A never-released interview between ‘Coum-unity’ a part of Temple of Psychic Youth and Jeanelle Mastema in 2013. This interview is from Mastema’s personal archives and she has given us permission to publish it on EmbraceChaos.com
1. Could you tell us a little about your history and how you first got into performance? When did you do your first suspension and what made you decide to make it a focus of your work?
Well, I was born in 1984 and raised in the Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles area, a somewhat typical-atypical youth on welfare in a culturally rich, mostly Hispanic neighborhood. Always very shy, I never imagined myself ever approaching a stage let alone performing topless in front of hundreds of strangers until the perfect opportunity sat before me in 2009.
I met Louis Fleischauer (and Steve Joyner of CoRE) at a long running deathrock night called Release The Bats in Long Beach, California in about 2008. I had vaguely been familiar with Aesthetic Meat Front since high school, always admiring the A-M-F Korsets hanging at Retail Slut on Melrose in Hollywood. Soon after meeting Louis, I attended my first A-M-F show that would coincidently be his farewell show since Louis was about to move back to Berlin after 13 years in Los Angeles.
It was during that show that I felt the door that I had almost given up searching for, open wide. For years, I struggled with finding a balance between mediocre, daily life and my personal beliefs, interests and desires. I had felt very alone, lost and felt that maybe there was no real place for my attractions. At that show I witnessed a moment in time so pure and real without question or interruption by the eyes of society and conformity. In my mind these words resonated, “I found my bliss, it does exist, it is possible”.
From there I kept in close contact with Louis. I felt it was so bitter-sweet that he found me before his move back to Germany. I was heartbroken A-M-F would no longer be accessible to me after being so profoundly impacted. Luckily, Louis made a few trips back to LA always eager to catch up with me. We had become very good friends at this point. And during these visits Louis treated me to my first experiences with flesh-hook piercings and pulls. The pulling I experienced with my first set of hooks left me utterly in a new state of being. I slowly shed my old self for a new, brave and pro-active self. No more wasting time believing life could not offer more than what lies within the restraints of conformity. For the first time I became aggressive and fearless. I wanted more, I wanted to shape a world unlike anything I’d imagined possible for myself. So, after many therapeutic and mentally consuming sessions with flesh manipulation, I sat stewing, trying to figure out how to keep this new consciousness alive and fed. That’s when Louis offered me a role in a stage performance with A-M-F at the Castle Party festival in Bolkow, Poland.
About a month later I hopped on my very first flight and left the country for really the very first time, alone and determined to make this experience one that would prove I was finally following a path waiting for me to find it. The rest is history. Louis had confidence in me like I never had in myself. I stood on stage, topless, multiple hooks in my flesh in front of 600 people in a castle in Poland. Fire, experimental audio with ritualistic drum beats blaring, Louis suspended between the castle walls, a woman, the lovely Valentina, under him, her dress on fire as he poured real blood over her entire body from above, the audience quite possibly experiencing the same overwhelming emotions and ecstasy as I did at my first A-M-F show. The words ran through my head, “I found my bliss… this is real, this is forever.” Again, I was thrust into a world I thought did not exist, yet, there I was… eyes rolled back, I was where only in dreams I could find.
After the festival we drove to Berlin. It was during my stay there that I finally experienced my first body suspension. Having so many experiences with hooks in my body already, it was not terribly difficult. It was quite humorous actually. We decided on a “Guerilla” style suspension in the local park near Louis’, the last midnight before I would return home. He facilitated the entire suspension and set me up on a children’s swing-set.
I found leaving the ground much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I finally let go and felt the weightlessness only suspension can provide. It was lovely and with people I love dearly.
Four years later and suspension and art performance have become a very big part of my life. I wouldn’t say suspension is a primary focus but it definitely serves as a profound climax for certain performances. Some call for it, and some don’t. I don’t suspend or take hooks in every show I am apart of but whenever suspension is involved it absolutely impacts my being. My biggest hope is that it also touches and affects the audience in such a way that causes them to question existence and the possibilities that do exist beyond the daily routine a lot of us struggle with for the sake of “making a living” and begin truly engulfing ourselves with what brings us serenity, joy and pleasure.
2. Could you explain how you became part of CoRE and something about your work with them?
Since I really had no other accessible contacts with the suspension world, I sought out the ritual-based, suspension performance troupe, Constructs of Ritual Evolution in August 2010. After a few months of scouting them out and attending a couple of shows, I found that they were putting out small ads for those interested in joining. I jumped at the opportunity immediately and emailed my creative resume to the Los Angeles Chapter director at the time, Matt Brawley. I was quickly set up for an orientation meeting and was given the run down on what CoRE was looking for in members. And that was that! I was welcomed with open arms to one of the most supportive groups of people I had ever met. It was quite unusual to me, at first, to be so accepted into a group of strangers and I mean that in the most pleasant of ways! Very quickly these folks became a second family to me.
