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By Florence Lo and Aly Song
SHANGHAI (Reuters)

Inside a dimly lit bar in Shanghai, amazed spectators held their smartphones high as artist Wei Yilaien suspended a couple in mid-air from hooks piercing their bodies

Onlookers snapped pictures and videos as the tattooed bodies dangled from a metal frame for 20 minutes before Wei and two assistants lowered the couple to the floor.

 

July waits to be suspended from hooks pierced through her skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
July waits to be suspended from hooks pierced through her skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

“I like being unique and I don’t like doing things that many people are aware of and would accept,” said Wei, 24, who staged the show of extreme body piercing in China’s normally buttoned down financial capital.

On a recent Sunday night, some 100 spectators watched Wei pierce the bodies of four people with sterilized metal hooks and lift them into the air.

 

Spectators watch as Viktor Liu is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Spectators watch as Viktor Liu is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

A 23-year-old woman named July said she was excited and nervous ahead of her first body suspension.

“During the process, I felt some pain, which didn’t last long,” she said. “There was a little burning sensation afterwards, but I felt very happy and nothing else”.

 

Spectators watch as Viktor Liu is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Spectators watch as Viktor Liu is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Viktor Liu, 25, said his first experience hanging from hooks thrust into his skin was three years ago.

It was a hasty decision made on a night when Liu was drunk, he said, but he now takes up the challenge once a year.

 

Angus Shen shows his body pierced by professional body artist Wei Yilaien during the Shanghai Tattoo Extreme and Body Art Expo 2017 in Shanghai
Angus Shen shows his body pierced by professional body artist Wei Yilaien during the Shanghai Tattoo Extreme and Body Art Expo 2017 in Shanghai, China September 2, 2017. Picture taken September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

“The process is very calming, as if I had separated from the world and entered a different space altogether which was wonderful and unreal,” Liu said.

However, he admitted it comes with a price. “After the suspension, it felt painful. Very painful,” Liu said.

 

Angus Shen prepares to be suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Angus Shen prepares to be suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Others agreed the experience was unique.

“The surge of adrenaline caused by the pain in the process can be surprisingly calming,” said 23-year-old Angus Shen, who was suspended upside down from hooks in his legs.

 

Hooks used by professional body artist Wei Yilaien for body suspension are seen inside a pouch at a bar in Shanghai
Hooks used by professional body artist Wei Yilaien for body suspension are seen inside a pouch at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Censorship has been tightening in China in recent years, and a once-thriving performance art scene has been driven underground.

Wei has staged an annual extreme piercing show in Shanghai since 2016, and says it is becoming more accepted by audiences.

Asked if she had faced resistance in China to her art, Wei said: “Nothing can stop me from doing what I want.”

 

(Editing by Tony Munroe and Darren Schuettler)

 

 

Angus Shen is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Angus Shen is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

July and her boyfriend Jason Schaller kiss as they wait to be suspended from hooks pierced through their skins by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
July and her boyfriend Jason Schaller kiss as they wait to be suspended from hooks pierced through their skins by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Spectators watch as Viktor Liu is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by the professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Spectators watch as Viktor Liu is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by the professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Professional body artist Wei Yilaien pierces a metal hook through July's skin as they prepare for a body suspension at a bar in Shanghai
Professional body artist Wei Yilaien pierces a metal hook through July’s skin as they prepare for a body suspension at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Professional body artist Wei Yilaien poses for a picture during the Shanghai Tattoo Extreme and Body Art Expo 2017 in Shanghai
Professional body artist Wei Yilaien poses for a picture during the Shanghai Tattoo Extreme and Body Art Expo 2017 in Shanghai, China September 2, 2017. Picture taken September 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Spectators watch as Viktor Liu waits to be suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Spectators watch as Viktor Liu waits to be suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Spectators watch as professional body artist Wei Yilaien and her assistants prepare Viktor Liu for body suspension at a bar in Shanghai
Spectators watch as professional body artist Wei Yilaien and her assistants prepare Viktor Liu for body suspension at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Professional body artist Wei Yilaien applies a patch on July's back after she was suspended from hooks pierced through her skin at a bar in Shanghai
Professional body artist Wei Yilaien applies a patch on July’s back after she was suspended from hooks pierced through her skin at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Spectators watch as Angus Shen is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Spectators watch as Angus Shen is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

 

Spectators watch as Angus Shen is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai
Spectators watch as Angus Shen is suspended from hooks pierced through his skin by professional body artist Wei Yilaien at a bar in Shanghai, China September 16, 2018. Picture taken September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song