“I want to be a piercer! How do I get an apprenticeship? Where do I learn to pierce?”
This desire has been expressed by thousands of people over the recent past. What was once something barely thought ofas a viable career blossomed into a huge, multifaceted industry in the last few decades. As if out of nowhere, piercing became a legitimate job one could make a comfortable living at. But the path to get there has been as ever-changing as the industry itself. You don’t go to school to become a piercer, there’s no classes or degree you can hold in body piercing. Traditionally, like many other crafts, piercing has been trained by masters, to apprentices. Someone already skilled at the craft takes a beginner under their wing and shows them the craft one on one. But how did we get there? Where did the first piercers come from? How did the apprenticeship evolve to what it is today?
Along with Steve Haworth, Ron Garza stands out as one of the most influential artists who’s work contributed to the popularization of aesthetic scarification in the post 1990s body modification scene; with a style informed by time spent piercing at tattoo shops (as well as innate artistic talent) Ron was able to bridge the gap between basic geometric shape cuttings/branding and larger, more intricate representational designs.
Ron was photographed by his friend and TSD collaborator Allen Falkner in Philadelphia at the first Scar Wars event back in May of 2005.
Curt Warren and Erin Figureoa, The Piercing Elf, APP 1999.
Curt – Let me tell you a little bit about my start, I know all your interviews start with that. I grew up in Ogden, Utah, which is about forty miles outside Salt Lake City. I started having ear piercings around middle school – I got influenced by heavy metal so I thought, “fuck, I gotta have my ears pierced now!” After high school I moved to Maui, Hawaii, and while I was living over there a friend of mine got back after having spent the summer in New York. We were having coffee and she was eating soup, and I kept hearing this clank! I asked, “what the hell is that noise?” And she said, “oh, it’s my tongue piercing!” This was around 1993, and she showed it to me, and I’d never seen one, or even considered it for that matter! I became very fixated with it, fascinated by it, and decided I had to have one or else I couldn’t live anymore! The closest place for me to get one was in Honolulu on Oahu. This woman who called herself “The Piercing Elf” had a little piercing only studio there, so I flew out, rented a car, and failed to check her hours. I spent a lot of money to fly out there and hang out and fly back to Maui without a tongue piercing. So I saved up and a few months later I flew back out, made sure to check her hours first this time, and got it done. The experience for me – not being involved with the industry, not having any tattoos and only having some ear piercings – I was rather intimidated by her. She was sleeved and had a lot of piercings, but she had a great bedside manner, which made me feel comfortable. My first professional piercing experience was a piercing only studio with good jewelry and good bedside manner. Continue reading →
It’s been thirteen years since we held the first Scarwars event in Philadelphia. Over the years, both on the (now defunct) Scarwars blog and here on Sacred we’ve posted tons of pics from the event(s) and there are still hundreds that have never gone online. Like this photo by SW1 photographer Allen Falkner of Dave Gillstrap working on a cutting with removal.
The design is a mashup of an anatomical heart and a set of brass knuckles; Dave contributed t-shirt designs for the first two events- one featuring an anatomical heart, the other brass knuckles.
Ari – Sean, I always have everyone do a standard introduction to kick these off, so give us a brief bio.
Sean – I’m old, I’ve been everywhere. Ok, so brief history of Sean in bod-mod. Started with Sadistic Sundays at the video bar in 1990, roughly. I think it was right after high school – I was eighteen. Was doing that for a little bit, was just a Sunday night show type thing, and then left town for a while doing the hippie soul searching whatever, did Ren Fairs for a summer just to get away. When I came back Allen Falkner had moved back to Dallas and he and I became friends. I was hanging out with Allen, helping him paint his first room in his first studio when he was just renting space from a furniture store. He rented a room from them which soon turned into a piercing empire. We hung out for another couple years there in Dallas where I helped him attempt his first suspension, which was fishing line and just a ton of piercings. It was absolutely horrible. It lasted like three seconds – the fishing line started to snag and pull through because it was so thin. We look at it now like what the hell were we thinking? But you experiment, you figure shit out. At that time Fakir wasn’t as willing to share the suspension information with Allen; he did later, so until then there was a lot of us just looking at videos and guessing. Continue reading →
Earlier today while procrastinating on the first wave of proof reading the Better Safe than Ari interview with Séan McManus, I was doing my normal mindless scroll through my Facebook timeline, hoping against hope of less mindless political bickering and more pictures of people’s pets; the lament of life in the age of social media. As I scrolled past pictures of what my friends had for dinner or check-ins at various movie theaters and restaurants I saw no less than two photos of friends hanging from hooks in their skin. The photos were peppered with comments, positive comments, from friends and family. One had a “I knew you could do it!” encouraging post from the suspendee’s mother.
None of this would be possible without the contributions of Sean McManus (director) and Allen Falkner (primary subject) of The Marionette. Sean’s film- back when films were actually shot ON film- is a nodal point in the advancement of body ritual/body art in Western Culture. And it was a by/for production; the people involved in the film were also involved in body suspension. Predatory media often sees body modification as a quick and lurid bit of exploitation. “Look at THESE freaks” is a call older than Barnum. What The Marionette achieves is the removal of the shock value of a pretty shocking process. It’s accessible. At times emotional. And always entertaining.
The suspension community has changed a lot since it’s filming, but anyone who is interested in body-as-medium owes a great debt to this film, and you should absolutely have a copy in your collection.
A few weeks ago, some twelve years after it’s launch, I nuked the Scarwars.net blog. It was a long time coming but pulling the plug was strangely anti-climactic. Still, in the decade it was online the site hosted some damn fine content, so from time to time we’ll be featuring highlights here on Sacred Debris.
These photos (by Allen Falkner) date back to May of 2005 and feature Tom’s jaw-dropping full torso scarification by Dave Gillstrap. It remains one of my favorite large-scale cuttings.
After all was said and done on the last night of the 2006 Los Angeles Scarwars event, we decided to have a little afterparty. Nothing fancy, just a group of us gathered in a bar/restaurant doing our best to process the previous three days and to relax and unwind…
Pat Tidwell came and sat down at my table and did a perfect “Run for it, Marty!” Doc Brown impersonation from Back to the Future, complete with rewind noises and a crazy pantomime that had everyone breaking down in much needed laughter.
He did it for about 15 minutes straight. One of the thousands of reasons I love Tid.
Another SCARTIST portrait by Scarwars 2005 event photographer Allen Falkner, this time featuring influential piercer/scarification artist Dave Gillstrap getting ready to start a cutting. I didn’t meet Dave until the morning of the first day of the 2005 event but his work definitely proceeded him and he went on to do some of the most impressive pieces that came out of the Scarwars events.
I’ve spent the last few days sorting Allen Falkner’s photographs from the 2005 Scarwars Philadelphia event; it’s the first time in eleven years that I’ve looked at his output from that weekend as a body of work and not just individual photos- three discs so far- discs filled with so many amazing memories, images and personalities that it’s been hard to step away from the archival and prepare any of the images for a Sacred Debris update. Continue reading →