BME Book Review: Black & Grey Tattoo


I was thrilled to find out I would have the opportunity to review the newest tattoo book on the market, Black and Grey Tattoo: From Street Art to Fine Art by our old friend Marisa Kakoulas (who wrote Legal Link for BME) and co-authored with Edgar Hoill. I’ll admit, I was also a little nervous, after all, Marisa is a friend and what would I say if the book wasn’t up to snuff? All those worries went out the window when I finally got my hands on it.


This is actually a three volume set and to my knowledge the first multi-volume set featuring the work of some of the world’s greatest tattoo artists. From street art to fine art indeed, the range and diversity of the work is amazing and the talent is unquestionable.

Read on for my review!

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ONANISME MANU MILTARI II by Lukas Zpira [The BME Book Review]



Click here to order ONANISME MANU MILTARI by LUKAS ZPIRA now!

A review by Shannon Larratt

Lukas Zpira, as a person, is extremely stylish and fashionable, and this book, intended to capture his artistic vision, mirrors that aesthetic. But I must be honest with you. I’m not a stylish or fashionable guy, and it’s probably fair to say that I am actively unfashionable in fact. Not only that, but I don’t care much for modern art, and less for the explanations artists use to justify it — so much so that it makes it difficult for me to relate to this book, and for that I apologize.

An enormous amount of effort has been done on processing and manipulating the photos and layout. In some ways this is good, because it captures the feel of Lukas Zpira as an artist, but, on the other hand, it also distorts the images so much that what most of us perceive as Lukas’s actual art, contained in the photos, is difficult to make out and is no longer able to speak for itself. Rather than presenting the pieces as they were created, the book retells them not as the world sees them, but as Lukas Zpira sees them. One could also argue that nearly all of the photos in the book have already been published online in a far clearer and more effective way.

The text of the book I feel makes the same presentation error (or success), although I’m sure a great deal is lost in the translation (it is written with both English and the original French). Most of the writing is highly philosophical, abstract, and arty, and in some ways feels like it’s “trying” to be so. For me, body art is a very down to earth subject, and personally I like seeing it presented in terms that are honest and tangible. Since I couldn’t relate to most of the text, I found myself seeing it as boring, shallow, and misleading. Maybe I’m missing the point, or maybe other people are fooling themselves into thinking there’s a point a la The Emperor Wears No Clothes. I have no idea.

While I do believe that this limited edition book is an essential addition to any body modification and body art library, I worry that Lukas Zpira has perhaps limited himself by presenting such a pure expression of his art — of himself — rather than opening a clearer channel for the uninitiated — or those like me with different tastes — to understand it. Or perhaps those people will never understand the core of what Lukas Zpira is saying — it’s not as if I’ve gotten better at choosing clothes that match as I’ve aged. If anything, I’ve gotten worse.

But really, I’m looking at and reviewing the book in entirely the wrong way. It’s not a portfolio of Lukas’s work. It’s not a grounded discussion of scarification, piercing, and surgical body modification, nor is it supposed to be. If you’re looking for that, you won’t enjoy or find meaning in the book. But if you come into the experience looking to discover the essence of Lukas Zpira’s vision, independent of the corporal aspect of his work, you’ll find it. ONANISME MANU MILITARI II exists separate from the scalpels and the spatulas, and even separate from the skin that adorns its pages — it is a work of art in and of itself.

    - Shannon Larratt

A Review by Jordan Ginsberg

To give credit where it’s due, few artists in the body modification community have propelled themselves to “rock star” status quite like Lukas Zpira has. Really, he’s like the U2 of body artists: From day one, he’s made himself out to be the biggest, most interesting and important thing out there, and has done so with no apologies. Initially making a name for himself as a world-class scarification artist, Zpira quickly began winning crowds over with his sideshow-cum-fetish performance art group, ART KOR, which fused suspension and bloodletting with more traditional fetishistic aspects — such as Japanese rope bondage — in a far more sexual manner than many other performers were embracing at the time. Thanks to the uniqueness of his work, his larger-than-life attitude about himself, and his relentless touring schedule — taking his act and his art all over the world many times over — Lukas quickly reached veritable celebrity status.

