10 Questions to Lukas Zpira

Posted by Disha Singh on September 10, 2020

Disha: Lukas you are as explained by BMEzine Encyclopedia; body modification artist, nomadic performer, documentor of the contemporary fringes and one of the major figures of the contemporary underground. Do you agree? And what more can be added to introduce you to the audiences in India?

Lukas: It’s quite a flattering introduction! Yes, I have always been involved in many kinds of subculture. I am what we can call a transdisciplinary artist, meaning I work on a lot of different mediums. I started doing different artistic experimentation back in the 90s before starting to work on the body.

I also do photography as well as documentary and spoken word. I think what can describe the link between all my works is the idea of working with the limits, the boundaries, and the social impact of a work.

I thank you for the opportunity to present my work in India which is a country I was always interested to visit and never had the chance to see so far.

Portrait by Maria Issa – Bali 2019

Disha: As I mentioned BME, the fallen king’s death was one of the saddest news for me after he lost BME. I think many do not know/remember him, would you like to say few words about Shannon Larratt.

Lukas: I had a complex relationship with Shannon, he was the first one over sea to support & showcase my work. At the time everyone was on BME.

It was good but also had it’s downside. It was the place to meet talk exchange but at the same time, it was a microcosm through which many were living without having a grasp on reality. Many people tried really hard to exist on bme, to be recognised & recognisable. Even the system of IAM (the social network within BME) was pushing this dynamic to get 15 minutes of fame.

We always disagreed on that and on the consequences among Bod Mod enthusiasts, but we always had a mutual respect. Without BME the scene wouldn’t be what it is nowadays. I felt really sad when I heard Shannon got ripped off of BME by his -at the time- wife and staff.

A lot of questions were still pending, that I never had the opportunity to talk about with Shannon, so when he lost the website I decide to take the opportunity to have a fiar talk with “the fallen king”. I did an interview with him, during which I could point out our disagreements and we could share our POV.

Shannon was a father figure for many, who ended up a little bit lost when he lost the website & passed away a few months after. The scene changed and slowly became an industry. It is hard to say so little about a man who did so much, so if you are interested to read more about him, here is the full interview with Shannon.

Disha: Your performances have evolved a lot over a decade. Can you highlight some advancements that can give the depth of the latest happenings and share your experiences from some of your memorable performances?

Lukas: Though my performance exploration took many ways, I mostly explore body suspensions since the past 15 years.

It started as an exploration and slowly became more and more an “in depth experience”. Though the performances were well received and my work respected, it always felt a bit frustrating for me, often feeling the public was often missing the point as no matter what I tried to express most of the people focused on the hooks, the blood, the pain. In 2009 I started to conceptualise a new approach, trying to find a way to share the experience with the public. In 2011 I found a team of hackers from Italie Spectre who developed for me the programme for a bio feedback performance. That was the first version of Danse NeurAle .

With started to monitor different body responses to the experience (heart beat, breath, brain waves) and used it to create an immersive sound and images installation. The idea was to have the public see the changes inside me during the performance. It worked pretty well, but not as I expected. When we did this first representation I was already on stage as people entered the space, I was equipped with a microphone inside the mask to amplify my breath and a stethoscope for mthe heart beat. I noticed the people arriving, speaking, laughing, but very quickly started to hear my breath, then whispered. Then they could heard my heartbeat and so they became quiet.

I was without realising it at first creating a natural organic connection with the public. I had a fantastic feedback of this performance and for the first time they spoke of the “experience” they had, not about the pain and hooks or blood. But still, I noticed that I was losing something as the public was sitting in front of me watching images projected on screen that put them through an intellectual process. So I redesigned this performance in order to emphasize this organic and intimate connection I had with the public. It took me many years to find a programmer who could understand what I was trying to achieve and willing to work on my performance. In 2018 I met David Chanel from Theoriz ( in NYC and again few months after in Tokyo with whom I started to develop Danse NeurAle 2.0. In 2019 I found a venue to present the Beta version. Since a month we are working on a new emulation and have added to the team Remi Cambuzat who is developing a robotic part through which a piece will be created live using also the datas generated during the performance.

