By Chelsea Haith
Sitting at a picnic table in the garden of 137 on High Street in the early evening, John Wayne Stevens smiles like a little boy, scrunching his pierced and tattooed face into a grin. He’s having coffee and a last cigarette while gearing up for a night at work in the kitchen where he is the chef. When he’s not preparing dinner, Stevens hangs out with his beloved pitbull Smeck and practices body modification suspended from the ceiling.
‘Body Mods’ goes a lot further than the usual understanding of tattoos and piercings. It is practiced by all people. So what we think of body modification is actually just an extreme form of the art. “Cutting your hair in a style, earrings, make-up, body-building, gyming, corsetry, that’s all body modification, so we practice extreme body modification. The extreme forms of it include piercings, implants, scarring, suspension, branding, amputation, castration and bifurcation,” Stevens explains. Bifurcation in body modification usually entails splitting male genitalia.
In fact, tattoos and ‘normal’ piercings aren’t really considered true body mods. “Tattoos and piercings are just tattoos and piercings. When we talk about body mods we’re talking about sub-dermal implants, transdermal implants, large gauge piercings, stretching of piercings, castrations, all of those things,” Stevens says. He has a great number of tattoos, a ring through his nose and a shaft between his eyes. He also has a naughty smile and eyes that twinkle when he tells the story behind the number 21 tattooed on his right cheek.
“It’s the amount of fourteen year olds I have chopped up in the deep freeze.” He keeps a straight face for a moment but it doesn’t last long and he breaks out a body-shaking chuckle. “No, actually my grandfather was a blackjack player. He taught me to count cards when I was nine years old. I paid my rent for many years by playing blackjack.” Again he dissolves into laughter. You cannot trust any of the stories when it comes to John Wayne Stevens.
Except for the time he spent five hours and 40 minutes suspended on hooks playing Play Station. That one is true.
It all started 18 years ago when Stevens decided to get a tattoo to cover a scar on his arm. Now he’s running out of skin. Stevens doesn’t believe in conformity, a fact that his skin can attest to. “Why ever try to fit into a box, when at the end of your life, you’re going to have to fit into one?” he asks.
Pain is everything and Stevens’ company, Freak Factor, aims to help people understand and overcome it. Stevens explains that what he does is a process of understanding and changing experiential pain, rather than trying to avoid it. Pain and sexual climax are closely linked in their demands on the body. “Pain is an intense physical sensation. So is an orgasm. It’s all about how you control what your body does. And there’s none of this shit about mind over matter. Your body is releasing dopamine, endorphins, stuff like that. If you try to fight the wave, it will drown you. If you ride the wave, you’re going to have fun,” he says, grinning.
Stevens explains suspension as a liberating, and mind-altering experience: “Try and imagine complete and utter freedom, not even gravity’s got a hold on you. But you’re confined in a single space. How do you wrap your head around that?”
In 2016 Stevens is hoping to ride his biggest wave yet, by jumping into a freefall suspension with six hooks in his skin from a height of 50metres. He’s looking forward to the experience and is open about his non-conformist thrill-seeking: “Why let society, why let anybody else tell you how to enjoy the things you want to enjoy?”
Listen to John talk about why he likes pain here: