French Kissing in the UK

Pull up a table and chair for this interview with Alice (compulsive knitter, terribly short, culinary masochist, double jointed, colon-love lover, sarcastic and a truly classy woman) and Benoit (pronounced Ben-Wah, very British with a ridiculous French accent, covered in hair, disorganised, lazy, easily amused, stubborn and a hypocritical xenophobe). Alice and Benoit - Just another day

ROO:

Bonjour Ben. How do you do Alice?

BEN:

Up against the wall why?

ROO:

Mere curiosity, merci for sating it.Ok, in at the deep end! You’re the co-founders of Constant Elevation (the suspension group formerly known as House of Wah), is this correct?

ALICE:

Not strictly speaking as Ben started the thing on his own — I just got involved early on, ‘encouraged’ him and added my own influence to it.The website however — that’s entirely my fault — I suppose it was around that time that we started using the name Constant Elevation.

BEN:

I could say I founded Constant Elevation to boost my ego, so I guess I did.

ROO:

Here Ben, sit your ego on my lap and let me stroke it. There’s a good boy.Would you say the introduction of a website has helped or hindered? As far as enquiries from the public and the media go?

ALICE:

As far as finding new people wanting to suspend it’s definitely helped, we are no longer limited to those who either have IAM access or the initiative to track us down another way.It’s also made it easier for the media to contact us, so in general I would say it’s helped — although a couple of enquiries from the media have been a little ‘interesting’ and not the sort of thing we’d want to do or be associated with. On the whole though I think it’s been a good thing.

ROO:

What were these enquiries that had you so befuddled?

ALICE:

One instance was a documentary maker asking about suspensions — it became pretty obvious that what he wanted was shock value — pain and blood everywhere!He wanted something grotesque and shocking and purely about pain, basically tabloid shock horror which is NOT what we are about or what suspension is about — since it is a positive thing to do and I can’t think of anyone who has undertaken it purely to get have inflicted upon themselves.

Anyway when you look at a photo of a suspension what you usually see is someone smiling.

ROO:

I love smiling.Now, Alice.. You’ve been working with Constant Elevation and having sexual relations with Ben since almost day one — which of the two would you say has been the most rewarding?

ALICE:

No matter what I say here I will be in trouble if I choose one of those — so I will be diplomatic (as well as honest) and say that I enjoy both very much. Both at the same time would be nice, if a little hazardous. (ROO: Well, if it ever happens I expect it to be painstakingly documented for BME).

BEN:

Who said we were having sex?! (Oops, sorry mum)

ROO:

You know you came from sex, right Ben?

BEN:

I thought my mum found me under a gooseberry bush.You’ve shattered my illusions!

ROO:

Seriously though, has the transition between House of Wah and Constant Elevation been an easy one?Considering House of Wah began as a joke (at least the name did) with delusions of grandeur rather than a suspension group with ambitions.

BEN:

If I remember correctly House of Wah was a name given by Hillary — mainly to describe the funny farm where it all started — Constant Elevation was born around the time we started piercing for suspensions and stopped harassing people to pierce for us.The transition (if any occurred) went very smoothly indeed, it was a good idea at the time and I still think it is!

Then everything went wrong, very wrong indeed!

ROO:

Oooh, tell me more about this wrongness!

BEN:

I’ll let Alice cover that! I will say though, in the last year we have been involved in several shows in London, England — more planned in the future and plenty of other plans up our sleeves — maybe wrong wasn’t the right word, bite me I’m French (ROO: Yes Ben, we know, you’re French. You can’t use that as an excuse all your life though).

ALICE:

Just look at the pictures! So wrong but at the same time so right!Oh, and whilst I’m at it if anyone has a big bag of money laying around then we’d appreciate it to help with funding, as our creativity is limited by our cashflow (very low at the moment) — so if you want to be part of something interesting any loose change or unwanted cheques would be lovely.

Also, Constant Elevation is just a better name, by a long way.

ROO:

Hot! So what advice would you extend to someone wanting to form a suspension group from scratch?

BEN:

How much spare time do you have? How much money are you willing to invest? How much do you really want it?I was extremely lucky to have (at the time) a very interesting and open minded landlord who let me use an indoor rig in my bedroom — without him and the fact that he went to live abroad at around the time everything ‘kicked off’, none of this could have happened.

I asked my friends a lot of questions — VampyBody Evolution / SargeMetal Fatigue Collective / Cere and BrianRites of Passage (Click here to read an interview with Cere and Brian) for advice and what to shop for.

You have to learn all the basics to improve, making mistakes is usually the best way to learn — providing they’re made safely.

