ITW by Laurent Courau / La Spirale (english)


Laurent Courau : Let’s go back quickly to the legal issues of last spring, the reasons for this trial and your own conclusions regarding the judgment. Did you fear you might be used as a scapegoat and what would have been the risk encountered supposing the court would have convicted you?

Lukas Zpira : I was charged with voluntary aggravated assault on a minor after having performed a scarification on Pierre Yves Revellin who was sixteen at the time, whose father happens to be a lawyer, and put in a complaint. I was risking four years of imprisonment and a 45 000 euro fine. To cut the story short i was acquitted in the first instance as well as at the appeal, both times at the request of the prosecuting attorney. I had a pretty solid case and a lot of support…yours to begin with, as well as Thierry Ehrmann’s and the whole Abode of Chaos crew. Sociologist Philippe Liotard also came to testify in my favor and people such as the Anthropologists Bernard Andrieux and David Lebreton wrote letters explaining my work.

What’s really interesting here is the position held by the public prosecutors department, which in this case represents the government. It states in its judgment that scarification does not constitute an act of violence. This stance is quite progressive considering the average french person’s opinion on this topic. What is even more surprising and of huge importance is the fact that the judge asserts that from sixteen years of age we may do whatever we want with our body. I definitely wasn’t expecting this!

L.C : On a more general level, now in 2010 what do you think is the attitude of the french and foreign institutions in regard to “alternative body practices”? If i remember correctly 2008 and 2009 saw a real resurgence of legal proceedings against body art practitioners notably in Canada but in other countries as well…

Institutions have a tendency to reprimand anything that doesn’t fit in the mold but really they’re only playing their role. They check what goes on, they censor, they reassure and pretend to protect people, they control and frighten through media. They have “responsabilities” which they assume somewhat lamentably but i guess they’re simply fulfilling their function.

Obviously everybody knows that these institutions aren’t really “fair-play” specially if you don’t play with their rules but rather with their limits.But as long as you don’t go too overboard and can afford a good lawyer you should be fine. What we do is not that threatening to them, yet. They have already categorized us and put us away on dusty shelves amidst other counter cultures of the last century . The tidying up will come slowly, bit by bit, file by file. The institutions are already getting those in the “scene” looking to get some respectability to do the dirty work for them. In all of the counter cultures that have survived more than a decade this has always been the problem, those seeking recognition are in fact a cancer. And this is why I am a bit disgusted, you see i was judged and acquitted by the french government. If i would have been judged by those from the “alternative body modification scene” i would already be in jail…

Andrew Nilan, a young Canadian piercer, was suppose to go to trial for ‘illegal practice of medicine” following a procedure he did. A few weeks before the hearing of his sentence he committed suicide. What really killed him though is the fact that he was alone through the entire ordeal, without any support from those in the “alternative body modification scene” . The judgment would have created an interesting jurisprudence and everyone should have backed him up. But instead, “institutions” of the “scene” such as BME and BMX, and all those who transformed this utopia into a business, pretty much just ignored the subject.

The government is definitely exerting pressures, and this mostly through the medical lobby. There is a lot at stake when the body and its control is concerned and many members of the “alternative body practices scene” willfully play the game, whose rules are set by the government, in exchange for a “restricted” right to practice. In Australia, an important member of piercer’s association even threaten to denounce me and I know for a fact that the East Australia Health Department was running an investigation on me. There was an arrest in Japan too and i’m pretty sure I have a file with my name written on it and since then there hasn’t been any bodmod related events.

I’ve been wanting to do a U.S. coast to coast tour for a while now but it’s a bit tense. Even Shannon Larratt from BME had advised me against it. Should something happen, going from state to state the offense then becomes a federal crime which can get pretty hot. Once you’re on fire don’t expect anyone to put you out. When I had my problem in France I was lucky to have Thierry (Ehrmann) help me with the legal fees for the first trial. But when it went into appeal I spread the word in France that it was possible to help via donations. I needed 3500 euros and i got 2200, mostly from kids who wanted to get involved, at least for the principle of it. Besides a few long time friends who are in the business, no one dared to lift a finger. If it weren’t for the internet, my blogs and others sites such as yours the whole affair would have gone unnoticed, whether I go to jail or not.

L.C : Paradoxically at that period i never perceived you to have any antisocial urges or being a danger for those around you. You’ve certainly built a lifestyle that doesn’t follow the norms. You might be considered as marginal or eccentric but it seems to me that your approach is more constructive than destructive, this being of course my opinion. As far as the french society is concerned, where do you position yourself and what is your stance in regard to the fringes here and else where?

