well as due to the graphic nature of the scene, we've omitted most photos of this portion of the event.)

Scum works on the attachment gently and carefully, though swiftly, while a few of the most experienced members of the team stand by, sterile gloves on and gauze at the ready. This time, there is definitely more blood involved and it's clear that Shea, however experienced, is testing limits.

Fleshwurks' Jermy Smart watches, obviously concerned, as
Shea tests her limits.
The crowd, which has suddenly gotten a bit smaller, watches silently. Some photos and video are taken, but no one is smiling.

Scum speaks with Shea quietly. She nods, and the ropes are very slowly brought taut.

At first she moans, and then tells them to stop.

It is clear that what is going on is on another level than the first three sessions.

Despite clearly being in an incredible, nearly unbearable amount of pain, Shea continues, comforted by Scum and others. She refuses to quit the attempt.

The mood in the room gets even more somber. Some go outside. Those that stay, watch intently, and most look very concerned.

There is more blood, and at times, Shea cries out.

She gets about 16 inches up in the air, with only her feet still on the ground for support in her horizontal position.

Then, nearly screaming in pain, she panics and grabs at the rigging to lessen the pull on the piercings through her flesh. Immediately, before permanent damage can be done, she is caught and supported, cradled in the arms of one of the guys on the team.

She is nauseous, and nearly about to faint.

Shea is unhooked quickly from the rigging and escorted back to the piercing chair. It appears her session is over.

But unbelievably, after about 15 minutes and a few bites of cheese and roast beef, she insists on trying again.

It is decided that she will make her second attempt from the chair, which is moved to under the suspension rig.

The second time involves more blood flow still, though not a dangerous amount, and again, more pain. There is nothing euphoric or happy about the scene.

After a very tense 10 minutes or so, Shea, who is in tears and crying out though refusing to end the session, does manage to be suspended momentarily in mid-air by the four piercings through her stomach area. Then she immediately calls for it to end.

Rather than lowering the ropes, she is again cradled and her weight fully supported by a team members, while Scum comforts her and the attachments are removed.

No one looks happy as Shea tests her limits with a
suspension attempt that is extreme, even for those
experienced with such events.
Scum also asks everyone to leave the room and stop all photography and video because Shea's experience has not only become intense, but intensely private.

Everyone complies, and outside, the grave mood does not lift, though there is clearly relief that it's over.

“She actually wanted to go up on two hooks, if you can believe,” says one person, shaking their head.

“I don't know how I feel about what I just saw,” says Gumulak, who looks visibly shaken.

Even the earlier participants appeart to think this might just be going too far.

“It will be at least a few more times before I try that,” says Getz, with a look that says he has no intention of ever trying it at all. “It's bad enough to be pulled up by two hooks in your back. That, I don't know.”

“She's got my respect, though,” says someone else, shaking his head. “Wow...and she did get off the ground.”

But after about half an hour, the team begins to dismantle the rigging and clean up.

Shea emerges from the studio upright, though looking a bit pale and shaky.

She says she feels “alright, though not great.” Then she sits down carefully on a couch. She's been patched up, but she's still clearly bleeding. There are extra bits of gauze to catch whatever might escape the bandages.

She says she's disappointed with her experience that night, and herself, and plans to try the “resurrection” again at some time in the future, though she's not sure when it will be.

The recommended time between suspensions is a month, according to Scum's guidelines.

Blair Kettler holds the rope for another participant after
swinging from the rafters.
As for her condition, Shea says she's not worried, saying she's been through it before and expects she'll be feeling much better by the next day at the latest. She added that she needs to think about things, and might change her mind about “failing” the next day.

And, she says she expects she'll get the experience she's trying for next time.

Shortly after, the birds began to sing. Hugs and farewells, along with contact info and thoughts for next time, exchanged, the last of the crowd disperses, headed home, both near and far, as dawn and light breaks on the horizon.

Jeremy Smart, formerly of Easton's Pleasure and Pain studio, says he plans on future suspension sessions at his newly opened space, Fleshwurks, located at 2495 Freemansburg Ave. They may possibly happen on a regular basis, if it can be arranged. Those interested in attending or participating can reach him at the gallery/studio, call him at 610-438-4293 or communicate via email at fleshwurks@yahoo.com

Pervert Scum and the Disgraceland Wasteland Suspensions team are based in Romeoville, IL, near Chicago, though they travel extensively. Their work can be seen online at WastedYouthTattoo.com , the website of Scum's shop, Wasted Youth Tattoo and Piercing. They may be reached via email at info@suburban171.com

The band “Whut?”tours regularly throughout the country and recently played at Mother's Bar and Grille just off of Easton's Centre Square. Their website is whauthc.com, and they can also be found at facebook.com/whuthc, myspace.com/whuthc and twitter.com/whuthc. Their music is also out on SBE Records and is available through iTunes, cdbaby, Amazon.com, Napster and other online music retail sites.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you, that was better than I was expecting.

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    Replies
    1. Jer'Fleshwurks' SmartJune 4, 2012 at 3:26 PM

      Thats an understatement!! Love It!

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  2. This past Memorial Day I did my second suspension. I was fortunate to meet a local reporter the week prior who was starting a blog about the goings on of Easton. Well I informed her about the suspension and she all to excited about it. She attended the event and was there for the duration. I think she did an excellent job in reporting the event

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  3. Jer Fleshwurks SmartJune 4, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    What an amazing and beautifully written article.. Thank you soOo very much for coming out and joining and documenting this amAazing and spiritual event with us hun, It truly was an honor meeting you and one hell of a way to spend a memorial day.. Amazing Times with Amazing people!!

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  4. I would like to say that sometimes testing one's limits can be overwhelming and even scary to some. This particular evening was very difficult for me and I feel that although to a lot of observers and even myself that night it seemed like I didn't accomplish my goals. I initially had planned to go up and cut down to two hooks, because of the extreme emotional release that happened this night, this didn't happen. Even that night I felt like I had failed and was disappointed, however I did push through it, I did get off the ground. And the emotional release, which is pretty much all I personally look for when I suspend anyways, was well achieved. The next day, and following week, even now I still feel it. I feel as though a lot of negative energy was released that night and I feel a lot stronger and better because of it. Yes, sometimes it can be really scary when that much is pushed out of your body and I think it was even overly visible, not only through emotion but the fact that I wouldn't stop bleeding. As much as I loved my first resurrection, after the fact I think that this one might have been a stronger release. It was a great moment, I think resurrections will always be my favorite. :)

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    Replies
    1. Beautifully stated Shea!! You couldn't have said it any better!! ;)

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  5. Very cool, objective piece about a subculture that doesn't often get an objective look from our profession. Thanks for writing.

    ReplyDelete