NOTE: This article contains graphic descriptions and images of violence and nudity. If you're likely to find this content troubling, we strongly recommend you don't read it.
Pain isn’t just the body’s way of telling the brain something is amiss. Tempered and controlled in the right ways, pain can become transcendental and even sublime.
This is the guiding principle behind a new branch of BDSM. For several years I’ve been writing about the pioneers of hardcore tattoo and body modification, for whom the exploration of pain has become a primary goal. These people usually come from a tattoo background, so body beautification remains a consideration, but the scene is slowly evolving in a way that sidelines aesthetics and just leads with BDSM.
Feris Tergo is the latest, most gruesome incarnation of this movement. A project from 22-year-old German-born dominatrix Miss Sophia, it brings together some of the world’s leading practitioners of body modification and blackwork tattoo. Combining the brutal chaos of blackwork tattooist, 3Kreuze, and meticulous scalpel-work of pioneering body modifier, Yann Brenyak, Feris Tergo is designed to explore the murky and macabre space between tattoo, body modification, and BDSM. For some, pleasure is the absence of pain, but for Feris Tergo, more pain equals more pleasure.
Here we speak with Miss Sophia, 3Kreuze, and their client, 26-year-old French national Jo Lastreg, to gain a deeper understanding about what drives someone to inflict such an ordeal on someone, and to understand what it’s like being that someone.
Miss Sophia (Feris Tergo Dominatrix)
VICE: So, what does Feris Tergo mean?
Miss Sophia: Feris Tergo is Latin and means something along the lines of “The most savage”. It’s a BDSM/Blackwork project that my partner 3kreuze and I created. The session is painful, exhausting, and without compromise, but also with so much trust and deep connections between all the people involved—we try to make that visible for people. Every session has its own aesthetic, and we speak about everything before we start in order to collect ideas and fantasies. It changes from project to project.
Can you give us a little bit of background about yourself?
I currently live in London where I mostly work as a model, but BDSM has been part of my life for a couple of years now. I made my passion a job when I was 20. That’s when I became “Miss Sophia”.
For those of us unfamiliar with ritualised torture, what tools does a normal BDSM session employ and how does a Feris Tergo session differ in that respect?
There are endless possibilities when arranging a BDSM session, so in my opinion there is no “normal” session—but usually the slave leaves the session without permanent marks. Feris Tergo differs in that respect, because the tattooing part is obviously a reminder for the rest of your life. We are creating art during our sessions.
The project is like a ritual but not just a pain ritual—it’s about trust, connection, and enjoying letting yourself go. Everyone is purely themselves, thinking about nothing other than what is happening in the moment. It’s satisfying to be in the moment, to forget all your problems and just enjoy. It’s not about the pain; it’s about feeling alive and letting yourself go.
Initially, though, the idea behind Feris Tergo was to form a connection between BDSM and tattooing, but for Act II we decided to involve body modification artist, Yann Brenyak, which was the best decision because the suspension made the whole session even more intense.
Right, that’s a lot of hands manipulating flesh. Why did you use a professional tattooist and body modifier instead of just doing it yourself?
Tattoo and body modification must be taken seriously, it’s nothing I would do without being a professional. Also, I prefer doing other things during session.
What’s going through your mind as you’re inflicting pain on your subjects in these videos?
I enjoy seeing people suffer. It’s my pleasure to see their pain. I understand that our sessions are not for everybody and that it’s extreme, so it’s okay for me that some people might think we are fucked in the head, but I don’t feel like a freak or special in a way anyone else isn’t. I have a pretty “normal” life in general. I’m in a monogamous relationship, I like cooking, clothes, make-up, and Sunday walks in the park—all the things other people consider “normal”.
3Kreuze (blackwork tattooist)
3Kreuze, what would you say to people who watch this and think you’re all just fucked in the head?
I think they are right.
What is going through your mind as you’re tattooing someone in this sort of chaotic environment?
It’s weird. I mean I saw a lot of crazy shit in the last few years, especially in the tattoo and body mod scene, but this was mental! After the first Feris Tergo, I didn’t want to talk about what happened for a week because it was crazy to watch my partner with this joy in her face and zero empathy for the person who was getting fucked up. I’m always more patient with tattooing and I always take care that the client can easily handle all the pain. But then you see your partner crossing borders more and more knowing that this is what the client wants...
You participated in Brutal Black sessions—how does this differ?
You can’t compare this. Brutal Black sessions are about tattooing, a craftsman using their tattoo machines to push ink into the canvas of an innocent client. Feris Tergo is absolutely more physical punishment. Pain comes in much more waves, faster, harder, destructive from one second to another. You can’t prepare your body for the next few hours of pain. And the biggest difference is the clients who get into it. People who enjoy pain and physical punishment. Not in a sexual way, but for them it's more than a passion.
Tell me about the power dynamic and your role during these visceral sessions.
In these sessions I have the freedom to do what I want but I just play a small part—I just tattoo. So basically, if Miss Sophia plans to do something then I need to stop, or if it works and we can both work on the client then we will do it. But basically, I always take a look at what she is doing first.
Why do you think people want to go through such intense physical trauma?
Victory above their own bodies and minds. This is what I saw and felt during the sessions, they don't want to tap out or give up or give you a safe word to stop. So at the end they want to win and survive this session.
Jo Lastreg AKA Flavia Raus (participant)
Hey Jo, tell us about yourself.
I’m a photographer but I graduated in archaeology. It's been 10 years that I've been interested in tattoo art, piercings, and suspension. When I was younger, I would change the way I looked thanks to Photoshop, but now the changes are happening in real life. I am truly interested in everything related to the human body and its transformation.
Why did you decide to have a Feris Tergo session?
I am into the tattoo world for real, more than trash, and I have a thing for the BDSM community. The Feris Tergo project combines several disciplines I love and it makes me feel alive. I get very excited. Since I adore 3Kreuze’s work I sent him a message right after I saw their first session asking whether he was looking for a new victim. I was not expecting a positive answer at all. But he said yes, and I was honoured.
What were you expecting to experience, and did it meet your expectations?
I had no particular expectations but the urge to live it 100 percent. In a few words—considering the endorphin rush that I felt during the performance—then yes, the experience was satisfying as hell.
How long was the session, and did you do anything special to prepare?
I did nothing special. I just ate healthy and slept enough, spent my day chilling before the long-awaited hour with all the protagonists. Maybe two hours. I can’t be clear about that. It seemed fast but I felt nauseous at the end. We stopped just in time. The suspension, especially on the chest, was quite harsh and violent but super nice at the same time.
Yeah, it looked very intense. Can you walk us through the whole physical experience?
Well when we started, during the first few minutes, I was asking myself why did I make this decision? But then the doubt vanished with the adrenaline. So for most of it I was in a daze, a kind of dissociation where I swallowed everything that happened to me. It was a bit like meditation. I just focused my mind on the feelings during the session.
And the psychological element of being tortured: how did you navigate that?
There were a few moments where I found a connection between the physical self and the "psychic or spiritual self." It was the ultimate goal of the performance. Then, when I was suspended on hooks, the pain conjured up memories that were both more and less painful than the hooks themselves. Then, I was in tears—between happiness and sadness because of these memories—and that's where I really understood the reason why I was doing it: to feel whole—connected to my physical self.
What would you want viewers to keep in mind?
I do not feel anything special about the ones who casually watch this type of video. It is complicated to report the reality of such an experience through such a short video. But I would like everyone to remember that they're watching an intense and primitive need to live.
Interview by Fareed Kaviani. Follow him on Twitter