In 1995, my spcOnline was a fledgling body modification site hosted on America Online. AOL. As an ISP, they seemingly had no problem with the body modification content I was posting but I was TOS’d and my site removed over a topless photo of adult film star Nina Hartley that was part of an article I had written on my personal diary page.
Shannon Larratt graciously offered unlimited server space on the BME servers, with no prohibition on content, where my site remained for a decade before I finally retired it in 2005. My time with BME, Shannon and his wife Rachel helped spawn BME/Extreme, ModCon, and Scarwars and directly influenced Occult Vibrations and Sacred Debris.
Fifteen years after first meeting her, I still rely on Rachel for an ear to bend when I’ve got a new idea for a project or just a funny, snarky story to tell at three in the morning. She’s been through a lot over the last few years and she still does her best to keep things going. Recently her home and the majority of her belongings were damaged in a natural disaster in South Carolina.
Artist: Steve Haworth (implants)
Year: 1998 (September)
Location: South Beach, Miami (Eden Roc Hotel)
Photographer: Shawn Porter
I first met Hiro in September of 1998 at the Crowe & Dwyer Tattoo Tour in South Beach Miami. Even surrounded by heavily tattooed people, Hiro stood out; his large forehead implants and stretched nostrils were pretty far out for a tattoo convention in 1998 and every time I tried to introduce myself I’d find him surrounded by photographers.
Steve Haworth finally got us together in his hotel room, and with the help of his interpreter we were able to get to know each other as I documented his modifications. He was in the States collecting work; tattooing from Grime and Guy Aitchison as well as implant and modification work from Steve.
When I ran into him several years later he had added beautiful facial scarifications to his already impressive body of work.
An anonymous tumblr follower suggested that I start adding all of the ‘one shot’ updates- the single photos with no articles to go with them- to the Sacreddebris.com site proper instead of just dropping them on tumblr. It makes sense considering that anything I post here also ends up there, and who knows… it may even make it look like I update this site more often than I do.
I’ve been pretty open about the future of this blog; I can’t say it’s going to make it past 1st January 2015. But until I pull the plug I might as well try to keep it updated.
This photo is an early digital camera shot (thus the quality) from approximately 1996-7 that was submitted to the SPCOnline site by BME Editor Shannon Larratt. I’ve written about this before- the infamous ‘fork handle dermal elevator’ procedure (which you can check out here– but for those too busy to click the link…
Shannon had a set of implants in his forehead done by a traveling practitioner and he felt they were crooked. Since the artist had moved on he had to have his roommate ‘fix’ the placement, but without proper tools they resorted to using the flat end of a fork’s handle in place of a dermal elevator. There’s a lot of talk recently about irresponsibility with documenting certain procedures, but when Shannon submitted these to SPC we didn’t even consider the possible negative consequences of publishing graphic, ill advised procedural photos.
This article originally ran on BME’s MODBLOG on 09/02/2013.
It has been edited slightly. I still miss Josh.
“i had a dream a while back. in it, i met myself. the me that i met greeted the dream me in a way that i often greet people, with hands raised together as if in prayer, a sign of coming in peace. in this dream, the other me had scars shaped like arrows on the heels of his hands. one pointing up, one pointing down. i woke from the dream with this image burned into my mind. over time, the symbolism became clear to me…
….as above, so below. the sacred and the profane. heaven and earth. good and evil. black and white. brain and body. what goes up, must come down. there are a million examples and ways to describe the idea, but it all comes back to balance. none of these things would exist without the other. they may occupy opposite ends of a spectrum, but they are inextricably linked to each other. my goal is to maintain that balance in my life. to have one foot in each world. these scars will remind me of that.” – Josh Burdette, Scarwars.net
The first thing most people thought when they met Josh Burdette was usually “that’s one big mother fucker.” OBMF. That’s how I first got to known Josh, back in the glory days of the late 1990s Body Modification scene of rec. arts.bodyart and the IAM.BME community site. Josh was a larger than life presence all around- a fixture in the D.C. Music scene as the Manager and head of security of the 9:30 Club since 1997, he stood as the WALL OF BEARD at countless shows. An imposing figure, Josh could have relied on his size to intimidate people, instead, in 2006 he had this to say about ‘bouncing’ to the Washington Post:
“A bouncer is looking to bounce people. It’s a reactive way of doing things. We’re the face of the club, and we have to do our best to be as friendly, polite and accessible as we can. Some of us look big and scary, but we’re just people, too. We’re just working our jobs.”
I saw him, not too long ago, at the Stay Calm memorial we held here in Philadelphia for Shannon Larratt; we hugged like we always do, gave some colorful commentary on the state of the world and the Body Modification community, and finally getting to the point of why we had all come together that day as a community- remembering our friend- he laughingly told me that we were going to have a moratorium on any of our friends dying till at least 2015, to spread the word to the people we love that they’re to stick around for a while.