More than just a showman though, Zpira has always emphasized the philosophical backing behind the work that he does and the lifestyle he espouses, a body of thought that he’s dubbed “Hacktivism.” Rather than following the path of the modern primitives, Zpira’s Hacktivism seems to be the modus operandi of the cyberpunk-fakir — a methodology based on how these rites of the flesh relate to the future rather than their tribal histories.

Onanisme Manu Militari II, Zpira’s new Hors-Editions book, is an unfortunate misfire in several respects, particularly due to its attempts to be too many things at once; unsure of whether it wants to be a photography-based coffee table book or a philosophical guide, the result is a messy synthesis of the two.

The book is not an absolute disappointment, of course. Primarily a photo-based work, shots from a variety of photographers — including Zpira himself — are included, and by and large it’s all top-notch. Bright, brilliantly saturated colors contrasted with heavy shadows bring out the best in the subjects, whether they’re clients of Lukas’ bearing scars or implants he’s performed, or occasionally even Lukas himself. As a showcase of his work, the book works extremely well; Lukas is undoubtedly highly skilled, and brings to the table an exciting, unique style of scarification, as well as fresh takes on implant designs and other pseudo-surgical procedures such as ear-pointing and tongue-splitting, all of which get their time in the spotlight in the book. Often augmented with distressed filters and scorched backgrounds, the images themselves are generally striking and fascinating; sadly, they suffer from the book’s small format. Presented on standard 8.5 by 11” paper, high-quality glossy as it may be, photos such as these would have benefited far more from being published in a larger format, more traditional coffee-table book size. With shots as busy and full as these, each one should be treated more like an event than as just another page in a book, so to speak.

Where the wheels really begin to come off, however, is the textual content. Again, Zpira is markedly philosophic in his background, and I wouldn’t suggest that he’s anything but authentic in his beliefs; that said, the written portions of the book largely come off as little more than pretension masking an absence of viable content. Though the text is limited to a handful of short essays — printed in both English and French — that are seldom longer than a single page, they’re as distracting as they are difficult to concentrate on. Now, this is not to put it all on Lukas — there are a number of authors featured in addition to Zpira, though their segments are essentially limited to discussing their (very, very similar) takes on Lukas himself, rarely reaching beyond fellatious back-slapping and sophomoric musings on any number of “cyber”-based compound words.

Now, while not written by Lukas, the inclusion of these passages speaks as little more than blatant self-aggrandizement, which is not necessarily out of place altogether, but the extent of its presence here is somewhat suspect. Zpira’s portions, while marginally more substantial, are unfortunately disappointing as well—because they often suggest that there is more to the story than he chose to share. Ranging from the autobiographical and the political to the poetic and apocalyptic, the topics covered are broad in scope, yet all coalesce at a similar yet borderline incoherent point; south of “Be what you want to be,” but just north of “Evolve or die!”

Zpira’s philosophy is almost transhumanist in some respects; not simply an acknowledgement that the human body is imperfect, it also embodies an effort to correct this biological error. Though, while transhumanists typically seek more medical and scientific-related fixes, the Hacktivist revolution is ostensibly an aesthetic one; a method of reinventing one’s self by reshaping one’s image and identity; better living through keloids, if you will. And of course, this is not to discount it, but to see it propped up as a grand calling of the future is mostly disingenuous, and tragically overblown.

Finally, clocking in at a brisk 126 pages, the 40-Euro (roughly $50 USD) price tag is quite steep. Were it in a larger format and maybe 100 pages longer, focusing more on the photography and less on pretentious techno-babble, such a cost may be justifiable. It’s well produced, with a sturdy hardcover and unquestionably high-quality images, but the presentation simply does not do the art justice. While this is without question a must-have for admirers of Lukas and his work, those with little attachment or knowledge of him would likely be better off checking out his web site before spending the money on this book.

    - Jordan Ginsberg

Click here to order ONANISME MANU MILTARI by LUKAS ZPIRA now!

