RE/Search #12: Modern Primitives
8 1/2" x 11"
An anthropological inquiry into a contemporary social enigma-the increasingly popular revival of ancient human decoration practices such as symbolic/deeply personal tattooing, multiple piercings, and ritual scarification. "Primitive" actions which rupture conventional confines of behavior and aesthetics are objectively scrutinized. In context of the death of global frontiers, this volume charts the territory of the last remaining underdeveloped source of first-hand experience: the human body.
"All of the people interviewed are looking
for something very simple: a way of fighting back at mass production consumer
society that prizes standardization above all else. Through 'primitive'
modifications, they are taking possession of the only thing that any of
us will ever really own: our bodies."
Musafar, born in South Dakota, exposes a relatively tame collection of tattoos, but the photographs of what he does to himself to experience out-of-the-body states are, for the uninitiated, truly unbelievable. Musafar recounts how he always felt a misfit until, astill a child, his father took him to a carnival freak show. 'Right then I had an incurable desire to make marks on and put holes in my body.'
Musafar's practices, all documented with photographs, include radical corseting, nipple and penis piercing, and more exotic rituals such as Kavandi-bearing (an East Indian practice in which the celebrant carries a carapace of spears on his body) and the Sundance (the Mandan Indian puberty rite in which the initiator hangs from holes pierced in his chest).
As the latter two instances imply, such practices in tribal cultures were used to induce hallucinatory or out-of-the-body states. Musafar and others have adopted them for the same purposes -- to transcend the limitations of reason and logic mandated by the modern world.
Although the images might seem on casual viewing to be documents from an S&M cult, Musafar expresses little sympathy for sado-masochism, the banal goal of which is orgasm, a cheap thrill when communion with the cosmos is his aim.
Publishers Vale and Juno take a sanguine view of body modification. Although they frankly acknowledge the pitfalls of romanticizing the primitive, they declare that the revival of 'modern primitive' activities is 'the desire for, and the dream of, a more ideal society.'
They see such practices as attempts to achieve wholeness. 'All sensual experience functions to free us from 'normal' social restraints, to awaken our deadened bodies to life. All such activity points toward a goal: the creation of the 'complete' or 'integrated' man and woman, and in this we are yet prisoners digging an imaginary tunnel to freedom.'"