The sixth annual Body Modification Exchange Network (BMXnet) Conference in Essen, Germany October 12-14, 2012 was well attended by piercers, tattooists, and body modification artists from around Europe and beyond. Given its great distance from the US, there was a strong representation of American speakers present including Jim Ward, James Weber, Bethra Szumski, Brian Skellie, Ryan Ouellette, Steve Haworth, Paul King, Allen Falkner, and myself. There was also a “Sponsors Expo” featuring vendors of body jewelry and supplies for piercing, tattooing, body modification, and suspension, with merchants coming from as far away as Mexico to participate.
The eclectic and wonderful venue, for this years festivities, Unperfekehaus (imperfect house) is a large converted Franciscan nunnery in the heart of Essen. Now it is a combination artist’s colony/gallery, hotel, and a restaurant/internet coffeehouse. It contains five floors of artists’ studios, plus meeting rooms, performance spaces, and more. The hotel rooms share common bathrooms, a full kitchen, and also a sauna, which was put to good use in the evenings. There is free wireless Internet throughout.
A vast buffet was available in the restaurant 12 hours a day to keep the conference-goers fed, and coffee, cappuccino, and tea were free flowing to keep us warm. Unlimited sodas, juices, and sparkling water drinks were also provided to the participants in this welcoming establishment with the “all you can eat and drink” BMX package deal.
There is no way to impart how incredibly cool the setting was if you weren’t there to enjoy and experience it, and even the best photos won’t do it justice. (One example being the large open space on the upper level had a huge skylight in the ceiling.) Some of the vendors were housed in this area, and others were set up on two of the floors below, which were surrounded by artists’ workshops.
Each studio is open to the visiting public and has a plaque out front explaining the individual’s background and artistic philosophy. Costume and jewelry designers, sculptors, and painters shared their colorful creations in the series of connected buildings which form the Unperfekehaus. Artworks of all types (much of it for sale) lined the halls and walls, as well as the studio spaces, lending a festive and creative vibe to the scene. Three separate dining rooms and several other public spaces provided plenty of opportunities for hanging out and socializing. A rounded alcove filled with comfortable pillows and surrounded by psychedelic paintings was a popular retreat. A well-equipped theater complete with lighting and stage was the location for some classes, suspensions, and the entertainment in the evenings.
The wide array of courses, roundtables, demonstrations, and workshops included advanced body modification topics not in the curriculum at APP conferences such as Ear Reconstruction, Flesh Stapling, Wound Suturing, Advanced Scarification, Tongue Splitting, and Electrocautery and Laser Branding. More standard subjects were covered such as Jewelry Design, Anodizing, Sterilization and Instrument Management for Piercing, Stretching, Aseptic Technique, Troubleshooting and Scars, and Surface Piercings.
James Weber presented “A History of Body Piercing US Periodicals: from PFIQ to The Point,” which was a great precursor to Jim Ward’s talk later in the day, Gauntlet and the Evolution of the Modern Body Modification Movement. Many of the conference-goers were very excited to have their photos taken with the “Granddaddy of the Modern Piercing Movement” and have him sign their copies of his book, Running the Gauntlet. Paul King shared his knowledge with a fascinating presentation on the Piercing Rituals of the Plains Native Americans.
Offerings for tattoo artists included Hand-poking Tattoos, Automatic Sketching, Tattoo Machine Tuning, Lasers and the Tattoo Industry, and Sterilization and Instrument Management for Tattooing. Some classes were suited to all of the attending professionals, such as Marketing and Managing Difficult Clients.
As the conference progressed additional sessions called “barcamps” were scheduled into the times and spaces allotted for them. Once planned, they were announced via a bulletin board in the entryway. This permitted a useful spontaneity for new topics to be covered, or more in-depth discussions held on subjects of greater interest. I was asked to do a barcamp session of my Safe and Effective Female Genital Piercing course with a German translator present.
This allowed the students who were not fluent enough in English to understand the entire content of my class. Jim Ward, Paul King, and I also gathered for a showing of “A Social History of Body Piercing,” an MTV documentary in which we all appeared.
In addition to the numerous educational courses, there was plenty of entertainment in the evenings. Fetish-pinup-glamor model and burlesque performer Courtney Crave graced the stage on both Friday and Saturday nights. The first evening she played doctor with a teddy bear to Weird Al Yankovic’s song, “Like a Surgeon” and eviscerated the stuffed animal to find it filled with sex toys.
Coco Katsura gave a dramatic performance as a flying ninja suspended from hooks while brandishing a flaming sword. And finally, in the Superfly Suspension Show, two young men, hanging one from the other, swung around the stage at length with contented expressions on their modified faces. On Saturday night, Courtney performed her “Sympathy for the Devil” floor routine to the Guns ‘n Roses cover of the tune. It was a dark and sexy show full of back bends and contortion work. CoRE staged their Embers of the Lotus suspension performance, and SchmerzMöbel (the “Pain Furniture Performance Crew”) created their Living Harp for the audience as a lyrical finale for the evening’s festivities.
There was widespread accord among the repeat attendees that this was best BMXnet gathering ever. Warm thanks and hearty congratulations to Stephan Stresik and his crew for hosting a truly wonderful event!