Modern Angels: a documentary exploration of transdermal, body art and body modification in the Kingdom of Belgium [Video Essay]

Research output: Non-Textual OutputDigital or Visual Media


In this video, I will examine aspects of ‘body ritual’ as a means of expression and resistance to prevailing dominant cultural and how ancient ritualistic practices have evolved into mainstream art forms and anti-religious symbolic resistance at the second millennium of Christ.

The work will explore issues of identity and religious/spiritual belief associated with such body art practices and their symbolic meaning across different ritualistic activities including, tattoo, piercing, branding, scarification, performance and within these particular elements to further explore the nuance of practice between different approaches.

The implicit theme underlying this work embraces occult practice as performance as seen through the eyes of a number of key participants active in the Belgian Underground scenes which cross-over and interconnect with a range of complimentary subcultural movements including, punk, goth, rockabilly and various sexually explicit transdermal groups who engage in ‘performance’ as both ritual and practice involving the ‘spectator’ and in my case the ‘documenter’ which poses a range of ethical and moral considerations when documenting and recording such activities, as acknowledged or unacknowledged participant.

The work focuses on three main strands, tattooing, body art performance and body piercing, although at times these practices interweave there is a clear distinction between the ritual and practice. Sasson-Levy and Rapoport (2003: 379) suggest “although the human body is a vehicle of all social protest, analytical questions raised by the ‘protesting body’… have been mostly neglected.” My work in some way seeks to explore the analytical potential of the audio/visual medium to more effectively communicate the ‘personal protest’ involved in my chosen area of study through which individuals claim and re-claim their bodies in ways which best fit their personal spiritual and collective practices often drawn and re-worked from ancient or modern tribal and occult histories. Such individual tapestries of representation often transcend the spiritual into the sphere of ‘Fallen Angels’. Thereby, situating the protagonists as ‘Modern Angels’ in the constant re-working of individual and cultural practices, which have an impact on the mainstream dominant culture.

The extent to which this impact occurs is not the focus of my work but to help situate the individual within the ‘universal’ and to allow key voices to speak and represent the beliefs, values and customs of many in contemporary societies which are reflected by my particular chosen subjects as a collective anarchist narrative in the Kingdom of Belgium and beyond. As McLaren (2002:106) argues, Foucault suggests a view of the body as “oscillating between modes of inscription, internalization, and interpretation.” Foucauldian terms such as ‘marked and engraved’ refer to bodily processes of inscription, while his use of ‘moulded, shaped and trained’ alludes to the body/power nexus, and finally when he references how bodies ‘respond and increase their forces’ he implies an active body (McLaren 2002:106). It is with this formulation in mind that I set out to explore the self-inflicted pain wrought on the body in the search for individualistic liberation from dominant real and imaginary forces that helps me step ‘behind’ the subject into other creative imaginings, beyond documentary.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherFulgur Press
Media of outputOnline
Size38m 1s
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sept 2016
EventTrans-States: The Art of Crossing Over - University of Northampton, Northampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Sept 201610 Sept 2016


  • body art
  • Body Hanging
  • body manipulation
  • Body Piercing
  • tattooing
  • Modern Angels
  • modern primatives
  • subcultures
  • Neo-Paganism
  • All Tribe


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