ALICE:

There is information out there, use it! Attend suspension events — always be willing to listen, learn and improve — don’t think you know everything already or that you know best — because I can assure you, you don’t!

ROO:

What would you say are the basics?

BEN:

Work alongside people who know what they are doing, help out!Seeing people in action is much easier than seeing it on paper. Search as much as you can, there’s enough information about and plenty of people who will be more than willing help you.

Joining the scouts isn’t necessary, but those guys know their knots (sailors do too). I personally started by helping around at other suspension events, watching, asking loads of questions then getting more involved when I felt confident enough — you have to know what you are doing and what to do if something goes wrong.

Be humble, attentive, open. Confidence (but not arrogance) is important as the person you are dealing with might be shitting bricks as it could well be his or her first suspension. Having a friend who already suspended as your first suspendee will take some of your pressure off, as they already know what to expect and can guide you in what you are doing. As they say — “Practise makes perfect!”

ALICE:

If you know someone who has experience piercing then it’d be a good idea to get them to take care of that side of things and to teach you, rather than attempting to throw hooks yourself from the word go. We started out having other people piercing for us, and then started ourselves after we felt confident enough to do so — if you’re just starting out you do not want to cause yourself more problems — get the rigging side of things covered first.Also practise changing gloves and putting them on properly as it is harder than it looks. Read up on cross contamination and sterility as well.

ROO:

All good advice!Benoit, combien de vos clients sont morts?

BEN:

Nobody yet, shall we put your name on the top of the list?

ROO:

If you can, you might be able to cook but I doubt you can spell it.

BEN:

I’m a chef, not a writer..Our scariest moment was doing a static suspension with two friends last summer, when Tam decided to pass out a metre above the ground.

The problem was he was attached from his torso and back with roughly twenty metres of rope.

He’s alive and kicking — now a member of the group and always willing to attempt something different or weird , just for the sake of trying.

ROO:

Poor lad (for both passing out and becoming a fully-fledged member), how did you bring him down to earth safely?

BEN:

Mmmmmmm! — Two people were holding him on their shoulders whilst Alice was jumping about and climbing around busily cutting ropes!I learned a lot that day — namely that you have to make a decision very fast, and it has to be the right one — his safety is as important as your own.

ALICE:

Yeah, having 14 stone of South African full of hooks land on you is a bit of a shock I can tell you! It’s good that it hasn’t put him off though.

ROO:

Who did he land on, exactly?

ALICE:

His friend who was helping out, then on Ben, then on me.

ROO:

It sounds like human pinball, what fun!You two scallywags are well known for suspending whilst performing relatively mundane tasks such as eating afternoon tea, cycling and ironing. How did this come about?

ALICE:

Ben did the cycling suspension before Constant Elevation existed — and I saw photos and thought it was a really good idea, so I had a go at knitting while suspending just to see if I could and because it was funny!Once I’d done that it was like ‘ok that worked, what can we do next?’ and you have seen the results. I like doing mundane things while suspending purely for the ridiculousness — I will always jump at the chance to be silly.

ROO:

Yes, I’ve heard that — do you have anything on the drawing board at the moment? Don’t give the game away but some saucy hints wouldn’t go amiss.

BEN:

A hint — more bedtime stories!We have a couple of projects with several suspensions happening simultaneously — I wish money would grow on a tree, and I had one of those in my backgarden.

ALICE:

One day, in the misty future, I just might suspend without any household appliances or haberdashery. Wait and see..

BEN:

I think you (Roo) were there for the bike suspension — that was my second suspension — and a very good start if I do say so myself.Some of those ideas started in front of several drinks at the pub — whilst drunk anything seems possible — it’s when you sober up that they can happen.

ROO:

I was there, yes! I really wanted to ring your bell but I was gloved up.

ALICE:

The idea for the ironing suspension actually came from a conversation with my dad. I don’t think he believed I’d actually do it though — Oops!

ROO:

Haha, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the conversation was about herding sheep.

ALICE:

I don’t actually know where to get any live sheep in London — but if you have any I guess it could be interesting..

ROO:

Out of all the suspensions you’ve been involved with which do you feel was the most memorable?

BEN:

The first static (off the bed frame) suspension happened after meeting Oliver in Oslo, and discovering the possibilities of static rigging.

ROO:

Could you explain the term ‘Static Suspension’ in a little more detail please, anyone?

BEN:

In a few words — the person isn’t going to be lifted off the ground — the person would be raised up in position, the ropes tied on and tension applied then the support is lowered so the person stays in the position they were placed in.No pulleys are used for this type of suspension. A perfect example would be the work of Oliver and some of the Stelarc performances (where rocks are used as counterweights during the suspension).

