Point #63: Dallas Suscon 2013

Bethra headshotBy Bethra Szumski

Before I begin, I should make a special note: this was my first Suscon, ever. The event was held in Dallas, Texas from March 29 through 31, 2013. As in the past, it was organized by Allen Falkner and his team of hardworking volunteers. I’ve been to plenty of shows, two One Project campouts, and helped out with hook placement and cleanup, but I never really jumped into the middle of the suspension bed so-to-speak. So when I arrived, I appeared as most: not as an APP representative but as a student , eager to learn more about the art of suspension, and apparently I arrived just in time to witness and participate in a historic event.

The evening before the event began, representatives of attending groups gathered for a dinner and discussion. Organized by Allen Falkner, the topic of discussion was about creating a non-profit organization that could serve as an official representation and a vehicle for advocacy for the art of suspension and its practitioners. The group voiced many concerns, both for and against organizing such a group (and all of which were valid). However, everyone agreed that they did not want to see suspension made illegal, and forming such a group could provide much needed representation with lawmakers. After much discussion, the general consensus was that organization—to a point—would be a good thing, though what comes next has yet to be decided.

Photo by Mark Kaplan

Photo by Mark Kaplan

As the event began, it quickly became apparent the focus of Suscon was to be a learning event. I took numerous classes—from knot tying to suturing, intro to suspension, and basic rigging and rituals. While many more advanced courses were offered, including aseptic technique, bedside manner, and outdoor rigging to name a few, I stuck to the “newbie” ones. Whenever I wasn’t in class, I was being included in suspension set-ups. (Thanks to Dana Dinius and Chris Jennell—both team leads—for including me.)

One of the most memorable moments was the evening lecture and art suspension performed by Stelarc. During his lecture, he discussed and showed his art pieces and performances. (He referred to himself in these works as “The Body.”) Ripples of laughter went through the audience as he described how The Body was arrested by the NYPD after a guerilla suspension he performed , long before the practice became more common in cities around the world. When asked why he refers to himself in this way, he responded that he didn’t believe in the Freudian view of the self (i.e., the id, ego, and super-ego); instead, he believes in the idea of a digital self—one outside control of the physical body, where man and machine act in a symbiotic states. The suspension itself was stunning. After an hour of complex rigging, the group went up, all pushing back from a metal symbol in the center of the circle. The machinery amplified the sound of grinding metal, and gears jutted out as the bodies were raised and lowered. The lighting was cool and one had the sense of quiet non-presence, even as the shadows of the participants were cast upon the floor. The nagging, unvoiced question in my mind as his talk closed was:

“So your saying the body contains no soul and your work is all about that idea?”

Being far from religious myself, my own experience with pain and ritual is still all about my body and soul in conversation, so it was absolutely fascinating to experience a view so philosophically different from my own and yet with similar practices.

Stelarc and Wings of Desire — Dallas Suscon 2013. Photo by Mark Kaplan.

Stelarc and Wings of Desire — Dallas Suscon 2013. Photo by Mark Kaplan.

The suspension community is unique as a body art group. For one, making a living from suspension is nearly unheard of; instead, it is a labor of love. Any money coming in generally goes to better equipment and promotion. Unlike other body arts, such as piercing or tattooing, suspension is performance art and ritual with practitioners coming from all kinds of backgrounds. (I met engineers, gymnastic instructors, IT specialists, professional riggers, hospital workers, an opera singer—I already knew her—and the list goes on and on.) This community has extended to include body art enthusiasts in a way no other has; in fact, many groups will only have one or two actual body modification practitioners. Napoleon once said that, in battle, “the moral is to the physical as three to one.” Loosely, this means that spiritual and mental attributes, such as tenacity, morale, teamwork, dedication, and willpower, are far more important than numbers, equipment, hunger, or pain. Never has this felt more true than at Suscon 2013.

I had always imagined my first time at Suscon much like when a little girl thinks of her wedding day. I decided on Saturday that on Sunday (Easter) I would suspend; I put myself in the hands of fate and asked those who had so graciously made me part of their team—and those in my network—to guide me through. My goal was just to get up in the air, and I did—for two short bursts. As I came down, the beautiful faces around me were wet with tears. Someone said “that was so beautiful”. It felt beautiful, though I wasn’t able to push past the pain. Even so, this event was not simply a learning experience; for me, it was a rite of passage.

For information about suspension, in general, click here.

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One Comment

  1. WOW Bethra S.
    Great way to start my day. I have been privileged to many events both public, private and ritualistic. Your eloquent blow by blow discourse was a personal journey of discovery. It had all the earmarks of a deeply dedicated master piercer whose time had come for a personal rite of passage. This singular event surrounded by supportive like minded souls elevated it to much more than a visually striking public spectacle. Thanks for sharing the impact on your being, an earthshaking experience in being alive.

    Charles Gatewood. Annie Sprinkle and a cast of old time and contemporaries that continue to be a part of my life experience. Chas was best man at my wedding and I don’t have to make up any of the stories that I share. Glad to connect. anxious to hear from you soon. feel free to call 850 832 9853

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