“Transformation and Bødy Hactivism through body suspensions”. Interview.

by Federica Manfredi

We would like to sincerely thank Lukas Zpira for the collaborative process that took the form of this interview (realized on May 22. 2020) and for the photo courtesy (All photos @ Lukas Zpira).
We would like to sincerely thank Lukas Zpira for the collaborative process that took the form of this interview (realized on May 22. 2020) and for the photo courtesy (All photos @ Lukas Zpira).

Lukas Zpira

PRESENTS HIMSELF AS A NOMAD TRANSDISCIPLINARY ARTIST [LUKASZPIRA.COM]. BORN IN FRANCE, HE IS WORLDWIDE KNOWN FOR HIS MANIFESTO “BØDY HACTIVISM” CREATED AT THE DAWN OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. AT THE CENTER OF SCENE THERE ARE THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE INDIVIDUAL THROUGH BODY INTERVENTIONS, THE DESIRE TO OVER-PASS BIOLOGICAL LIMITS AND THE ASPIRATION TO ACTIVELY DESIGN OURSELVES IN A METAMORPHOSIS INVOLVING MACHINES AND SCIENCE.

Why did you decide to write the Manifesto “Bødy Hactivism”?

In 2001 I went to Japan, where I introduced body modifications and body suspensions in the country. I did many thing in art galleries and I had a lot of press. It was always a little problem to give a definition of my work. The closest term at the time was Modern Primitive[1] which I never felt close to. I was from day one in something more prospectif, looking toward the future, not the past, and I never felt the need to use an anthropological back up to justify my work which was the tendency at the time. So often I was referred to as Cyberpunk or Transhumanist, but my ideas and the concepts I develop are perhaps somewhere in between, or simply somewhere else. I land in Japan thanks to Maeda, a journalist for Burst magazine[2]. He was traveling around the world documenting tattoo and body modifications. I met him in Toronto, back in 1998/99, during the Modcon, a private body practitioner event organized by Shannon Larratt who ran BME.com website. When I decided in 2001 to go to Japan, he was my connection there and became my informal manager. So around a conversation Maeda suggested me to write my own manifesto to define those concepts and to put a name on it. I was already using the term “Body Hacking” to talk about my work since end of the 90’, a neologism that came to me after reading a text from Arthur and Marylouise Kroker that was mentioning something about “Data Flesh”. I liked the idea of those two words together. I was seeing the body already as some kind of machine and was working around this idea of hybridization. When I wrote the manifesto I kept this idea of hacking to which I added the activism and the movement I was then creating. Hence the Bødy Hacktivism. The Ø is a sign I put in everything I want to give a personal definition.

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In our opinion, the performances of body suspension disclose your interest in between scientific curiosity and performing art. A body suspension is, from a mechanical point of view, the elevation of a person through hooks inserted in the skin as temporary piercings; hooks are connected to an above scaffolding and pulling the main rope there is the elevation of the person. When did you experienced your first suspension?

My first suspension happened in early 2000’s, I was in Arizona to meet Steve Haworth who did my first implants few years before. Steve’s suspension crew [http://www.lifesuspended.org ] was preparing everything and someone asked me “Do you want to try?”. I was “Oh, yeah, sure I wanna to try”. I didn’t have any expectations and I took it as an experience. I knew suspension existed through the Modern Primitive movement or Stelarc, but it never was something I was attracted by. But in that context, it was just something cool to try. I would have never imagine it would take me on such a journey and would be part of my piece of art still 20 years later. 

“I often use the metaphor of the butterfly to describe my work: it tells about the metamorphosis, the transformation”

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My first suspension was a really good experience. It wasn’t like anything I imagined. When I was suspending, someone asked me: “How do you feel?”. I answered: “I’m a butterfly!”, because I often use the metaphor of the butterfly to describe my work: it tells about the metamorphosis, the transformation.

After that, when I came back to Europe, I started to organize private suspension events. I had access to a little place in France, in the country side with a pool and trees. I started to invite few friends and then friends of friends. For few years the event brought people from different sides of Europe,  and many people from Europe did their first experience there. We were just few people in the world involved in the practice, but many were starving for experiences… as implants, scarification and suspensions… everything was new! Naturally, every time I was back in Europe I had people coming to me to try what was new.

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You are a pioneer in the introduction of the body suspension practice in Europe, circulating learnings, materials and techniques beyond national frontiers, from United States to Japan and through Europe. Why suspensions were so meaningful for you?

I was interested about the body experience, the physical reactions during a suspension, the role of endorphins and how your body react to pain and to energies. Also the psychological effect is what was interesting for me. The ritual aspect came later for me. 

I did suspensions for many years as part of my personal research and for my performances.  In 2006 I did a two-point chest suspension that turned bad for me. I couldn’t deal with the pain. I was in a really bad experience. Few months later I was back in Arizona. While speaking with Steve about the experience, a girl who was with us come into the conversation. She was a Native American so was in touch with the traditional approach of suspensions. She offered to help transforming the experience. She made me curious. It was Saturday and we planned a suspension on Wednesday. She told me to not eat until the day I will suspend. She basically introduced me to rituals showing me the way to an inner journey. 

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Was it your first fasting?

Yes, it was. Fasting was the only preparatory recommendation. And when I went for the suspension she did the ritual for me. The suspension was a good experience. 

