Every year, Infinite piercers and some select staff head to Vegas for the body piercing industry's biggest event, the annual Association of Professional Piercers Conference and Exposition. As a non-piercer, my experience at Conference—when I am not working as an employee for Infinite—usually consists of me hanging out by the pool and waiting for friends to be done with their classes. This year I was working, balancing classes with socializing and my responsibilities around helping to get new products from the exposition ready for sale online and through our in-store POS system. While I always enjoy seeing long-distance industry friends, coming back from APP 2018 was significantly different from years past. This year, I actually felt like I belonged at Conference.
For me, piercing has never been about beautification or adornment, as it often seems to be for others; it has always been about sex, art, and music. Piercing was a huge part of the club culture I grew up in, and many of my close friends were either piercers, performance artists, musicians or DJs, bartenders, and/or dancers in these clubs. Many of us have used our experiences in these performance spaces to continue to make art, and several of us continue to pierce or work in other helping or service positions. We have been able to use piercing as a way to connect to other like-minded people outside of the industry by finding the links between art, service, and culture. This was the first time at Conference I felt my experience with piercing and the history in which I found it was addressed—and valued.
The highlights this year were several classes that focused on the performance aspect of piercing. The first was Body Probe: A History and Theory of the Use of Piercing in Performance Art by performer and academic Dr. Dominic Johnson. This lecture covered so much, merging performers in the high art canon like Marina Abramovic with people who came to performance through the sexual subculture, such as Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan. The way that Dr. Johnson weaved through these artists and compared their work within an academic framework was fascinating, and set the tone for presentations to follow by contextualizing the artists and concepts I studied in film school with the culture of piercing performance that I was introduced to in nightclubs.
The second class to focus on performance was a late-night panel hosted by Lukas Zpira, Allen Falkner, Steve Joyner, and Ron Athey with Darryl Carlton. Lukas Zpira dramatically started the discussion by mimicking a heartbeat and syncopated breathing, recreating the setting of one of his previous performances. I had taken the guided tour of the Body Piercing Archive which he led that afternoon and was enthralled by the way he talked about his performances, specifically his relationship with ritual. He expanded upon these ideas during the panel and was equally as thoughtful and engaging. Allen Faulkner was next, and talked about his role in the origin of modern suspension performance, along with the formation of his suspension group, Traumatic Stress Discipline (TSD). He presented amazing footage that spanned from his early suspension performances in clubs (like the performances I grew up watching), to his work with Criss Angel and The Guinness Book of World Records. Founder of performance group CoRE (and former TSD member) Steve Joyner followed, and talked about his contributions to advancing the aesthetic of suspension performances, bringing a more costumed, narrative approach. “I wanted to do something more than hanging dudes with wallet chains,” he said. His candor was refreshing.
The night’s big name draw was performance pioneer Ron Athey whose presentation mixed everything from Death Rock (“You know, what goth was before,” he said in his talk) and punk aesthetic, partying and sobriety, and performance art. I had so many conversations with people after his presentation (people that I would not have expected to have performance art as a background) that talked about how Athey re-inspired them. Several friends remarked that the panel made them think about the kind of artistic work they had wanted to do in the past, and how they would move forward with it now after being in the piercing industry for several years. My best friend, former Infinite piercer and artist Jen DePlour, sat next to me for most classes, but during Athey’s presentation we kept nodding to each other in agreement, slack-jawed, relating to his experiences in our own personal ways. The presentation ended with an appearance by Darryl Carlton, AKA Divinity Fudge, and left everyone ready to go out and make their own art!
In addition to classes, the Body Piercing Archive held an immense amount of work for an exhibit titled, The Perforated Body: an Exploration of Piercing in Performance. The APP established the piercing archive in order to preserve the early history of the industry, and this year’s exhibit included performance artists with a more fine-arts approach like Chris Burdon and Marina Abramović, to performers coming from the body modification community, such as Lukas Zpira and Pain Solution—with a few artists who bridged this gap, most notably Ron Athey and Stelarc. The exhibit was fascinating and comprehensive, but it really came to life with the various tours. Walkthroughs were conducted by several guides: Paul King, Steve Joyner, Dr. Dominic Johnson, Lukas Zpira, Dr. Julian Carter, Allen Falkner, and Ron Athey with Darryl Carlton. Each brought their own insight and shared anecdotes from their experience with performance. A section of the archive focused on musicians who have used piercing in their performances, where Gen from Genitorturers was prominently displayed. Her inclusion in the archive meant a lot to me because the first time I ever saw BDSM play with piercing was when I snuck into a Genitorturers show when I was a teenager. It blew my mind and definitely influenced a ton of my future interests. I was also very excited to see performers (and friends) Jussi Paradise and Lucky Hell included in the archive among so many other artists I admire. Paul King participated in the last part of the tour I took led by Lukas Zpira and spoke beautifully about his friend, the late performance artist Jon John.