Working with CoRE began as a series of training exercises through private suspension days and later, theatrical performances. My first big performance experience with them was in Las Vegas for APP 2011. It was CoREs big 10 year anniversary celebration performance. It was a huge production and grand theatrical piece. I had never witnessed such a well-oiled machine of people with a common interest work so hard with such fluidity. There were many roles and characters, I danced with bones connected to my body with small hooks. It was easily one of the most positively greatest experiences in my life. I found the true meaning of “family” in this community.
I have worked with CoRE on several shows since, either on or off stage. Offering whatever assistance I could provide, be it music, in the piercing department or production assistance or performance. Working with CoRE has been a great labor of love.
3. Tell us about your Virgo Rising Project?
As I began performing more and collaborating with other artists, be it film-makers, musicians, etc or my own personal projects, I decided I should maybe give it a name to be filed under. And so, I chose Virgo Rising. Very simply because of a long time fascination with astrology and astronomy and the word “Rising” because self-expression is very liberating and empowering. Whether I am working on an original piece or contributing to a collaboration, I usually use the Virgo Rising name. Virgo Risings first official and original show was in December 2010 at the infamous Show Cave in Los Angeles.
I have worked on many very different collaborations ever since. And though I am not totally against it, I do enjoy the fact that no show has been repeated.
4. Community and collaboration appear to be the focus of Virgo Rising. Why is this important to you and what makes you choose one collaboration over another? Have there been any that were particularly meaningful to you and why?
I love the outcome of involving or collaborating with other artists, especially through improv. Every Virgo Rising performance is different that way and like I said, never repeated. Sometimes I direct the shows almost completely and sometimes I am just the contributor. Themes and intentions are always discussed and sometimes rehearsed but for the most part, I like the basic idea of a laying a show idea out and allowing the rest to write itself. When everyone involved is on the same page and allowed total freedom to work within a collective vision, something truly beautiful and intense is born alive on stage.
But say, if I write an original show I usually have in mind who I would like to participate based on how well they would fit the energy of a particular show. I present the idea to them and let it go from there. We may have a couple of rehearsals so that those involved can feel out what they may want to offer or release within themselves. The outcome is always a surprise. I enjoy the chemistry that reveals itself on and off stage. A sort of psychic communication occurs and sometimes, can be quite overwhelming. I always very much hope everyone involved, including the audience takes something unforgettable away from the experience.
Every single performance has had a completely different affect on myself and the performers involved. They each have felt like they greatly provided what I may have needed at the time. You see, going into each show there is usually a personal motivation to rid or gain certain energies. This is why I like to generally describe my stage shows as “Self Exorcisms”. I think most performers can understand this in one way or another. I leave a piece of myself on the stage every time, physically with flesh and blood and with emotion and mental energy.
However, though it is hard to say how much one show affects me over another, I can say that the last collaboration I had with Steven Johnson Leyba and Adam Cooper-Teran, did leave me particularly physically, emotionally and mentally affected. It could have been the great physical challenge I experienced from the particular suspension I did and of course, the mental energy expelled during that ritual. The combined energy of all of the performers, the spoken word, live magick, audio and video projections could have altogether been the cause of the unexpected toll that was taken by myself and coincidentally some of the other performers, I found out later. It took about 4 weeks, the longest I have ever taken, to decompress from this ritual performance. I felt maybe I pushed my physical limits a bit further than ever. I suspended for an hour with very painful hook placements. Mentally, I gave it all I had and spilled the most blood I ever have in one evening.
I spoke to another performer a few weeks later and we had both been going through the same difficult post-show difficulties, general exhaustion and depression. We exhausted our strengths that night but we all experienced great highs and realizations of what we each need as individuals to progress and further nurture our ideal selves. A very touching and unforgettable show it was, indeed.
5. Virgo Rising is described as “Invokations For Thee Other Self”. Who is thee other self that you are invoking?
“Invokations For Thee Other Self” is something I want people to think about when they see my work. Hopefully inspiring them to think about what their “Other Self” may be. Growing up I experimented and studied many art forms in hopes of some day mastering them. Things like playing instruments, painting, recording digital music and directing short films. I had a difficult time in mastering any of these things, I can’t read music very well, I can’t draw well, and sound boards confuse me! But the passion to create always remained. So instead of constantly being envious of others with such natural talents I wish I had, I found a way to express what I consider beautiful my own way. With the help and experiences I described previously, I applied all that I studied and used my knowledge to the best of my personal ability. None of us need to master anything but ourselves in our own way that tunes us in to our strongest self. It’s about not caring how good you are, it’s about expressing yourself and being true to your fantasies and visions. I learned from being on stage that I really do truly find myself, a deep, hidden self that I otherwise almost never have outwardly given life to. Something inside myself switches on and is totally devoid of fear and unaffected by any hesitance or insecurity. To me that is the “Other Self”, a sort of exorcism of the pure “self”. I believe no matter how confident or self-realized someone is, that there is still an untapped “Other” self that holds a being of unaffected consciousness. Call it nothingness or everything within yourself all at once. Everyone possesses an “Other” self.