I wish Josh would have been able to keep up the pact.
Josh Burdette passed away in Washington DC on Sunday September 1st. He was 36 years old. I’ll miss running into him backstage at LUCERO shows, chatting about our lives instead of watching the opening acts. I’ll miss bitching about ‘these kids today’ with him, reading his latest ‘Wall of Beard’ comic strip adventure and getting one of his epic bear hugs. I’ll miss Josh.
I’m interested in a lot of things, some of which are: permanence, metamorphosis, control, carnival history, jewelry and value. Today, right now, right this minute, and for the rest of forever, I’m specifically interested in otherness and adornment. For me, these things converge and make up a large portion of my identity. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were something that was felt by most people: feelings of alienation, due to a certain sense of self, are commonalities that many people have with one another. But we don’t talk about it, well, not unless we know the other person feels that way. For me, the drive to become heavily modified is an integral part to who I am as a person. I knew this before I was old enough to understand what any of it meant. I knew it when I was in elementary school. I remember the precise moment that I knew, too. The person who showed me what it was, had no idea what he did. He probably didn’t even know I existed. If I saw that same punk rocker today, I know I could point him out. He had a HUGE septum piercing.. or, what’s what it looked like at the time. I knew that was what I wanted. Without saying a word, he told me that what I knew I needed to do was okay. On that day, everything changed. I knew where I was headed and I knew that there were other people out there who would understand me… I also knew that because I lived around a bunch of rich white people in the middle of suburbia, that it’d be a really long time until I was able to really find any of them.
I got into body modification a little late in the game as far as the contemporary American body modification timeline is concerned. Hell, when The Gauntlet started in the mid 70s, I wasn’t even born yet. I might be taking a big leap here, but I’d identify myself as a part of the last group of people who got into this before it got trendy. Maybe some of you who came long before my time would disagree, but, I’ll say this: I’m fucking dedicated to this lifestyle. My life and livelihood, much of my education and my career as a maker is rooted in this culture and this identity. It’s not a choice, well, not for me. Sure, it’s a choice to step into a tattoo shop. I get that. But the internal drive is not a choice.
A few years back I remember reading a blog post by Shannon Larratt, the creator of BMEzine. He compared the desire to become heavily modified with being gay. Later, I interviewed Shannon as part of my research for my MFA thesis work and he kind of turned on the statement. He stated, “I still think there’s a place for this idea, but because of how much society has changed — I don’t think anyone ever expected things to grow this large or this mainstream – it would be a little different in nature. In some ways we are a victim of our success. The sort of people who’d want to be a part of such a commune in the past needed protection from the mainstream unmodded society — now they also need protection from the mainstream modded society! We have very much fallen prey to gentrification.” On one hand, I agree with his statement because we have become so big. But on the other, I know that what he said in the past is true, because I still feel it.
I question the sincerity of the masses who have joined this community (if it can be called a “community” anymore) and I wonder what happened to earning your place within it. That’s an argument that I remember seeing often in many of the IAM/BME forums: What is the difference between those who have manipulated their body to the point of it seriously effecting their ability to navigate through mainstream society and those who choose to only have an earlobe piercing? They have both chosen a form of modification, so, what makes them different? I certainly am not stating that one form of permanent or semi permanent adornment/modification is better than the other – it’s an individual choice. However, I would argue that they are different and that the more extreme of those examples is driven by an internal force that is not felt by the masses. I’m not sure what the line is or how to articulate precisely where it’s drawn. What I can say for sure is that I know the line when I see it.
So, why does this question matter? I think it matters because it all boils down to identity within our greater culture. Adornment is a part of our individual identities – if we don’t express it in a form of modification, then it’s expressed in another way: the clothes we wear, any jewelry that we leave on and often forget about (like a wedding ring or small cross necklace), the cut and color that we choose for our hair, etc,. This aspect of each of our lives in inescapable and because of that, we should be considering it on the daily.
So, I wanted to share the private e-mail interview that Shannon was kind enough to grant me as a part of my first post here at Sacred Debris – even when he was feeling shitty, Shannon responded to me. He hoped to contribute to the academic sphere with regard to body modification. This was the last time I ever communicated with him. Despite knowing each other for years, we were never the best of friends, but, it is because of him that I’m married to my husband, that I have many of the friends that I do, and so many memories of an amazing community that has since dispersed. The community he built with us helped me to gain the confidence to do what I knew was right for me and it allowed me to find my footing. He got one thing right for sure, we have certainly grown.
S: I was born September 29, 1973 in Victoria, British Columbia.
R: Where can people find you online or in other print publications?
S: (I think that’s obvious)
R: What made you first get into body modification?