Generally when you do a suspension you are surrounded by other people, someone smoking, talking and so on. And when you have to deal with the pain and emotions, the natural reflex is to look around. You look for someone to grab his hand, for some eye-contact, sometimes for validation. You are projected outside. This experience made me realize that everything you need is inside, within yourself, not in the others. By making me fasting, she pushed me to look inside myself. When you fast, the first days you have to deal with the uncomfortable, the third day you start to isolate yourself from everything. You start to be less social and then you enter in yourself, you enter in your own bubble. You enter in your envelope.

You don’t project yourself to the outside, to the others, anymore, but you look inside yourself: you start to hear your stomach making noise, you feel your blood circulating in your body, you start to feel how you breathe and you feel all the machines that you are inside, and slowly you start to become aware of your own mechanisms. You start to understand what is going on in your body, in your mind…

After that experience I always use this kind of approach to be ready for a suspension. I don’t always fast, but I always isolate myself, I shave my all body in the way to prepare the “envelope”, take the measure on my own space, create my bubble to then be ready for the moment we insert the hooks and to be able to suspend. I had many experiences with this process, learning how to process, step by step. Understanding all the energies involved. Breath is important. 

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Lukas, today when you support someone doing a suspension, do you still guide him/her using the power of breathing?

When I suspend someone I breathe close to him, because when people are in pain the breath is strong and the body responses put often people in panic mode: adrenaline is rushing, brain doesn’t work normally, you enter in a reptilien mode. People sometimes just “switch off”. There is nothing you can say that can make people feel better. But, If at this point you go close to the person and you start to breathe calmly, organically it start to connect to your respiration rhythm. So in that way you are connected, you can guide the person into his overwhelming emotions.

I often tried to translate the experience for the public during the performances, but even if the public appreciate my work, most of the time the conversation keep staying on the hooks, the blood, the pain. That’s not what my experience is about. 

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“Most of the time the conversation keep staying on the hooks, the blood, the pain. That’s not what my experience is about”
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And then suspensions arrived in your artistic works. Even during your performances, do you use the power of breathing to properly guide the audience?

Yes, it’s true: in the first version of “Danse NeurAle”, a body suspension performance in front of an audience, I experienced an organic connection with the public. 

You are actually working on a new version of this performance, called “Danse NeurAle 2.0 – Bødy Hacking Performance for Connected Bødy”  [www.danseneurale.tech]. Could you tell us more about it and the organic connection with the audience?

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In 2011 I met two hackers from Italy [Stefano Moscardini and Enrico Viola from Spectre] and talked about the idea to monitor the body responses to the experience as I wanted to show they was something else than what people can imagine at first glance. That’s how I started Danse NeurAle. I had the representation of wings generated by my brainwave projected behind me, I was on stage and the public facing me. I quickly realized the limit of the setting. When I did the first presentation, I was, for technical reasons, already on stage when the public entered the room. My breath was exemplified and so was my heart beat. I noticed the public entering the room and speaking loudly. Then when they started to enter the room and hear my breath were speaking more quietly. Then they could hear by heart beat. I had made an unexpected organic connection with the public… but I noticed I was losing it when starting to use the projections. After few presentations I start to conceptualize a new version of the performance based on this organic connexion. It took me 8 years to find the people to work with and develop it. 

Today there are already many more tools than when we started the performance in 2011, with really low tech material made mostly for gaming that we hacked at the time for the first version. We now easily can bound ourselves to many kind of devices. After it all depend of the use we make of this technologies.

The link between technology, science and body modification resonates in your words about Danse NeurAle as well as in the Bødy Hactivism manifesto.

Yes, I’m talking about technology and flesh together. From now on, through Danse NeurAle and the technology involved, we want to collect the maximum of datas to be use for scientific purposes as we have few requests in this direction. We have a very little knowledge about what happens during a suspension.

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I have just a last provocative question for you… What is going to happen if tomorrow morning you wake up and you are completely without scars from your suspensions, tattoos, piercings, implants and so on?

[Laughs] I don’t know, this is me. I am Lukas Zpira because of that. My birth name was a different one and Lukas Zpira exists because I did all this process of transformation; without my body marks I would not be Lukas Zpira anymore. 

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Would you panic?

I think I would at first. Then I guess I’ll have to take it as a new metamorphose. Even if the transformation doesn’t scare me, I know how difficult it is. I already had few major transformations. I just come out of one. Few years of painful process. I refer to this new step as my 4th life. Which means I had to die 3 times. Nothing comes easily.

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You dedicated your whole life and professional activity to the transformation of your mind, your blood and flesh, and your way to approach to the world. Thank you very much for your professional work of disclosure of these meanings.

My life and my art are bound since the day I became Lukas Zpira. I dedicated my life to something bigger than me. “Une œuvre” as we say in French, which I feel worth the dedication and at least fulfill me.  

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NOTES:

[1] The expression Modern Primitive was coined by Fakir Musafar and in 1980s it became a North America movement gathering people sharing a spiritual approach of body modifications, with passion for piercing, tattooing, stretching and suspending the body following the spiritual interpretation of Native Americans and other tribal minorities.

[2] Japanese magazine published till 2009 by Core and dedicated to subcultures and underground practices.FEBRUARY 11,

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