In this new version I am in the center of the room and we created a complete immersive environment designed with my body responses through which the public can go through. The lights are changing, sound is evolving & there are abstract representations of my datas all around me. The space become an extension of my inner self, through which the public can wander. An organic experience rather than an intellectual one, at last. From the beginning to the end the public is intimately connected on an emotional level with me.

Disha: I want to talk about the music in your performances. Is it truly being derived from brain? Can you throw some light on this for music enthusiasts. [Please, Share some video as example]

Lukas: Everything is generated by the data we collect during the performance.

The algorithm my team created interprets the information collected (brain waves, blood pressure, body temperature etc) and transforms them into different sounds that change depending on how all those information evolves. We created a basic pattern and the algorithm does the rest.

Here is the link to the first version of Danse NeurAle, as well as the beta version of DNA 2.0 we presented last year here

Photo ©Guillaume Niemetzky

Disha: It’s very rare we’ll be able to find, can I know who and how does Lukas spend his work break at home? You wear bracelet in your hands can you tell what is it made of and it’s significance in your life.

Lukas: Well ! when work and passion entangle, there is never “off of work” time. I have been living a nomadic lifestyle since +20 years, traveling months at time with my daughter Mayliss, it is a constant reflection of life and thoughts. Traveling is part of my work rhythm, going to new places, encountering people, creating content. Rather it be photography, performance, workshops. China, Canada, New Zealand, USA, Mexico, all those places have the same value to me, they are home away from home, traveling means also to get out of the comfort zone, a concept that influenced & attracted me. It is not an easy path, it’s just the only one I know. I am my own walking manifesto and the bracelet among other artefacts are statements of that. It’s often in Avignon I come back too. Enjoy the amazing culinary culture of South of France. I read a lot -on the phone- about many subjects & books, as well as a lot of cinema. Sports daily, photography often, also I am a great cook! (laught) Always on the move, but never stressed. I like to keep busy with creative stuffs !

Disha: Please can you enlist your tattoos and body modification with any symbolism or any event attached to them.

Lukas: My first tattoo was my arm and chest biomechanical tattoo.

I guess it was some kind of representation of something i had in mind, this hybridization was the first thing that came to me when I did my first piercing. Inspired by comic books & some darker superheroes. Then I started to do bod-mod so it was kind of a logic to do these tattoos, it was really like giving some kind of shape & aspect of this hybridation. After it evolved slowly, I don’t even remember in which order I did the rest of my tattoos (laught).

I know I did my face and hand pretty “late” because it had a lot of impact on the social level. It’s something different. As long as you have a tattoo that you can hide, like under suit -I used to wear a lot of suits- of course I had some piercing and so on, but nothing so visible, there you can still disappear somehow, but when you do the face or the hand, then you go toward something else.

I was in the state for a few months, far from old europe – was then, still isIn the US it was a bit more common to see hand and face tattoos and I knew from my experience it was completely different in europe. I started there to do my implant on the forehand with Steve Hayworth, then tattooed my chin, then slowly my hands – well not slowly actually, pretty fast (laught) Xhead did the work on my hands. He’s one of the pillars of the full Black Tattoo style- When I came back to Europe with really visible modifications, I thought it was going to be something difficult to live with on the regular bases & somehow I discovered it was kind of the opposite.

You know … when you don’t have anything and you start to get tattooed, people try to take you back somehow ”what are you doing?!” “Are you sure?” they always ask. Everybody has opinions about what you should do & how you should do it. Problems & regret you will have because of it, they try to pull you back from it. Somehow, as soon as I arrived with my face & hands I was “on the other side” already, so suddenly I had less problems.

For me these tattoos are important. I use symbolic for everything, all my tattoos have a meaning, something metaphorique i couldn’t say “this tattoo is this, this tattoo is that” but to me they all mean something.