This page and its contents are © 2005 Shannon Larratt – Reproduced under license by LLC. All rights reserved. Requests to reprint must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purpose this review was published September 16th, 2005 in La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Like A Butterfly (Lukas Zpira in Japan DVD) [The BME Book Review]

DVD available at BMEshop

Like a Butterfly
DVD: Lukas Zpira Japan Tour

On a recent trip to Namibia (in Africa for those that don’t know their geography) our flight routed through London Heathrow in the United Kingdom. Standing a few feet in front of us in line was Lukas Zpira, his daughter Mayliss, and his wife Satomi! It turns out that they were returning from a long tour across Japan and just happened to pass through customs at the same moment as Rachel and I. Before we parted, Lukas gave me a copy of the documentary DVD that Ryoichi Maeda had released about his time in Japan.

I’ve known Lukas for seven or eight years both personally and professionally and have a great deal of respect for him as an artist — both technically and in terms of the fine art and philosophy aspect — as a performer, and as a friend. Lukas is one of a very small number of scarification artists whose work can be recognized by its design factors (which I feel is one of the marks of a true artist, rather than simply someone who is accomplished at their craft), and in part because of that, and in part because I felt running into him was a “sign” that the time was right (yeah, laugh it up), I asked Lukas to do a cutting on my face a few weeks later (story coming soon).

Glowing review on both the cutting and the DVD from me.

I enjoyed this DVD immensely, and although I think he thinks it’s a little rough around the edges, it gives an excellent insight into what motives Lukas Zpira and what makes him tick as an artist. In addition, it contains highly detailed and closeup footage of him performing implants and cuttings, as well as performance footage. It’s not a how-to or anything of the sort, but it shows much more than any other documentary on him ever has. In any case, it’s obvious that I’m a fan — so in order to get a less biased review, I asked BME’s Jordan Ginsberg (who recently reported on Lukas’s Mexico Trip in his article Hola Gringo) to look it over and let us know what he thought.

Like A Butterfly
Review by Jordan Ginsberg

The Like A Butterfly DVD had been sitting on my desk for about two weeks before I finally got around to watching it. I wasn’t avoiding it, but apparently living in Mexico is conducive to lethargy. And alcoholism. But mostly lethargy.

I’m rather surprised by the lack of film releases devoted to heavier modification work and ritual practices in general; these areas have so much to offer visually — and are, by and large, covered extensively by photographers — but have seldom made the transition to retail video. Like A Butterfly, directed by Eric Bossick and produced by Ryoichi “Keroppy” Maeda (IAM:RYOICHI), is a wonderfully shot, personal account of Lukas Zpira’s exploits while touring through Japan. With the low-end rumble of Deseptagon’s electronic beats providing the soundtrack, the 50 minute movie provides a glimpse into the procedures of one of the world’s most talented and respected body artists.

The movie begins with one of several interview segments with Lukas that are interspersed throughout the rest of the footage. Providing a short primer about himself, he explains his history as an artist and how traditional visual arts were somewhat unfulfilling — until he realized that he could use the human body as a canvas.

Divided up into separate chapters for Cutting, Skin-Removal Scarification, Tongue Splitting, Implants, and Suspension — most of which are prefaced by another interview segment with Lukas that pertains to the work at hand — the film offers viewers procedural footage that may be entirely new terrain to them. Seeing pictures of, say, a skin removal scarification piece is one thing, but watching in real-time as Lukas deftly cuts away at the underside of a young man’s chin as blood faucets out is another experience altogether. Which is another thing: This is a graphic film. Lukas makes no bones about his love of blood, and this DVD certainly represents that. Nudity is mostly kept to a minimum (nothing below the belt), though there is one truly surreal scene in a club where a young man — who, mind you, is inexplicably bare naked — is furiously masturbating his pixellated penis while Lukas performs a cutting in the foreground. Other than that, the occasional bare-breasted, slightly bloody Japanese girl is all one has to look forward to in this department.

(Somewhere in California, Rivers Cuomo’s ears just perked up. I will bet money on this.)