“Marginal” doesn’t have much of a meaning, besides, the system is well made. It swallows, spits out, formats, manipulates and transforms…Its an incredible machine. A multiple head monster. I don’t want to end up a victim so I’m not going to play David facing the infernal dragon. The “fringes” are an integral part of the system in which I’m not claiming to have a particular position. I’m just there de facto and not attacking the system per say. I’m just scattering grains of salt in the mechanism of this big machine and sowing seeds on my way. Reality is just a consensus we can alter. What interests me is to touch people in a way, to create some T.A.Z. in their minds through my work on the body, on this shell which envelops us and to which we often become prisoners. This approach seems like a good plan, at least it is for me and those close to me.

Transformation through the body is not obligatory. Being aware of what we are and the path we choose is enough. I don’t do what I do to piss off anyone but simply because I feel the need to. My approach was at first artistic and somewhat selfish. It has slowly drifted towards something more altruistic and political. I’m not trying to proselytize, I’m just expressing my ideas.

L.C : We have now entered an era where the body finds itself in the field of huge financial stakes, whether it be for medical and pharmaceutical purposes, for well-being and aesthetic or for insurance companies whose control on our lifestyle seem to be exponential. What do you think are the main risks, traps and dangers of this economical and political war around these organisms?

For me the only real danger is what we may call the “collective interest”, specially when it starts to tread on our freedom. We’ve seen how easy it is to control and manipulate people, in the name of this so-called “well being”, with notions of fear. Fear of religion, of 9/11, or H1N1. Our future as a species is quickly deteriorating. Man as we know it now might not be around much longer. It’s about time we worry about who’s gonna pull the strings and for what intent.

Yes the stakes are definitely enormous. Probably one of the biggest open market as of yet. The derivatives are countless and the schemes profuse. We might see an emergence of a new humankind whose evolution will be dictated by needs (often of others) norms (obviously) wealth (personal) social position, geographic situation or cultural and social environment.

If you’re American and made a fortune with the internet or new technologies, chances are that for a few millions bucks you’ll get to live till you’re 150 and never have to worry if you can still get it up or not., you’ll be like superman! But If you’re African and haven’t had time to think about making it big because well you’re too busy just trying to survive, chances are that you’ll die at 35 from AIDS or some pediatric disease like the measles because you can’t get the 5 euro vaccine you need.

It sends chills up my spine when I think about it. I personally began the battle through reflection and then took action, which I respectively call ” Body Hacktivism” and “Body Hacking”. It’s still at an anecdotal stage but the idea is to at least trigger the process of questioning and bring forth some answers.

L.C : I haven’t been following on updates of new techniques for body modification since a few hears so I’m not aware of it’s evolution. Are there any important news? Have you been implanting on others RFID chips such as the one you have implanted in your hand? I believe there were talks of developing specific applications for these chips which meets the notions of body hacking. Have you been working on new projects of technological implants?

I still have the RFID implant in my hand but haven’t found anyone to work on application development but I’m not giving up…

Other than that for the past four years I’ve been secretly working on a new type of implant which I boldly named M.A.T.S.I. (Multi Application Titanium Skin Interface). It is basically a sort of receptacle (a pod) made of titanium where the centre of the piece sits below skin level . The skin around this pod is what holds it in place. It is then possible to place various objects in the receptacle. It can be whatever you want. For the second generation i would like to put in an MP3 player. Despite a few defects during the conception of the prototype, the first generation test proved to be successful as it’s still in my arm. Because of its design its possible to put in an electronic device but with the option of being able to take it out should it stop working, or recharge it or replace it for a new one. The first prototype is 2 cm in diameter and round but i think its possible to go as large as 15 cm square if the placement on the body is adequate.

I came to this result after fusing two ideas. The first one was to eliminate parts of the skin in order to create a new interface which in theory is impossible. The second idea was to create a technological implant without encountering the problem of becoming prisoner of a unique technology. I had been pondering about functional implants for a while but the rapid evolution of these objects in terms of their size, memory capacity or processor speed was always a problem. Another issue was how to supply energy to these items and the last but not least was the long term reliability. With this system everything becomes possible since the implant is not subcutaneous but transcutaneous. It’s both inside and outside. Now the real problem for me is the lack of financial means. I’m basically working on developing these alone in my corner without any support or subvention. If everything goes well I should be able to present the latest model with the MP3 player sometime next year…but I repeat that the possible applications are numerous.

