This article was originally published by VICE Netherlands
My work friend David was out on his lunch hour the other day, munching on a pretty depressing packet of crisps, when he noticed a flyer featuring an extremely cheery tattooed woman winking at him. Besides the suggestive imagery the flyer also promised David a "Painless Tattoo", that would also be bloodless, heal twice as fast and look better than usual. David is just not the kind of guy that would get a tattoo because of a sexy flyer, so he brought it back to the office and handed it to me.
The flyer advertised Piercing Works – a piercing and tattoo shop in Amsterdam. Their website revealed that the secret behind the art of painless tattoo is hypnosis. I never thought something like that would work on me, but was still intrigued by the idea of getting inked while in a trance. I have other tattoos, and know what it feels like to get them done: you're being poked with a red-hot miniature pitchfork over and over again. It's a funny type of meditative pain that I secretly kind of like. I call it spiritual masochism.
Apparently "hypno tattoos" has been around for a while, but Piercing Works is the only of its kind in the Netherlands. The owner, Ira Lutvica, is not a tattoo artist herself but the hypnotist. She fled from Bosnia when shit hit the fan over there along with her husband, and together they built a new life for themselves in Amsterdam with their body art shop. To get an edge on the competition, Ira decided to enrol in a course at the Netherlands Hypnosis Institute. She has dreadlocks and wears a red turban that, combined with her Eastern European accent, means she lived up to all the expectations I had of what a hypnotist would look like. She is friendly and makes a good cup of coffee. The store looks very clean.
I walk in and Ira immediately tries to get a sense of who she's dealing with. Do I believe in hypnosis? Have I been hypnotised before? I'm worried it won't work on me, but am trying to keep an open mind – although it's hard to be open to something that you know won't work if you're not open to it. Ira asks some simple questions like "Have you ever been sedated at the dentist?" but also more difficult ones like "When do you feel completely at ease?"
A few soul-searching moments later, Ira leads me to a room above the shop that has a separate front door. It is cold in there, and there are some posters on the walls of hot babes with piercings – you get that in pretty much every tattoo shop. As the tattoo artist finishes the stencil downstairs, Ira starts to hypnotise me. Step by step, she explains how I should breathe and what I should feel. The chair is slowly lowered to a horizontal position. "You feel your eyes getting heavy," Ira says.
My eyes are actually getting heavy. With a soft voice and a mesmerising accent, Ira guides me up and down some stairs, onto beaches and into saunas. Every now and then, I almost snap out of it, but I never wake up completely. To be honest, I don't want to wake up – it feels like a sort of meditation with a tour guide. Step by step, I sink into a deeper trance.
Ira counts to five and I'm awake. The ink is in my skin. As promised, it didn't bleed. The tattoo artist goes over one of the lines with the needle again so I can feel the difference. The difference is painfully obvious. And yet, I wasn't completely under while I was getting the tattoo. I was conscious while it happened, but because I was in a trance it didn't hurt. I also wasn't in that cold room with the posters of the half-naked women. It turned out the whole process had lasted two hours, but it felt like less than fifteen minutes.
Hypnosis isn't magic and you have to be totally on board, if it's going to have any effect. I didn't think that I could, but apparently Ira managed to convince me. I'm still a little baffled that my skin didn't bleed at all, except in the spot that the tattoo artist went over again after I came out of the trance.
I've had my tattoo for two days now, so I can't confirm if it heals faster – although at the moment it does seem to be healing faster than my previous tats. All the other promises that the flyer made were kept.
Ira even gave me a bonus fortune telling just before I came out of the hypnosis by predicting that I would be very happy with the tattoo and would make lots of money. I really hope she keeps that last promise too.