Lukas’ interview segments, while occasionally difficult to decipher due to the video camera’s microphone being the sole audio source (it seems), are certainly worth watching. He often avoids going into too much detail about the work itself, and instead waxes philosophical; outlining his theories and methodologies about body modification and, in some ways, humanity in general, Lukas certainly presents himself not as a simple cutter or practitioner, but as a very real artist with a clear vision and sense of direction about his life, career and ideas. Lukas, too, is about as charming as they come — eternally at ease on camera and fully content with his status as something of a rock star in the community. Even if there is difficulty understanding him at times, you will be glad to re-watch his segments to catch what you might have missed; his glowing personality and candor are infectious.

It was, however, the footage of the procedural scenes that scored highest with me. Filmed with only one camera, Lukas’ work is documented extremely clearly and vividly here — and again, this may be some peoples’ first opportunity to see these procedures performed on video, rather than just seeing photographs. Not to marginalize the community’s photographers either, but there are obviously fundamental differences between experiencing these acts through different media.

The bulk of the footage is shot in typical piercing studios; cutting, peeling, tongue splitting and implant videos have all been filmed in typically sterile rooms. The camerawork is sharp and precise; the multitude of close-up shots (they dominate the footage) showcase Lukas’ steady precision, and give viewers potential insights into one of the modern master’s techniques.

As I mentioned in my report on my trip to BodyFest in Mexico City, Lukas is one of the most confident people I’ve ever seen work in this field, and easily one of the fastest — he makes this stuff look simple, and in spite of being acutely aware of his own abilities, he remains terribly humble. His young daughter, Mayliss, is even present for much of the filming; during one woman’s cutting, she gently strokes her hair to help soothe and relax her. Having grown up around this sort of thing, she is completely unfazed by the work her father does — she’s even hanging out in the club (the site of the aforementioned pixellated masturbator) that acts as the setting for the remainder of the footage, which is largely suspension performances. Those partaking in the suspensions generally appear to be relative novices though — it almost seems to be more of a SusCon vibe than an actual show. With a crowd of cheering onlookers, Lukas assists each of the participants with his or her rite, every pained wince and blissful moment caught on film.

In one of the film’s most touching moments, Dita (BMEjapan), after landing back on the ground following her suspension, falls into Lukas’ arms as ecstatic tears stream down her face, thanking him over and over again. Lukas, as usual, is all smiles.

Like A Butterfly is hardly the definitive procedural film — that film hasn’t been made yet, and I don’t think that’s what is trying to be achieved here. As documentation of Lukas’ expertise, footage the likes of which is rarely seen for sale these days, and a look into methods and philosophy of one of the most talented body modification artists practicing today, however, it succeeds admirably.

Shameless plug: Buy the DVD at BMEshop

Ten Years of Pain [The BME Book Review]

Ten Years of Pain
by Håvve Fjell – Review by Shannon Larratt


Being a fakir is not just about showmanship, it is a way of life, a philosophy. You can not learn the discipline if you are not born with the urge to explore the limits of the body.

- Håvve Fjell

This may well be the best body play related book I have ever read (wow!). It is the first book in a long time where I’ve been felt an empathic connection with the content and been drawn deeper and deeper as I progressed. Not since I was a child reading science fiction on winter nights have I been so singularly possessed by a work of prose.

Ten Years of Pain
Håvve Fjell,
photographs by Helene Fjell
author iam:
author url:
Hertervig Forlag, Norway
Shannon Larratt
An intimate ten-year history of a modern fakir.

Håvve Fjell is the core of Pain Solution, a Norwegian performance art group — although it has also been a solo project for much of its existence. He exemplifies the modern fakir, both in the sense of performance, fine art, spirituality, and social consciousness. This book, photographed by Håvve’s sister Helene, is an intimate, unflinching, and deeply personal and engaging documentation of his first ten years — as Helene puts it, “Håvve is honest and he has something to say.” The book is written almost entirely in the first person, and its open style makes you feel like you’re reading Håvve’s thoughts.

Just over two years ago Håvve was asked to speak about self-harm at a Psykopp-organized lecture for psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and doctors — they were so drawn into the dialog that they approached him about producing a book on the subject. He begins this book by describing his childhood,

Each time I would try to aim a bit higher; cut a bit deeper, burn a bit longer or push more needles into my legs. Of course, no one around me would understand why I did these things to myself, and I could not explain. This led me to do my business in private and try to hide the results from family and friends.