In the same field of research, Stelarc (who has always been a great inspiration for me) has finally been able to develop his third ear project and has been awarded with the Ars Electronica Golden Nica, quite a prestigious prize, for his work on hybridation. Unfortunately I strongly believe he is not getting the credit he deserves. A few years back I had negotiated with Stelarc and Cyril of Hors-Editions (which sadly no longer exists) to publish a re-edition of Stelarc’s somewhat forgotten work on suspension which he experimented with long before the “modern primitive” movement. This project included several new archives, some magnificent images, unrevealed footage and texts translated in 3 languages dating back to this period. At the request of Stelarc I had drafted the preface but the crisis hit and Hors-Edition didn’t survive. This beautiful project never made it past the stage of mock-up.

In another sphere there is also the work of Kevin Warwick, whose interview which dates back to the late 90’s can be found on La Spirale’s website. Although he seems to have been inactive since then, his assistant’s work (kind of anecdotal), probably in need of some publicity, implanted himself with a chip which he then infected with a virus. Now where things get really interesting is the domain of sports and the military but most of all of people affected by invalidism or amputation, whether it be from a body part or impaired of a faculty.

I have a blog (Ndlr : where I regularly post links or articles related to this domain. There’s enough to imagine a very interesting future, where we will all live till we are 100 years old, with over-developed senses, almost omiscient. I remember smiling to myself while having a look at a 1960’s book explaining how new technologies would be at the service of mankind (or mainly to housewives ) with all the designs and ideas for domotics. Besides micro-waves and luxury car accessories we are far from these utopias of the past and I can’t even imagine what the future leaders have in mind as far as my utopias are concerned!

In the “alternative” scene of body modifications there has been a few evolutions but no real revolution. I have been waiting a while for new concepts to emerge, different point of views or maybe new influences, but so far I haven’t see anything exciting. I’m not sure anymore its worth expecting anything but I’m still hopeful to see someone come out with something interesting. But one thing is sure, BME etc is dead and obsolete.

L.C : Speaking of technology, we’ve witnessed that most of the alternative fields of the nineties and beginning of 2000, notably cyberculture, has now drifted further form its original futuristic vision to shift towards retro tendencies, from burlesque to the revival of 70’s and 80’s punk and the come back of cold wave or old school hip hop. Which areas are you still able to perceive this special vibration, optimistic and prospective, once found everywhere at that time, from free parties to publications such as Cyberzone?

The thing is that we’ve gone from cyberculture dreams to cyberpunk nightmares. Fortunately good things always come out of trash. Of course somewhere sometimes very powerfull things happen but its getting more and more difficult for those things to survive. Cyberzone which unfortunatey only published 4 (excellent) issues is a good example. Maxence Grugier, the founder of the magazine and who also happens to be a genius of the press, had to take on a day job in order to pay his rent. The publication was too avant garde, not profitable or exploitabe. From the days of Cyberzone until now, we’ve invented and imposed reality tv as the new standard of entertainment. We desperately search far and wide in the four corners of the world for “hidden talents” and hope to watch them hatch through our big plasma screens, as they would inside an incubator!

Art is being institutionalised and patronage died with the 20th century, those in power preferring speculation over philanthropy. I don’t think we’ll see anything new come out of the artistic field if we follow this road. Thierry Ehrmann’s Abode Of Chaos is one of the rare exception. But the tittle of the biennale I will be curating there next summer speaks for itself : “Surviving The Apocalypse” (Ndlr : Unfortunately we don’t see much optimism these days. Seems like the only type of optimism we see is associated with luxury and symbols of social success. I guess that’s the dream nowadays, to sit comfortably high enough on the social ladder to avoid the sewer smells coming from down below.