S: A combination of nature and nurture, I assume. Because I started expressing a body modification drive at a young age, in a rural environment, far away from any outside influences and before a body modification industry even existed, I can only assume that I’m wired for it on some level. I’m sure it helped that my mother grew up in South Africa and we had various books on African body art in our home library, and that my father had a tattoo that he’d won in the sixties in a wrestling competition.
R: What do you think your position is in the body modification community?
S: I’d always thought of myself as a sort of historian or amateur anthropologist or even just journalist, but then someone told me that my role is “catalyst”. That is, to bring about change in others. To start fires in people. I liked that a lot and thought it was quite apt, because I haven’t just documented the world of body modification and body play — I’ve also promoted it and done everything I could to help it grow, and to guide it in that growth.
R: Why did you start BME and IAM? When you started them, what were they? Since you are no longer directly affiliated (please correct me if I’m incorrect here), from your perspective, are they still functioning in the same way today?
S: I started BME because I wanted to share what I was doing, to find other people like me, and I wanted to change the world so that the things that made me an outsider became normal. I wanted to create an space where people could safely express themselves in a positive and uplifting manner. In the decade and a half that I ran BME, it never veered from that. IAM was BME’s community arm, originally started so that I and others would have a place to blog.
To be honest, the biggest changes in BME are due to culture as a whole changing.
R: What do you think about the body modification community now? Is it a community? Why or why not?
S: Yes, body modification is still a community, but in a different way than it was ten years ago, because it’s much, much larger and sits in a different — and broader — demographic space.
R: Quite a while ago, I remember you writing about starting a modification commune where modified people could live together, almost like a tribe. What was the fuel for this idea? Is it still something you want to pursue? What would be the benefits?
S: I still think there’s a place for this idea, but because of how much society has changed — I don’t think anyone ever expected things to grow this large or this mainstream — it would be a little different in nature. In some ways we are a victim of our success. The sort of people who’d want to be a part of such a commune in the past needed protection from the mainstream unmodded society — now they also need protection from the mainstream modded society! We have very much fallen prey to gentrification.
R: How do you think being a heavily modified individual is viewed by people who do not participate in body modification?
S: That’s very difficult for me to answer. I have very little affinity for the “normal” person.
R: Do you think making permanent changes to your body is significant? Why or why not?
S: Altering your physical form makes the statement that you control your destiny and your physical being. Redefining what you are is an essential part of the transcendent human experience.
R: How do you think commitment plays into body modification?
S: I think that’s different for everyone. The popularity of tattoo removal and the reversal of stretched ears and so on shows that a great many people getting involved with body modification did it with minimal foresight or understanding of the level of commitment they were signing up for.
R: Do you believe alienation plays a role in body modification? Either as an instigator, a result or both?
S: Probably. But I think that focusing on things like this can distract from the larger meaning and worse, create a stereotype.
R: Do you think people who modify themselves are looking to be seen as a spectacle?
S: I’m sure some people are. Others aren’t. I think that reflects on the person’s individual personality rather than anything universal to body modification. And again, I think that focusing on things like this risks creating a stereotype.
R: Quite a while ago, I remember you writing something along the lines of modification being compared to being gay or straight. If my recollection is somewhat accurate, can you talk about this comparison?
S: I don’t know if this is as true as it was in the past, because these days a broader set of people are drawn to body modification because of how popular it is as a fashion, but I believe that the body modification drive is as hardwired as sexuality is. There has been some research showing that there is a “cutter” gene — people who express their emotions through body play that is — and I suspect that’s the tip of the genetic iceberg on this question.
R: You share a lot of images and stories related to body modification online. Why do you do this?
S: I think this is answered in your question about why I created BME.
END OF INTERVIEW
With regard to any future posts that I make here at Sacred Debris, y’all can probably expect a more academic (not to be confused with dry) approach to the posts about many of the things that I stated earlier that interest me. I hope they interest you, too. I don’t know how often I’ll post, but I’ll try my best to put something up as often as I can. I really love what Shawn is doing here – I think it’s important, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Rachel Timmins earned her MFA in Studio Art (Metals Concentration) in December 2012 and her BFA in Metal/Jewelry Design with a Minor in Sculpture from Buffalo State College in 2009. Her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally in venues like the National Gallery of Victoria, Snyderman-Works Gallery, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the Design Museum London and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Rachel’s work can be seen in many publications such as Unexpected Pleasures published by Rizzoli Publications, Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective published by Lark Books and Jewel Book: International Annual of Contemporary Jewel Art published by Stitchting Kunst Boek. She can be found lecturing on her work and other related topics as well as giving workshops across the United States at various institutions and universities. Rachel lives in Baltimore, MD, where she often teaches at the Maryland Institute college of art. She resides with her pug, three cats and husband, Matt. To see Rachel’s work, please visit: www.racheltimmins.com