They are all a part of a story I want to tell to myself and also to the spectator, the witness.The people will see my tattoo & Bod-mod, it communicates ideas about oneself Our body communicates: the way we use our body, the way we walk, the way we dress, everything.

It’s like a dialogue through body language, so somehow the tattoo is a part of this, i guess. Or maybe something else, something more.

Yes, my tattoos are meant to create something inside or outside me, something I want to keep forever in my memories, or some coat I want to use to create interaction with others.

Often people say “yeah the problem with tattoos, it closes a lot of doors & opportunities” when actually the only doors that are closed are ones I anyway didn’t want to open. To be honest it opened me much more doors than I could have imagined.

I Am lukas Zpira because of my tattoos & because of body modification, I am answering this interview because I have these tattoos and body modification, I do a lot of things because of that. It opened a lot of doors, the dialogue with many people I would never have had the chance to speak with.

Disha: Bødy hacktivism or body hacking is coined by you (who else could have done that) can you write few words for someone who knows nothing about the world of body modifications or suspensions?

Lukas: That’s a pretty interesting and complex question!

Body modification and body hacktivism are pretty much two sides of the spectrum. The history of Body Modification starts with the beginning of humanity, humans always transformed themself one way or the other: scarification, tattoos, from every culture, every part of the world, people used to transform the body.

Using the body as a tool to other means, the purpose wasn’t to modify the body in itself but to mark something, a rite of passage, done often as a ritual or to heal. To create a print in the mind through the work on the body as a means to get to the soul. All these cultures have been lost, pretty much with the religions of the books arrived, they whipped out those practices to put new rituals and took the sacred we had in us. Decentralising the body. Putting the sacred it in churches, temples, or whatever. We have been ripped off from our spirituality somewhere in the process.

Let’s move forward to back in the 1970’s with Fakir Mustar. A Californian guy, who starts to take all sorts of traditional practices, gathering all the information he could see in magazines such as Nat Geo and books. He recreated practices such as Suspension-For those who don’t know about suspension, to break it down it is about putting hooks in your body and getting suspended by those hooks. The ritual is not about the pain involved but overcoming it to access higher spiritual grounds, this particular form refers to Native American.

From there he reproduces it, kind of instinctively. Out of necessity.

Others were also attracted by that kind of practice, and slowly it created a movement : the modern primitive, which was the first movement to bring back this culture to us. It was interesting, that was pretty much the birth of modern body modification. I don’t feel connected to the modern primitive though I acknowledge and appreciate the movement because it put in light all those possibilities of practices.

For me the problem with the mod primitive is the cultural appropriation, of course it wasn’t met with bad intention, Fakir was bringing back this practice out of a need, a will to express himself, challenge himself but by doing so he was using rituals that belonged to other cultures. Taking the shape but leaving the meaning somewhere lost, still. Meaning has always been important to me, I was looking for my own meaning, that’s how I came to create the Body Hacktivism movement.

When I started to do body modification I never looked thorward the past Though I had been inspired by fakir musafar and by Leni Riefenstahl pictures in Africa, and lot of different thing we could discover through the magazines and book, it was the only hint we had to go by, there was no internet, none of this kind of practices around. So slowly bod mod came to be kind of popular as a white culture. Cause if you look at the it’s mostly white / hispanic.

The bod mod as we apprehend it now is different, is something that came to us not really as looking back to the past and trying to reproduce it, but a way to find something that has been stolen from us, this spirituality we had in ourselves. All these rituals that the tribes and primitive culture were practicing had a purpose. When we lose all these practices & those rituals we lose the purpose, and we all look for a purpose. From there people all around the world started to do/get body modifications. Of course at the beginning olny few around Fakir, a new wave started from there, back in the beginning of the 90s were all these practices started to become very popular. Piercing, tattoo, scarification, suspension. Around then Steve Hayworth created the implants, Sanon Laratt started BME, I started to practice and few around the world. Slowly but surely it became a big movement.

