Interview with suspension artist CHAD HUXTABLE hailing from Australia
Human or body suspension art is the act of suspending oneself from a large hook that is placed through the skin by way of provisional body piercings. Body suspension is a tradition that dates back thousands of years and historically was strictly performed for sacred and ritualistic purposes.
Today, the art of body suspension continues and is fast becoming an addiction and or lifestyle for people who partake in this art form. I caught up with Chad Huxtable who hails from Adelaide, Australia to learn more about this art and its attraction the pain and exhilaration of it all to feed my curiosities and interests with what is often a misunderstood physical and mental virtuosity.
Hi Chad, thanks for speaking with me. The first thing that pops into a lot of people's minds when they see what is known as the art of body or human suspension without understanding the process of this incredible performance art is why? Why do you do this?
Hi, Kel. The reason why I do body suspension, plain and simple, is that I love it. It started by a friend offering it to me; I thought he was joking and a few days later he reminded me and had organized the hooks and stuff for me. At the time I thought that maybe if I didn't like it then it would be an interesting story, but I liked it and now it's become a bit like therapy. The "why" I do this is a hard question to answer because it's always different for each suspension. Some are like therapy for me, to help ease up things like depression. Others are just for fun and a good way to see friends and be around other people with the same interests, while other suspensions are performance pieces for events or art installations. However, the main reason I do it is the rush and the following come-down.
What does body suspension mean for you on a personal level?
Body suspension for me on a personal level is the therapy side of it. A few hours later I will get emotional, almost like a hyper sense of each emotion and within that rush of emotion. There's a clarity that follows and helps me to understand more within myself. Weirdly, sometimes I get some precognition and my body will tell me what I will need after the suspension and sometimes that will be that I need to isolate myself and work through it. Sometimes it'll be going out, just being around random people and living in the moment, and sometimes it'll be that I need to go see a specific friend and spend some time with them. Each time my body tells me what I need to do and it's always been right.
Aside from finding this fascinating, I do think ‘OUCH, that must hurt and how does your skin not rip?’. Therefore, how do you manage through the pain and what sort of preparation do you do for your skin, mind, and body to endure a suspension ritual?
I always get asked about it hurting and how does your skin not rip. Our skin is extremely tough and the hooks are put in fairly deep, there is always micro-tearing but it's a part of the risk. For my body suspensions, I work with Icarus Body Suspension who is a fully qualified piercer, and the person I work with and trust every time.
The preparation is usually a good night's sleep, a healthy breakfast, lots of water, and I don't drink any caffeine or alcohol (heavily the night before). No blood thinners or medication like aspirin. The mental preparation that I do is different for each suspension. My last suspension was called an O-ki-pa which is two points in the chest, making it a rather difficult suspension. The mental preparation beforehand was kind of meditating for about half an hour while Icarus prepped the hooks, table, and other parts needed and listening to a band called Heilung (pagan folk music) while allowing my mind to wander and standing in the sun. As for the skin, it's quite stretchy so of course, the piercing sites are prepped with a sterilizing agent and once the hooks are in, and I'm roped up, I lean back to stretch out my chest and the skin that is being used for the suspension readying for what is to come.
What attracted you to try this form of art and body endurance and when did it all start for you?
I met Zara from Icarus Body Suspension through a theatrical horror maze we were both acting as scarers in the maze in 2016. We became friends and he came out to one of the shows my band was playing in after we became friends.
It’s a really funny story. I was playing a show in town with my old band and Zara knew at least one member from each band in the show. I got to talking to him about body suspension as I'd seen it on his Facebook before, he said to me "You know there's always a fresh set of hooks there for ya" which I laughed at and about two days later he sent me a message saying that he wasn't joking, so I said "Fuck it! Hook us up" (literally how the conversation went). About two months after that first conversation I had my first suspension. The first suspension was two years ago, in March of 2017.
The reason I did it first was more of a 'why not try something new', and if nothing else I would have a story and some cool photos to show. Little did I know that I would fall in love with it. The emotional clarity that suspension provides me is probably what hooked me most after the first one. Since then I've used it to clear the mess from my mind and engage in a living art form.
What is the healing process after you have been pierced for suspension? Have you ever had any complications from the severe piercings?
