I Got a Tattoo While Hypnotized in Amsterdam
I let some guy go to town on my arm while a dreadlocked Bosnian woman in a turban made my eyes feel heavy.
Photos by David Meulenbeld
This article was originally published by VICE Netherlands
Getting a tattoo isn't comfortable. The best analogy I've heard for the feeling is it's like someone digging his fingernail into your skin as hard as possible and slowly—very slowly—dragging it around in the shape of whatever it is you're plastering onto your body. So when a friend of mine handed me a flyer he'd found blowing around in the street for a "painless tattoo" that would heal twice as fast and look better than traditional ink, I was intrigued.
The flyer was for a place called Piercing Works—a piercing and tattoo shop in Amsterdam. Their website revealed that the secret behind the art of a painless tattoo is hypnosis. I've never been a big believer in hypnosis, but getting tattoos is generally a kind of meditative experience anyway, so the idea of getting one while in a trance sounded like something worth exploring.
"Hypno tattoos" have been around for a while, but Piercing Works is the only of its kind in the Netherlands. The owner, Ira Lutvica, serves as the shop's 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 enroll 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 was friendly, made a good cup of coffee, and the store was very clean—important factors when you're trying to coax your customers into the ultra-relaxed headspace needed for hypnosis.
When I walked in Ira immediately tried to get a sense of who she was dealing with. Do I believe in hypnosis? Have I been hypnotized before? Not really and no. I was a bit worried it wouldn't work on me, but tried 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 asked 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 led me to a room above the shop. It was cold in there, and there were posters of hot babes with piercings peppering the walls—you get that in pretty much every tattoo shop. As the tattoo artist finished the stencil downstairs, Ira started to hypnotize me. Step by step, she explained how I should breathe and what I should feel. The chair was slowly lowered to a horizontal position. "You feel your eyes getting heavy," she said.
My eyes were actually getting heavy. With a soft voice and a mesmerizing accent, Ira guided me up and down some stairs, onto beaches and into saunas. Every now and then, I almost snapped out of it, but I never woke up completely. To be honest, I didn't want to wake up—it felt like a sort of meditation with a tour guide. Step by step, I sunk into a deeper trance.
Suddenly Ira counted to five and I was awake. The ink was in my skin. As promised, it didn't bleed. The tattoo artist went over one of the lines with the needle again so I could feel the difference. The difference was 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. I was frolicking by the ocean, relaxing in a hot steam. It turned out the whole process had lasted two hours, but it felt like less than 15 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 it would work for me, but apparently Ira is very good at her job. 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, and so far it does seem to be healing faster than my previous ones. All the other promises that the flyer made were kept as well.
Ira even gave me a complimentary fortune telling just before I came out of the hypnosis, 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.