(My short film, “CONATUS” 2009)
6. You are involved mainly in public performance of a ritualistic nature. Do you see spectators as playing a role larger than just viewers and what kind of impact do you think your work has on the spectator? Do you think it is important to obscure the line between audience and performers? Why?
For the most part during a show, spectators become part of the collective energy in the space. I very much hope they take away something new, be it emotional impact, or a glimpse of something they’ll never forget. My biggest hope is that they leave with questions, interpretations, inspiration, or at very best, new personal realizations. I don’t mind if a performance is misinterpreted because provoking any complex thought is very satisfying and maybe is what motivates me to partake in public performances in the first place.
When I do perform, I normally lose the sense of any presence around me, except for the other performers around me, which at times is even difficult. I become so enveloped in the intensity that most times, everything around me becomes a serene, chaotic blur. If anything, I do want the audience to know that the spectacle is a grand offering of my most intimate visions. That they are witnessing something very personal. Usually they do, I’ve had wonderful feedback or run ino attendess at later times and have been told how much they were affected and appreciated what we were doing. Sometimes they have questions or express an interest in body suspension which I’m always happy to provide answers to. People have been very respectful and I’m always so grateful for the kindness. It’s very rewarding and if it inspires them to create and explore themselves then I feel very successful and blessed with creative appreciation… I think I would take any mean or negative response just as well! It’s the affect that concerns me.
7. Can you give me your thoughts on the spiritual aspect of suspension? Do you feel suspensions should only serve a spiritual purpose?
The spiritual aspect varies from individual to individual, or is absent altogether. I myself don’t even know if what I feel during suspension as spiritual. I just know I feel a blissfulness and blankness only suspension provides for me. And it’s not always the same. Every suspension experience causes different sensations and physical, emotional or mental responses. It all really depends on the environment, atmosphere of the people around you and the personal state of the person suspending.
There is a different set of intentions and motivation for every suspension. I think that’s what makes suspension so unique and powerful. The outcome and gain is drastically different each time. Also, the type of suspension creates different outcomes as well, since some suspensions are more challenging than others.
I think people should suspend for whatever drove them to become interested in the first place. I personally think one ideal way of going into a suspension is to conjure whatever strength someone needs to get through it from whatever is or isn’t going on in their lives, so long as they see some kind of valuable benefit.
Even when a suspension is not enjoyed, growth in that person is created. Suspension has a way of making you experience new corners of yourself and very much has convinced me and many others that there is a pure and honest strength that is realized with each and every suspension.
And hey, it can also just plainly be a wild and fun experience!
8. You will be performing in Tokyo at Sadistic Circus with Aesthetic Meat Front in September. Could you tell us about the upcoming performance?
Ooh, well, that’s not really up to me to reveal but I will say it’s going to be a unique version of A-M-F’s “Public Deprogramming”. I very much look forward to the experience. Some of my closest friends are performing alongside of me. It will be good to bleed with Louis again. This is only the second time I’m traveling out if the country. It seems A-M-F always manages to drag me out of the US!
9. What is the ultimate goal of your work?
I’d say it really is 2 things. One, to embrace my own personal freedom of expression for the sake of my own health and happiness. And two, to show people that through intensive self exploration and awareness that they may find strength within themselves they’ve never realized. The point of finding this kind of strength is to help guide people toward a life more fulfilled and maybe with a clearer direction. And why would I care to show anyone that there are more paths to choose from? Because again, most of our daily lives guide us through a very narrow, blinding path of struggle that is of very little reward. We owe it to ourselves to be well rounded individuals with something unique to nurture. Small or large scale doesn’t matter.
There are big and small neglected dreams out there because people are filled with fear or doubt or a general lack of motivation. People need to know their strengths and take chances because they fail to realize that anything is attainable, that there is success even in failure. You just have to be brave and let go of fear and inhibition. Go out and find an outlet that relieves your desires, write it down, act it out, seek community, become physical, paint, make noise, make videos, perform at weirdo art spaces. Do it in front of a video camera and edit until it matches your dreams. The point is, relieve yourself, capture what you believe in and become the strongest you can be. Nothing is stronger than the individual and even better is one who acts on it and is passionate. It’s hard but challenges are good for people. Just like the terror and total lack of confidence I used to feel at the thought of ever gracing a stage. I’ve embraced the stage as a welcoming place to make visions come to life. And it’s amazing because you can be purely impulsive about it, just fucking do it! It’s very liberating. Take a shit on society and scream, “I am a fucking soldier of my right to be whoever and whatever the fuck I want to be and show the world a piece of my mind!”
It doesn’t have to be complicated, just see life for what it is, see opportunities and risks and seize them!
It’s a simple goal really. It just breaks my heart seeing so many people with so many desires, talents, and ideas and not nurturing or seeing those things as needs. Joy creates strength and health, hence producing mental clarity. With mental clarity comes a stronger society of people that can see clearer through bullshit and lies. And with that may come real change for a better standard of living, instead of further bloating the dead, rotting corpse of the conformity machine that is producing a race of the living dead. We can be what society fears most, the complete, non-impressionable, analytical, strong willed, independent thinking, active individual.