Sound familiar?

In 1991 Håvve traveled to Brazil to develop his skills. In Brazil he met other performers, and did his first fakir show — to an audience who was not expecting or desiring his style of show, and jeered him with taunts of “disgusting”, “sick pervert” and “ugly”.

The rest of the night, I hid. I was too ashamed to see the organizers or talk to anyone. However, two good things came out of that particular night. That night, my girlfriend, Monica, conceived our first son, Kai. In addition, I learned an important lesson about performing in public: it is not what you do, but how you present it that matters.

His confidence returned along with his return to Oslo, where he put on another show with friends (much more successfully) and started thinking about combining the fakir element with performance and stage art. Along with his friends Eirik and Roberto he decided that maybe they could even make a little money if they built a show around fire, juggling, fakirism, and music, and in 1993 PSI (Pain Solution Inc.) was founded.

The first show was a success, but they quickly lost their backing band. The group shuffled members for a while, and Håvve took courses in street theatre, mime, clowning, and acting, and became more and more serious about the professionalism of his show. He returned to Brazil for some time and then back to Norway where he slowly re-tooled his shows for a broader audience — Pain Solution was getting TV gigs, many shows, and media appearances — and also worked with puppet theatre and other art-forms.

We were mostly doing fire stunts and I had padlocks sewn to my torso, this was quite new to me at the time and I was dancing wildly. It came to the point where I felt I was loosing contact with the floor, as if I was dancing without touching the ground. What I felt was pure pleasure. I watched the crowd from above and was about to fly up, and out from the stage. I do not know what really happened, but it was suddenly very quiet. A technical problem with the sound system had put an end to my almost leaving my body experience.

For Y2K Pain Solution was contracted to perform at the largest millennium event in Norway, a huge fire show on New Year’s even in Oslo. After being the pinnacle act in front of 200,000 people Pain Solution started getting larger contracts for custom performances, and Håvve began building a network of actors, contortionists, jugglers, and other performers to work with as shows dictated. Shows got even larger, and in 2001 Pain Solution co-produced Ringen with the Haugesund Theatre, a modern circus group. Large projects always put a lot of stress on a group, and Håvve decided to revert Pain Solution back to being a solo production.

He was then invited to do a series of performances for the Industrial Art Museum in Oslo, and presented them with a plan to do a sculptural or “poetic” suspension. They turned him down, saying that he would scare off their “elderly guests”. Håvve was furious — he’d been promoting the event for three weeks, and his art was being muted.

I saw no reason in arguing, nor did I see any reason to accept being excluded from the programme. I decided to hold a demonstration against censorship, at the museum on that given Saturday. I wrote a new press release explaining the situation. When I sent it out, I made sure they got a copy at the museum.

On the day of the event, I appeared at the Museum with a plaster cast from head to toe, with only holes for my eyes and nose, in a sculpture called Sensurert (Censored). As my assistants carried me out of the van and up the stairs outside the Museum, we were met with hostility; they would not let us set foot on their stairs and stopped us with brute force. Therefore I stood outside on the pavement for nearly two hours, with a supporting crowd, until the cold had made my limbs so numb that I had to give up my demonstration.

The demonstration was a success and the publicity led the House of Artists to contract Håvve to perform Censored, as well as Floating, the project which had been censored. Since it was a six-week installation, Håvve expanded it to Kvintett, five performances of physical restrictions — full body casting, flesh sewing, buried in broken glass, a Chinese-water torture-type event, and a horizontal suspension. The book describes his experiences and encounters in all of these.

However, after this successful series of performances (with a great deal of media and critical attention), Håvve again found himself alone and in debt — for the first time in his life, he had to get a job. Of course, with no education or experience, the best he could do was two part-time jobs — and he feared that a full-time job could interfere with his ability to continue developing Pain Solution. Kvintett had given him a new area to explore as an artist and a fakir — his own personal approaches to pain. His performances became more esoteric, and Håvve became an explorer and researcher as much as an artist.