The shift you mention actually demonstrates a type of withdrawal of values in every circles, even in the alternative ones. It comes from the fear of the future, fear of taking risks. It basically comes down to a lack of initiative and imagination. It’s interesting to note that the cycle we have experienced since the beginning of the 20th century that would normally bring the arrival of a new music genre (and the cultural movement that would come with it) has been broken. Since the techno revolution nothing new has immerged. We keep ruminating the same music, the same fashion. The media is telling us that this is all cyclical instead of telling us we’re just going around in circles

Steampunk’s popularity is a good example of this withdrawal into oneself, and may symbolize a type of fear of new technologies. Things of virtual nature are replaced by more palpable objects, familiar and recognizable. We are no longer in the imaginary world but rather one of desire. Tim Burton’s Alice goes to Underland, not Wonderland. She kills the Jabberwocky and drinks his blood. Lewis Carrol said…”Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it”

L.C : Recently a politics commentator was saying that ‘France is an old tired country.” I can definitely say for myself that I would extend this statement to the rest of Europe (maybe not all but most of its countries). Through your travels, how do you perceive the different dynamics in Europe, North America, Australia, South America and Japan? Is this sense of exhaustion specific to France and Europe? Or is it found worldwide?

I completely agree with you as far as the phenomenon extending throughout Europe. The thing with France is its tendency to always overreact, like a need for self-compassion. I’ve bee traveling since 10 years and observing. I see France plunging deeper and deeper, Europe is crumbling to pieces, the U.S. have become a caricature of itself and Canadians just trying to hold onto their identity. Japan is exhausted trying to get itself out of a crisis only to fall into the next one, Asia in general is lost between tradition and evolution, between sharing and the law of supply and demand. As far as Africa goes, it’s just trying to survive or exist, racism is omnipresent. I guess Australasia is not doing too bad, perhaps because it’s isolated and maybe some parts of South America, it’s got nothing left to lose (if we put aside the Chavez case that is)

We are finding ourselves under more and more control and surveillance, constantly tested. Ghettos are becoming more ghetto, the riches take refuge in their fortified mansions and the middle class end up in lodgings under video surveillance. There is still just as much cash circulating in the world but its repartition has changed a lot since the crisis. No big news here, the poor are poorer and the rich, richer. I’m just surprised there aren’t more violent reactions and terrorism other than religious. I’ve been traveling long enough to say that I like the world and the human as an individual, I’m almost filled with hopes at times but humans as a group or species makes me sick.

The world is on the verge of chaos and it’s a pity because it can be incredibly beautiful if we just look at it other than through our television. I have a project called “the chaos chronicles”around that topic. it’s a nomadic point of view of our world, using photos, videos and text. For now I put everything in a blog In the future I would like to arrange my travels around that project to push it further.

L.C : You’re one of the rare people i know to have gone so far into examining their original identity and social conditioning, which I’m sure gives you a particular point of view on the world surrounding you. Based on your personal experiences what necessary actions must be taken in order to trigger a psychological and creative awakening of our societies? What kind of advice would a “freak” give to the working mass and normative society to get out of the rut in which it has fallen into?

Hahaha! Ok. I don’t judge individual choices but try to understand them and I’m not here to give any lessons but if people gave the respect to others they themselves expect in return it would be a good first step forward. Respect is something that is lacking in all environments; the value of one’s word is also really important specially nowadays where so much relies on verbal agreement; to allow yourself the right to change, to never forget your dreams and that you always have the possibility of choice, even though it seems difficult. Also maybe to realize that to love doesn’t mean to posess, even if we’ve always been told the opposite.

But anyways, I’m not gonna play the guru! …Believe it or not, I always try to see things positively and with a smile, to do things in a serious way but not take myself too seriously! My philosophy is a mix of Dalai Lama and Robert Sheckley whose quote i always keep in mind: “Anything ceases to be funny from the moment it sits on you”.

L.C : You are the father of a fourteen year old teenager who’s been traveling around the world by your side since she was very little. If I remember correctly you once said during an interview for the movie “No Body is Perfect” that you hoped your daughter would not be confronted to the boundaries you experienced in your youth. Which brings me to ask you, what is your vision of the future today?

Mayliss has been traveling with me since she was five years old. We’ve been to five continents and twenty five countries together. I’ve always tried to prepare the way for her and give her opportunities, to show her that everything is possible as long as you make the effort, that there is not only one way or one truth, that between black and white there are so many shades of grey. But most of all I try to teach her respect. Respect of others and of herself . I think it’s the foundation of everything.

Despite what some believe, to try won’t cost you any more than not doing anything. All of this happened thanks to her, so I owe her at least that much. We build the world we live in. “what you give is what you get” they say. I try to give the best of myself to live in a better world. Even though my vision of the world can be quite pessimistic at times, I can’t give up, not yet anyways. No matter what happens I know i’ve still got things to do. Something can come out of all this…Like many, I’m still searching.

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