I was searching for meaning; questioning myself, my future and what i was going to become. Understanding my past self and what I am made of, canalyse all these energy in me, get read of what I need to, and go toward what i wanted to become. It wasn’t just the transformation of a body but the change of a self.

To be modified was changing a lot of things on a social level. I came across different texte that influenced me a lot, like Stelark. He was more inspired by hybridization, those practices being for him a way to bind with the machine and challenge the body, to become one with the machine. Testing the body in its strength or weaknesses.

I invited him in early 2000 for a conference at my private atelier in Avignon – where I live in the south of France.

The town was one of the cities to represent the European culture that year, the theme of the city was the Body. I was approached by the city as I started to be a little bit known, somewhat “popular”. I proposed to start questioning the body -or maybe to answer- all the questions I had about these challenges in regard to being modified in the modern world.

I invited various sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists at round table over the course of 6 month, to try to question a little bit everything about the body. That was Art-Kør 00.

Even before that, there was a texte from Arthur and Marilouise Kroker she wrote that caught my mind, something about the Data Flesh. As I mentioned before I was always admirative of human hybridization and the data flesh stuck with me. I started to realise somehow we are hacking the body, like on a computer. Going inside the system and changing what we want to. The ideas of hacking became evident, from there I started to use the word Bødyhacking to explain what we were doing. I went to japan for the first time, and met Rihyochi Maeda who was -and still is- the chief editor of Burst Magazine, he was documenting through it all kinds of subculture and of course body modifications.

I met Maeda at the first Mod Con that was organised by Shannon in Toronto in 99. In japan we started to talk about the singularity of my work and about ways to give definition to what we were doing & wanted to achieve with it. In 2004 I wrote the Bødy Hacktivist manifesto to define body modification as a form of hacktivism.

In the early days it wasn’t like I was craving to do a suspension. It came quite later for me. I went to the state and met Steve, who with him did my first suspension, on a rooftop in Arizona. When I was suspended up in the air, someone asked me “How do you feel?”

I said: Like a butterfly.
That was the feeling that moment left on me. Afterward I took the process for granted and forgot to take the time & put spirit into my suspension & modification. Then it’s when Iost a bit myself on the way. Doing too much suspension, in not so great places, with terrible vibs.

It took a toll on me, I was washed out. Again in the USA I met an older woman, she was descending from local Native tribes and proposed to help find what I had lost. She was my shaman and it’s her who introduced me to rituals. From there I really embraced the ritualistic approach in my performances, tacking on various forms throughout the years. My latest experimental work DNA is still an evolving piece.

D.Q. The world is going through unimagined scenario of COVID-19 pandemic. Your thoughts about it and how is your world of body modification going through it?

Ans. It is difficult to have an opinion. I am looking at the world falling apart, as I saw it coming and many of us did. Cyberapokalips nightmare That we saw the same books of science fiction that helped us to become cyborg or go toward that, we already knew the world as we know it is going to an end. Can be a pandemic but it can be anything, there is war everywhere around the world, and inside every country. People fight each other, religions fight each other, whatever is different from the other people are fighting for it. We can just acknowledge what is going on and try to do our best to go through all the storm but it is going to be a long storm, but as everything bad it inspires something good so it opens the eyes of some people to other alternatives, giving the will to others to try something new. Anyway that is something that’s going to happen, there is no one truth. The new ways of thinking, of living this world, and with each other that’s what’s going to make the change. Because anyway it’s something that is going to happen, but the change is going to be long and difficult.

The bod mod scene has also evolved with that idea that the human as we know it is not going to be the same, and thinking of this new human identity. It was a lot about that, and still is. The scene is going through this. The bod mod scene is born from that. This re-appropriation of ourselves, of the world, and try to make something new in it. It was through an individualisation, a specification: Become Yourself.