As if Paul wasn’t busy enough with archive tours and several other Conference duties, he taught a standout class, XXX History of Piercing: Pierced Men of Porn, which was a follow up to his lecture from last year featuring porn’s pioneering pierced women. Paul is an incredible speaker, and I always attend his talks when I can. He has the very special ability to create a cohesive narrative from an overwhelming amount of research and material, and give a subject like “pierced men of porn” the historical importance it deserves within the legacy of the piercing industry.
Since I am now enrolled in a master’s program in social work, Jennifer Brockman’s class Trauma Informed Body Modification was of particular interest to me. Jennifer's class presented information for piercers and body modification enthusiasts for using piercing as a healing practice and a way to reclaim the body after a traumatic event, with specific focus on sexual trauma. Jennifer (with German piercer Tim Gerdes) lead the class in discussing three scenarios that might play out in the piercing room with sexual overtones and best practices for piercers who encounter these situations. These class discussions were thoughtful and caring, and I was grateful to be among so many kind and informed participants.
There were so many classes that it was impossible to take them all. Those of us who were part of the Infinite crew decided to split up into different groups and compare notes later. Other notable classes were: Infinite’s founder, James Weber taught this year's Male Genital Piercing class with former Infinite piercer (and owner of The Powers That Be in Vancouver, Washington) Kellan Smith. Jimmy Buddha from Diablo Organics, Ana Paula Escalante from Quetzalli, and Jason Pfohl from Gorilla Glass joined each other and talked about their relationships to jewelry, art, and their experiences with body modification in a talk titled From a Vendors Perspective. Gemstones in Body Jewelry was a high point for many attendees and was led by Leo Ziebol, owner of Mint Piercing in Iowa, and former Infinite employee (and manager of Mint) Brianna Sheehan. This Conference was also full of reunions with past Infinite staff, like previous Infinite piercer (and industry powerhouse) Kevin Jump now overseeing HTC Body Piercing in Tempe, Arizona, Clay Wanstrath, owner of Supernatural Body Piercing in Kansas City, Missouri with Jen DePlour, along with industry legend and frequent Infinite guest Elayne Angel.
Conference can be overwhelming due to so much information, lots of people, tons of beautiful jewelry, and the overall manic atmosphere of Las Vegas. Yet this year really resonated with me on an emotional level, and I'm not the only person who said that. After we got back to Philly we had our post-APP meeting with the entire Infinite staff, to report on the classes and anecdotes that stood out to us at Conference. When our meeting was over and we began preparing to open the shop for the day, I found myself talking in little clusters of employees, all of us talking about our reignited passions and enthusiasm for piercing, and about the way piercing has inmpacted our lives. Our influences are vastly different, but this Conference helped us all to learn things about each other that might have stayed hidden had it not been for the classes we took this year. To everyone who makes APP and Conference happen, thank you for helping me learn about my coworkers in a deeper way, to helping me fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the history of the industry, and to creating a space where I can see myself reflected in other creative people's experiences. Here's to another great year!
While Conference is a time for education, it’s also home to the annual jewelry exposition, the largest gathering of body jewelry vendors. We brought back a ton of new pieces, but here are just a few highlights.
We brought back some amazing, singular pieces back from Buddha Jewelry, including some amazing hanging designs and weights.
We have an unprecedented collection of new weights from Oracle.
Maya always makes a good showing at the APP Exposition. This year picked up some restocks, and came home with new styles too, including Flourish and Sprout press fit ends, Cloak and Morai earrings, and bold Sativa Hoops.
We picked up a colorful selection of glass weights at discounted prices—and we’re passing those savings on to our clients! Take advantage of these lower prices to snag some stunning pieces.
Gold jewelry from Pupil Hall was once of our larger purchases at Conference this year, including an extensive selection of press-fit ends.