Static suspension is a fantastic way to go wild with the rigging, but, as the adjustments are done while the person is still supported once the person is up there is little (or no) adjustment possible.

ALICE:

Although for the static suspension I wasn’t exactly ‘involved’ since I was the person suspending, it was a really exciting moment when the objects I was resting on were taken away and the rigging worked and it went as well as we were hoping.

ROO:

I’m sure the word “exciting” doesn’t do the moment justice, but can you have a stab at describing how it felt to someone who’s never suspended?

ALICE:

If you read experiences of people’s suspensions you will in almost every case hear that the initial lifting off the ground was painful — then the rush of endorphins cancels out the pain.With static that doesn’t happen, as the full tension is applied to each hook before the support is lowered. It’s a much slower process so it is in some ways less painful and in other ways moreso, as you are always aware of what is happening.

It also feels more stable and restrictive than a normal suspension as the whole point is for you to remain in the one position that the rigging has put you into. I would not recommend it to someone for a first suspension as when the rigging is attached communication between the person suspending and the person taking care of the rigging is vital, as if, say, one of the hooks has far more tension and is more painful — that can’t be changed once you are up.

Also, you need to know which parts of your body can take more weight than others or it could be extremely uncomfortable.

Alice's static bed suspension
Alice’s static bed suspension.

BEN:

Or doing a guerilla suspension in France, that was brilliant!A few friends, a rucksack with all the gear in, going for a walk (a climb actually) searching for a good tree to suspend from, stunning location, awesome view of the sea, a great day on holiday!

ROO:

Where and who and how did you end up suspending after all that hard work?

BEN:

It wasn’t such hard work as we were having fun wandering around looking for a good tree to suspend from (in a forest, looking for a tree, but not any tree!!)We were in Marseille — in a mountain park overlooking the bay. We had a suspension planned in a great location but for some reason that fell through at the last minute — the gear was there to be used so we made the most of it.

Alice and a friend Iestyn both did a two point suicide, that was a damm good location and we’ll definately be back for more.

Guerilla suspension in Marseille
Guerilla suspension in Marseille.

ROO:

Benoit, you’re a chef! Sorry if that came as a bit of a shock to you.If there was a sudden worldwide shortage of hooks and/or autoclaves and the only sterilised hook was in your possession — what would you cook for yourself as a pre-suspension meal?

BEN:

Sounds like a Mad Max scenario! Probably a not very nice road kill stew with root vegetables.

ROO:

What?!

BEN:

Do you have any tasty road kill recipes by any chance?

ROO:

Erm, no. Moving on! How does the UK suspension scene compare to other European countries and groups you’ve worked alongside?

BEN:

My only real experience with another European suspension group was last year with “Wings of Desire” in Oslo. What I found amazing was that out of all the people attending that weekend at least 95% suspended!It really was a dedicated suspension meet rather than a social gathering.

ROO:

Which do you prefer, atmosphere-wise?

BEN:

Both are great really — but for very different reasons.In the UK people tend to stick with the “classic” suspensions and are a little less willing to try something new/original/unusual.

Tea party and static bed suspension

ROO:

Could you tap into your vast intellect for a moment and explain why you think that is?

BEN:

I don’t really know, the suspension scene is somewhat newer in the United Kingdom — there are a lot of first time suspendee’s but those who have suspended several times tend to try different things.There’s always the oddball, the weirdo, the mad one who wants to do something completely different (ROO: Hmm, I wonder who he could be referring to. Naughty ego — no supper!). Just not that many of ‘em — give it another year or two!

Actually who am I to say rubbish like that?! I only did my first suspension four years ago..

ROO:

You have come a long way, old bean.Alice, rumour has it Ben has more hair than twenty five grown men combined. How do you cope? Have you ever tackled the subject with his royal hairiness? Would he agree to an extreme-shaving suspension?

BEN:

I am not a bear!!!!!

ROO:

Shut up Ben, the question wasn’t directed at you. Sorry about that Alice — please do carry on.

ALICE:

25 is a bit of an exaggeration, maybe 7 would be a little closer to reality..I happen to like his fur — it keeps me warm. And as for shaving: NO! NO! NO!

Good grief, can you imagine full body stubble? No thanks.

ROO:

On that note — Fini!


This and most other photos taken by Al Overdrive (website)

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This article is copyright © 2007 bmezine.com, and for bibliographical purposes was first published April 25th, 2007.

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