Breaking Taboo: A.G.R.O. and the Art of Human Suspension
As I sat against one of the graffitied walls at the Kingspoint Mullet, watching the beads of sweat creating pools under the chin of a shirtless guy straddling a chair, I had to wonder if all of the sweat dripping from his brow was due to the miserable Sunday afternoon heat. Surely part of it was fear. I mean, I was sweating for him, and I wasn't the one who was seconds away from having metal hooks shoved into the flesh of my back.
As the piercers took aim, his brow furrowed a bit more, his eyes closed and the room grew eerily silent. And then, with one swift movement, it was done. Two three-inch spots on his back now bore metal hooks, mechanisms from which he'd soon be supporting his body weight as he hung from the rafters of the Mullet. Willingly.
It was my own preconceived notions about suspension, and perhaps about the people who practice it, that led me to tag along for a meeting and performance with the A.G.R.O. "family." Even as a person with extensive tattooing, and even with what I like to think of as a relatively open mind about body art, I still couldn't wrap my head around the idea of a person hanging from the rafters by his skin. Just couldn't do it. What in the world was suspension? And really, why were folks doing it?
The graffiti art space had been transformed for the afternoon, morphing into what appeared to be a shotgun surgery center, complete with autoclave-sterile piercing equipment, some rigging lines and a hell of a lot of antiseptic. They'd need it, though, because by the end of the afternoon, the guys from A.G.R.O. Suspension Team, Houston's antigravity relaxation organization, would have pierced -- and hung -- four people.
Human suspension, defined by suspension.org as "...hanging the human body from (or partially from) hooks pierced through the flesh in various places around the body," has been done for thousands of years, but unlike other body modifications -- tattoos, body piercing and branding -- the art of suspension hasn't been accepted into the mainstream just yet.
Where permanent ink and body jewelry are readily embraced by the masses, society has been slower to accept the practice of hanging by six inches of freshly pierced skin. Groups like A.G.R.O., and the sister group A.G.R.O. Side Show, their performance troupe, are aiming to change that stigma a bit, though.