It’s 2 a.m. as the metal band powers through the night at the New York City Zombie Crawl. The crowd wears ghoulish makeup, fake guts adorn the walls and the fog machine makes the room hazy. Where a mosh pit would normally form, however, a pair of zombies pierce themselves with large metal hooks and begin a human tug-of-war.
I was sure I’d stumbled into Satan’s bedchamber that Halloween but the tug-of-war was a performance by Skindicate Suspensions. Suspension is the body modification art of being pierced with hooks and hanging or being pulled by your own skin. I’d witnessed a flesh pull, a type of suspension involving multiple participants who tug on each other until … someone wins?
It can look violent with the blood and other liquids, and giant metal hooks in people’s skin. But Skindicate says it’s not even close to a fight. For them, suspension is meditative, cathartic and ultimately just plain fun.
“Sometimes it’s more emotional and sometimes it’s more aggressive but it’s never like we’re taking it out on each other,” says Mandolynne, Skindicate co-director, regarding the flesh pull. “It’s not about who can pull the fastest or the hardest,” she says. It’s about the “play” between the participants.
And play they do. They say this is what they do for fun on a Sunday afternoon. Some people have barbeques, maybe play some croquet or video games. Others hang themselves and their friends from hooks in the garden.
Spontaneous, private suspensions with their friends are the group’s favorite. They enjoy the public performance, to be sure. Mandolynne has performed for crowds of ten thousand people and that brings its own rush of adrenaline. But when “the mood strikes,” as fellow team member Tom describes it, they get to do whatever they want.
Kaspa, the other co-director, favors single point suspension. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you hang from a single hook embedded somewhere on your body. It’s one of the more extreme moves because all your body weight hangs from that one point on your back, elbow, knee, or any number of other places. Kaspa is partial to the knee.
“He looks really cute up there hanging down like that,” says Mandolynne.
While Kaspa is adorably hanging from his joints, Tom is holding his ropes and Mandolynne is his bio person. A bio person is the lucky soul who gets to clean up the blood and any other bodily fluids released during the suspension. The entire team is trained in first aid, CPR and bio containment. During performances, particularly rowdy flesh pulls like the one I saw, there is also at least one person on crowd control.
They refuse to elaborate on their cleanup methods lest one of my dear readers thinks they can do it themselves. Safety, responsibility and health cannot be stressed enough for a practice like this, they tell me.
I was shocked when they told me they have only had one person refuse to do it, and that person came back.
“Even if a person doesn’t think they can do it, we all know they can do it,” says Kaspa.
“At a certain point, we don’t allow you to fail.”
A somewhat foreboding statement given the activity in question. But he assures me that he and his team are not the ones in charge; you are. Their goal, he says, is to help you realize your body can do a lot more than you thought it could.
“We totally understand that there is a limit to what you can and cannot do, in your mind,” he says. “We will try to push you to that point every time because amazing things happen when you break your own limit.”
While you’re at this year’s Coney Island Mermaid Parade, look for their performance. The flesh pull will go nicely with the mermaids and dudes with Poseidon tridents.