In the west, our culture brings us up to perceive pain exclusively as a negative experience. No matter how small the injury might be, the most important action taken is to comfort the child. I am not saying that is wrong, but in many cases parents end up teaching their children to fear pain. If a child is bleeding, the hysteria is even worse.

* * *

Sometimes the pain is too strong to ignore, it is just impossible not to pay attention to it. In these cases, I try to put all my focus on the pain itself. I search for the centre of the pain. I try to figure out how it spreads, where the borders of the sensation are, and how it feels right next to where it’s hurting. By going into the sensation and exploring it, I find the focus is in studying the pain, instead of suffering it.

…which brings the specific history of Pain Solution up to date.

Håvve also communicated with Allen Falkner of TSD in Texas, and after doing a number of suspensions in private and in public (as mentioned above), beginning in 2002 he began co-organizing the annual Wings of Desire – Oslo Body Suspension Festival, an event similar to the SusCons hosted by various suspension groups around the world. He also talks about how hard it’s been for him to achieve spiritual experiences, largely due to the attention he must also pay to the stage aspect.

Addressing something too many amateur performers overlook, Håvve warns about some of the accidents that have happened on stage, including one horrific experience where he breathed in a lungful of paraffin, leading him to ten days hospitalization after the performance. Other shows left him with serious burns, and another with cuts in his hand that resulted in permanent nerve damage. Like many of us, he’s had last minute supply and preparation problems, rigging failures, and other mishaps. “Shit happens and the show must go on!

The conclusion to the book contains commentary from many of the other members of Pain Solution mentioned in the book, both performers and technical staff. It also contains some interview excerpts and fine arts analysis of Håvve’s performances (“In search of a lost pain” by the Bureau of Contemporary Art Praxis, Rijeka, Croatia, and “Toward the aesthetics of pain” by Stahl Stenslie, Academy of Media Arts, Colgne Germany), commentary from Målfrid J. Frahm Jensen and Per Johan Isdahl (Ullevål University Hospital, Oslo) on the self-harm aspects, and from Siv Ellen Kraft (University of Tromsø, Norway) on the religious aspects. The book then finishes with a short FAQ.

This really is a remarkable book. My review does not do it the justice it deserves. I literally believe it is the only book that has been able to take such a snapshot. I do not believe that any body modification book collection can be called complete without this book, and I believe this is essential reading for anyone involved in performance or body art as well as those interested in art history and body-art/modification/play-history.

From a technical point of view the printing in this book is gorgeous. It’s large format (10”x10”) and full color with silver spot color throughout its 180 pages and almost every page has photos. The text is clear and easy to read and the photos are bright, crisp, and vibrant (all the pictures in this review are of course from the book). I have nothing bad to say about the book on a conceptual or artistic level, but I do have two complaints in the technical area:

  1. Binding. Ten Years of Pain is softbound (I made the same mistake with the ModCon book). As a result it damages easily; my copy got banged around a bit in the mail and the corners are dinged — this book is such an obvious collector and display piece that it should have been been printed as a hardcover in my opinion.
  2. Price. Printing a limited edition book is expensive — as a result, Håvve’s book sells in Norway for 400 Kroners (about $60 US), which, once you add distribution costs, gets up to the $70 US mark by the time it’s made it to North America. That’s a lot to pay for a softcover; if it was any other book I wouldn’t be recommending it so strongly.

I believe that this book will touch you. It might get banged up a little easier than it should, and maybe it costs a little more than is normal, but this book will touch you. For me, it’s worth every cent, and I believe that if you’re a regular BME reader and you appreciate what’s being done here in general, this book will reach you as well.

As far as I know BMEshop is the only place this book is available online. Because I believe in it so strongly I have given up all royalties and commission on its sale in order to ensure the best possible price for you. Please note that we only have a few in stock right now, so if you visit the page and it’s sold out, please be sure to add your name to the “tell me when it’s back” list.

Shannon Larratt

PS. Be sure to check out the Pain Solution website at!

This page and its contents are © 2004 Shannon Larratt – Reproduced under license by LLC. All rights reserved. Requests to reprint must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purpose this review was published January 21st, 2004 in Toronto, Canada.