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The ankle of the lecturer is sweaty. A silent and shameless drop seems to sever her skin as well as to cover it with a transparent filter. It is hot on the third floor of Schwelle7, this former factory reconverted into offices and working spaces for artists. Plus, the workshop’s theme is about latex fetishism and therefore the lecturer is wearing a beautiful figure-hugging green latex dress. This atmosphere gets thicker in those muggy afternoon hours. Time seems to have stopped, frozen in a mixture of rubber and resin. It is 2 o’clock. One participant wrapped up in a kind of a black sarcophagus acts as a guinea pig (as a model). Some participants are getting worried : Isn’t he going to suffocate ? To melt ? Others are bursting into laughter, they don’t want to be around when the zipper opens as they don’t want to be splashed upon.
One floor below, Felix Ruckert is showing a performance with three young women hung from the ceiling with chains and force-fed with liters of water. Jobie Joba, Bamboleo or La Bamba is being heard. I cannot help being amused. Nobody in France would ever seriously think about showing a BDSM performance with the tunes of the Gipsy Kings as a musical background. Here, the non arrogant professionalism of the performers gives an undisputable artistic backing to the musical choice .
Outside on the roof which stands for a terrace, some participants bask in the sun, sip a coffee or exchange impressions. In the yard, a white marquee is the entrance for the next workshops to take place during the day : Playing with fire, with electricity, with food, with water. In the yard next door, two veiled turkish mothers are sitting on a bench and chatting while looking after their children. One of them is rocking a stroller.
After having organised the first three editions of Xplore putting forward a didactical aspect and inviting big names of the BDSM scene for workhops, curators Felix Ruckert, founder of Schwelle7 and Paula Rosengarten, author and sexual counsellor have favoured the bodily aspect of the workshops in the last two editions: the guideline being the famous concept of learning by doing. 150 participants coming from Berlin, Portugal, Italy, The Netherlands, France and Great Britain gathered for 3 days of workshops and games, listening, watching, testing new techniques or perfecting their own.
As a result, I have a letter tatooed on my shoulderblade since eight months.
Mo Herzinger who was directing the workshop Spiel mit dem Feuer (Play with fire) warned me : if you let a pyrotechnic thread burn on your skin, the mark can stay for a few weeks, even one or two months. Perfect.
The workshop took place under the white marquee in the yard. The canvas flapped. In this garden party atmosphere, with the sun shining, the green of the trees and a dog which was having a peep at what we were doing, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the lecturer. Her body had the perfect quality to fit the fire she was demonstrating with : crisp, thin, muscular, suntanned, blond hair up, she looked like a lioness-will-o’-the-wisp.
After having explained to us the safety rules about clothes (no vinyl or nylon stockings, only canvas, cotton or leather!) and hair (hair tied up and moisturized, never use hair spray, very flammable product !), a safe environment, how to deal with burns, the bodyparts that should not be exposed to the flames (face, throat, armpits, abdomen, genitals, lower back and the insides of biceps elbows, wrists, knees, thighs….) Actually, only forearms, buttocks and upper back were allowed.
We started by stroking our forearms with a fuel soaked torch on a hollow stick made out of a metal with low heat conductivity such as brass. We would approach the flame slowly. Our hair would burn and it smelled.
I remember when I was little, I was passing my finger into the flame of a candle. I tried to let it as long as possible, then the skin was smooth and the digital prints had disappeared. If the robbers would know this, they wouldn’t have to use rubber gloves anymore.
Then the buttocks…..Mo asked a volunteer to lie down on a mattress installed in the grass. The sun is really beating down. Mo puts collodion (a solution of nitrocellulosis in a mixture of ether and alcohol) what appears like a cotton ball on the right buttock of the participant. She nears the flame of a lighter and pof !, the collodion ball disappears leaving a light brown fog. Collodion was originally used in cameras. It is the substance that would ignite when the photo was taken.
Now, Mo demonstrates the pyrotechnical threads. They look like white shoe strings. They are used to make drawings or signs on the back, the pain can increase after the immediate burn, it can persist for days. I am really keen to try. It would be the only competitor to the sun. The pain is biting, sharp and hot, like a very local blow. In a few seconds it disappears. Only a sensation of presence remains, like a hand on the shoulder. Then a letter « O »
As in Astonishment. Since eight months.