The healing process is about four to six weeks. Usually some slight bruising occurs, but the holes are just like that for a piercing and don't need any stitching. The first couple of nights can be a bit painful to sleep in certain positions, depending on where the suspension points were. The only complications I've ever had happened with my poor preparation (as in I drank quite heavily the night before, not enough water, only three hours of sleep and not a proper breakfast). All of those elements caused me some severe bleeding.
From what I can see, you are hooked through your skin and then hooked onto a suspension device. How do you get hooked? Do the piercings take place well before a suspension or then and there before you are suspended?
The piercer marks out where the suspension points are going to go (like getting a regular piercing). Then a large needle or what we call 'sharps' is placed on the end of the hook (whether it's a Gilson or a fishhook style) and pierced through the skin. Most of the time the piercings are done on the spot, just before you get suspended, however, for shows and exhibitions you can get pierced a couple of hours beforehand.
What is the biggest misconception people tend to have around the art of body suspension?
A common misconception is that it's a sexual thing, which I can say in my case is not correct. While it’s not sexual for me, it can be for some. Personally, it’s a spiritual and/or fun experience.
One of the smaller misconceptions is that your skin will tear. I've had 180kg on four hooks in my skin hasn't ripped and I've also pulled a truck and a car at the same time from two points in my back and never had the skin rip. There is, however, still a very slim chance of tearing. For me though, so far things have been solid.
What is the body suspension community like in Adelaide? Is it growing?
We're a pretty small hook family in Adelaide, but always welcoming to people who want to try or get back into it. I'm not sure if it's growing or not, but we'll continue to do it for as long as we can (smiles).
They're by no means exclusive to the body suspension community, anyone is welcome to come out and watch or try (with personal discretion). I haven't heard of any events or festivals specific for body suspension but a few events have gotten into contact with us about performing.
How regularly do you suspend and what is the best element of body suspension for you and the worst?
If I could suspend every weekend I would, but I usually suspend probably about once every one to two months. The best element of body suspension would probably be the absolute lack of thought when I'm up on the hooks and the clarity of mind that it provides me for the following days.
The worst part of body suspension: it's a hard question because I can't think of anything bad about it. For me (and this is a personal one) I hate when Zara squirts me with the saline solution after he's taken the hooks out. No idea why, but it makes me squeal worse than when the hooks are going in.
How would you describe how this art/ritual works for you? Fun, meditative, or a gratifying emotional release? And does the position of your suspension play a role in the outcome of how the process affects you?
I would describe it as all three, it's an extremely fun day and can manifest a massive emotional response and it can be a quiet occasion.
Yes, and no, the harder the suspension is the more extreme the emotional response has been in previous suspensions. However, I've never had the same effect from the same suspension position twice. Different positions can be easier or harder, the easiest I find is what's known as a 'suicide suspension' which is from the top of your back, or the Faulkner which is from the knees.
What would you say to people who react negatively to this ritualistic performance art, calling it dangerous, sickening and self-destructive?
The easiest response is always 'my body, my choice' but for those who care to listen I explain why I do this, sometimes I'm greeted with curiosity, and then understanding. one of the funniest ones I ever had was back when I was single and I was on tinder: a girl matched with me just to ask me what was wrong with me, my response was 'nothing, I've been tested', she asked, 'what does it prove?' and I knew what she was probing for so I decided to play along, "It proves nothing but I just do it for the sick sexual thrill" and left it at that.
Is the art of body suspension on the rise? Is it becoming more mainstream? And if so, why do you think this is?
I think it is becoming a bit more mainstream because today's society is becoming more open-minded towards different or divergent art forms such as body suspension. With that open-mind mentality, people are willing to look past first judgments. I think it also has something to do with today's youth growing up in a more accepting and communicative world, and how we now have the ease of ability to connect with others who have similar likes and passions to ourselves.
To anyone considering body suspension, what would you say to them?
I'd say do it. It's a lot of fun, but if you have your mindset on a certain position, do that one first. If you end up hating it you'll always have photos of you in your dream position and who knows you might find a new addiction. I would recommend at least coming and watching or experiencing it with a trusted group around you.
Thanks so much for your time Chad, it’s been an interesting chat and good insight into this extreme form of art.
No worries Kelly, thank you for the interest. Hopefully, see you at the next metal festival in Adelaide or Sydney.
Visit Kelly Tee’s Black Metal Reviews on Facebook. -DW