Writing for this website, I get the pleasure of seeing so many beautiful images and videos that capture little glimpses of what is it we do. There are so many of these that really amaze me every time I look at them; the talent and creativity in this community is incredible. Occasionally, something will come along on here that not only turns my head, but takes my breath away. The most recent is a series of projects being created by Ryan Holandes, owner of Merikan Metals. The videos of his creations, which use flesh hooks and piercings to turn art into something that can actually be experienced, have had the suspension community buzzing since they first surfaced. Although we see amazing things done in the suspension community every day, it’s far more rare when we see someone take our craft and use it in a whole new way. Ryan was nice enough to take the time to tell me a little about himself and his incredible work.
I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning of all this. How did you first become involved with body modification?
I’m not heavily modified, but I acquired and retired about two dozen piercings during college. I have one tattoo that expands slowly as life moves on its course. I began stretching my ears, resting at a relatively small 20mm, and never considering any of it to be “modification.” The process is what appealed to me; the balance between my ambition to grow and the physical limitations of tissue generation/damage lead me to develop some semblance of self-control during turbulent years.
As I pursued my MFA degree in Jewelry, I was challenged by professors for wanting to create objects of adornment for elongated ear lobes. Trying to develop a response, I realized that there is a disconnect between communities who engage freely with their bodies, and those who unconsciously submit themselves to social norms. We all “modify”. Dentistry always strikes me as an amazing structural modification – all the way down to the bone. The difference for me comes down to compliance versus expression, the negative form of modification being when we sacrifice our potential to some unspoken consensus.
While researching the emergence of contemporary modification, I explored beyond the techniques for visual modifications. Adornment lead us to a desired experience of our own identity, but suspensions and flesh pulls (among many others), focus an experience that is much more localized in time and might serve different purposes. I was immediately impressed, it’s hard not to be, but as a maker I looked quickly at the objects that were being used to facilitate their experiences.
I was amazed at the idea that a needle, a hook, and a rope were all that we need to create an experience unlike any other we might stumble upon in daily life. I started to think of what other ways that objects and material could be used to create unique experiences.
Have you worked with body suspension or flesh pulls in the past?
I haven’t, and I think that a bit of distance from the art of suspension and flesh pulling let me see it from a slightly different angle. I learned a lot from informal interviews with friends who love these practices, but initially my knowledge of the feelings that might be at play came only from facial and body piercings for adornment.
I needed to know more about the factors at play – what are the sensations, how does pain play in and when does it fall away to other emotions, what happens to not only the body but the mind as you move through the stages. Looking at Fakir Musafar’s approach let me see ritual piercing as a technique for moving the mind out of the mundane realm of the everyday into a space beyond. My driving goal was always to create objects that could provide that opportunity.
It was a back and forth process between the concept and making and testing. I gathered “data” by working with a local piercer to have hooks thrown in my forearm that I could play with, and to wear a little over a dozen 10 gauge needles in my back with anodized titanium wire woven through them. From this “sensory information” I created prototypes, and tested them on myself and on a very kind volunteer to see how well they functioned and what needed to be refined.
What inspired you to create your designs that allow art to become interactive through the use of flesh hooks or piercings?
I was tired of going into art galleries and feeling nothing. The art I’ve seen assumes it must move through our eyeballs to reach our mind. The essence of these art objects is the image, whether it’s painting, sculpture or installation. I mean image in the sense of a hologram or a ghost, a mere symbol of the experience to which it refers.
Experience has always been much more visceral for me – emotions are felt in the body; rage moves in torrents through the bloodstream, fear weakens the gut, ecstasy is a harmonic glow resonating through the lungs and up the spine.
Especially in a world saturated with sugar and hyper-stimulation, piercing reawakens a deeper part of our minds by threatening the body with injury. At the point of contact between body and world, the needle is a vehicle that submerges itself into fear and weakness, burrows across the eternity of a single breath, and emerges into a realm of power.
I want to channel that power.
I have seen a few clips of the pieces you have created in use. How many of these designs are currently in the works?
Three pieces were created and used on November 6th, 2011. This was documented on film and is being turned into shorts (approximately 2 minutes each) that tries to capture some of the emotional quality of the experience for others who will not be using the objects. These are the “Rage Launcher”, the “Dominion Orb”, and the “Equilibrium Brooches”.
With so many things to consider beyond the initial design itself – like hygiene, tissue damage, load capacity, etc. – I proceed with caution and am exploring somewhat “smaller” projects at the moment. Eventually, I’d like to work up to collaborating with existing suspension or performance groups to see where there is room to explore larger works.
In the videos you worked on, were there a fairly broad range of reactions from those you filmed who were not using the devices?
The most troubling response I received was along the lines of, “So is this a fetish or something?” That signaled that there is a long way to go before some people are willing to open their minds to understanding. Overall, though, it was amusing to see a sort of morbid curiosity – that kind of slowing down to watch as you drive by a car accident. Some people couldn’t bear to look if they saw any blood, others said “sign me up.”
The process was quite open, but it was mostly art students who witnessed the project develop. I tried to answer questions as they arose, but was not focused so much on communicating the meaning at this point. The exhibition, book, and film are the place where I hope it all comes together. I’m most interested in getting the reaction and input of the community, to know whether the works resonate, or whether I’ve totally missed the mark.
You mentioned having smaller projects in mind. Do you care to hint what direction you are going with those?
Actually, the current projects are what I consider “small”. I’ve learned a lot, and hope to build on this knowledge and bring my metalworking skill set to meet those who have the imagination to envision more comprehensive experiences.
I see temples and cathedrals as giant objects built to define a specific location as sacred, and authorize the interaction between humans and the divine… I’m curious to know what would happen if we created a place where this ritual culture could develop with the support of lasting architectural elements. The guerilla nature of these rituals is powerful, but also inherently limiting when it comes to constructing rigs and stages. I’ve been mulling over the idea of a sort of amphitheater, inspired in part by the pre-columbian celestial monuments like Chaco Canyon in the Southwest that are fully integrated into their natural environment.
I know they were just recently filmed, but do you have an idea of when you expect the videos to be complete?
Post-production will be wrapped up mid-January, and the films will be first on display at the exhibition which begins on January 30th. They will be posted on Tumblr the night of the exhibit reception, and available for instant download to the donors who contributed to my campaign. I’m toying with the idea of making them available for purchase for those who want to have a copy of it – but it will be accessible streaming online at any time. There’s also a book that accompanies the exhibition, which explains a bit about the process, concept, and prototyping phase of the project.
Ryan has said that he is open to comments and discussion about his work from our community. I hope many of you will take the time to chime in and let him know what you think about it. I personally can’t wait to see where this goes. It’s incredibly exciting to me to see someone who has huge dreams they want to achieve, and the drive to jump in head first and start tackling them. I will be counting down the days until the January release date for the videos. You can definitely plan on seeing followup posts on here as his projects continue to progress.
Thank you, Ryan, for filling us in on what you have been doing, as well as for keeping us up to date with everything.