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Odd Jobs: Suspension Artist (caution: graphic)

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Posted at 2:48 PM, Apr 18, 2024

In the video above, James Rolin continues his "Odd Jobs" series - this time visiting Alpha Tattoos & Piercing to learn about being a "suspension artist." NOTE: the video may be disturbing for some people.

For the people of the Mandan tribes across the Great Plains of America, body suspension is not just a millennia old tradition, but exists to prove that someone has truly entered adulthood.

This tradition, similar to many in Europe, still continues today. In this edition of Odd Jobs, I met with Stefan, a suspension artist and owner of Alpha Tattoos & Piercing in Great Falls.

“It's professionally done, just like you would do like in a medical clinic. Really. Everything is very controlled,” Stefan explained to me.

Odd Jobs: Suspension Artist

As a German-American who has traveled extensively abroad for his craft, Stefan is no stranger to needles. He has a tough persona with tattoos over most of his body, which is to be expected, but also has the kindness to guide someone through what is an overtly difficult process.

“Not a lot of people actually can do this. This is a feat of strength for yourself and psychological, like, test for yourself,” he explained to Kahly, one of his tattoo artists and a first time “suspendee."

The art from, though extremely old and now done in a safe environment, comes under scrutiny from many people who don’t understand the ‘why’ of it all.

Odd Jobs suspension artist

“In the newer communities that look at this as like some sort of a ritual or Satanic ritual and they are connected with too many different things that are categorically false,” he explained.

While what I witnessed was a small, controlled, simple suspension.

Alpha Tattoo puts on demonstrations in a giant steel pyramid where participants can swing around or be put into various poses using multiple hooks: “Like we'll do the pyramid and then they can really whip around and jump around and have a crazy time doing it. And like James - he didn't want to come down.”

James, one of the artists at the shop, continued, “I want to suspend from like the roof, the ceiling of the Four Seasons. I think that would be awesome.”

The process takes an enormous amount of determination, self-control, and mental discipline.

Odd Jobs suspension artist

Kahly, of Native decent, wanted to go through with it partially as a way to connect with her ancestors: “I'm like, just, Kahly, you don't know what you feel and how you do will do until you do it. So it's just living through it with, like, allowing it to be like a spiritual experience,” she shared.

Stefan wants to dispel any myths about the process and why people do it, but he also wants to explain the benefits for people. “Some do it because at one point in time they were self-harmers and now they have to do something that brings them back to that pain point, but in a controlled environment that's safe for them.”

So far it seems that he’s doing just that.

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