Not against others or without each other, but be good & feel good with yourself then you can resonate in the world in a better way. It is always easier to express yourself in a healthy world when you don’t need to worry about everyday life and you can start to think. Think for yourself, about yourself & the world and so on. At the moment people don’t think about how they survive, they think of going through what they have to, it’s a difficult time for everyone.

It is not really a time of self expression, though everyone as an individual is looking for a solution.

Disha: Explain the process of your performance? How much hard work is involved?

Lukas: It all evolved from a concept, the first version of DNA (see question 3&4) was created in 2009 and presented for the first time 2 years later. It wasn’t as difficult at the time I had a sponsor to back up the idea & a venue to present it.

Changes needed to be made, I searched for ways to evolve in a more organic connection and that involved creating a new setting, re-programming all the sofware, aquire the hardware, that was where the problems started.

Spectre – the digital tech behind the performance- were too busy to be fully invested in the project & will all those changes time was needed. I had to find a new team, new funds, and a new venue. It took me 8 years to be finaly to present the newest version. Then i met David who was willing to work on the performance, and for a few months we chatted about it. After long and difficult searches I found the venue where we could finally test run the DNA 2.0. I self found the whole process and still on my own regarding many aspect of this work. We are in constant evolution of the concept, have hadded members to our team, and though having now few emulation of the performance, havent been able to present yet the concept as a whole.

The constant search for finances to devellop such work or simply to find a venu where to work and present it is a real problem and constant struggle.

The data collected during this performance has immense value for reaserchers from many feild… thats an option we are now exploring.

As of now, there are not many places worldwide that have the will to support, finance & showcase the kinds of cutting edge performance I wish to create. We have yet to find an Artistic residency in a place somewhere in the world where we could work few month on the performance development and present it as I imagine it. I got the opportunity to present Danse NeurAle 2.0 beta version last year at L’Ardenome in Avignon, a place dedicated to digital art, but it was a one shot and had only two days in the venue to make it happen.

Discover more in depth infos about the performance Danse NeurAle

Disha: Have you achieved what you wanted to or there are still something pending?

Lukas: I wrote one day : “Which caterpillar would think of flying before becoming a butterfly”. When i started i was still a caterpillar so imagine what becoming a butterfly would be. I couldn’t plan anything, I just wanted to change, to evolve. I didn’t know what was after nore what to expect. Where it would take me. It’s an ongoing process. I change a lot, evolve a lot, but I still have a lot of time for more evolution. (laught) More transformation & Experiences.

The following texte is one of my many writings you can find across my social media, ideas scribbled alongside photos of my avatar floating around in the matrix.

“Everyone who witnesses it, from close or through the image they create of us has an opinion about our life. What we should do and have done or not, how we should do it or have done it or not and so on. But at the end, we are the one living it, the one facing the consequences or getting the benefits of our choices.

Though we should pay attention to those opinions as they give us the big picture of our social appearance, they shouldn’t be more than a parameter, an echo reflecting the vibration of our existence, but they should not guide us on the path we follow.

Yes I made a life of radical choices that made me see the best and the worst in myself, in others and of the world I’m living in. I have been as often admired for what they see as my success than blamed for what they imagine to be my failures. I have had friends or often people I never had the chance to meet supporting me when needed the most and expecting it the less – I have had supposed to be friends, people I thought were on my side – sometimes “forever”, some I wish i would have never met, some I hope I won’t ever, praying hard or at least expecting me to break.
Here I stand.

Whatever path we follow eventually takes us to the same point. Maybe when we cash out, life presents us the bill.

Then what ?
The answer may lie in the ability we have to keep our integrity and live as close as possible from our dreams even if we never managed to achieve them. Because at least we tried, no matter what, and managed to transform the good and the bad, everything that could have felt as regrets into unforgettable life experiences from which we shape ourselves and the world around us. “

Thank you for your time – Lukas Zpira

Some links to know more about the Lukas Zpira:

Body Hacktivism manifesto & more
Danse NeurAle portfolio
BløwYøurMind Photography
Nomadic Transmedia Project