Jean-Emmanuel "Valnoir" Simoulin pushes the limits of art

The designer sews patches onto his back

Published July 18, 2012 3:51AM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on Imprint.

ImprintJean-Emmanuel "Valnoir" Simoulin, the founder of the Paris-based design firm Metastazis, has just upped the ante on shock and awe. He is known for making a gig poster using blood as ink (read more here and here) and now, he says in an email, "if you're into embroidery, I thought my last project may amuse you."

Those who are weak of stomach, please stop here. Or, if you're like me, and have an appointment with the dentist coming up in the next few hours, attend to that before (not after) reading this.

"It’s the cover artwork of my own band’s next album," he notes. "It’s a nostalgic project about my teenage-hood, when I had an iron faith into black-metal and I was showing it on my metalhead patched jacket. I had that in my flesh. So I wanted to pay a tribute to this age." The tribute of which Valnoir speaks is based on his memory of sewing patches onto his jacket. Only for this project, he has removed the jacket and sewn the patches directly onto the human body.

Extreme, you say? Then think about what people do for their art. Harry Houdini hung on ropes from skyscrapers, wore straitjackets under water, and held his breath inside a sealed milk-can. Marina Abramovic used a razor blade to cut a five-pointed star drawn on her stomach, and years later sat, continuously for seven-and-a-half hours a day, seven days a week, for three months at MoMA. Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist, walked without a net between the two World Trade Center Towers. Nik Wallenda walked on a cable over Niagra Falls (one way to get better reception). Chris Burden allowed himself to be shot in the arm by an assistant with a gun after nailing himself to a VW Beetle. Stefan Sagmeister cut letters into his body, to make words out of the scabs. There are many more . . . Some art lovers (or voyeurs) are enticed by such acts. And then, of course, Fear Factor was a very popular show, too.

Valnoir sews patches onto the human body. What, you may ask, is the difference between this a getting multiple tattoos or piercings? Read this from Pierce Art International:

If the body piercing industry is to continue to experience the unprecedented growth seen over the last few years, all future body piercers will need to be well trained in the technical skills of body piercing, and possess a keen procedural knowledge of the health and safety regulations that affect the industry.

As for me, I still have splinters in my toes from childhood because I was afraid to be probed with a hot needle! And don't get me started about flu shots!

Art must transcend the ordinary. And utterly outrageous art is necessary to bust conformist art rules. Nonetheless, I cannot wrap my head around self-inflicted wounds or inflicting pain on others, even in the name of art. Isn't working with bad clients painful enough? How far would you go to express yourself? My answer can be obliquely summed up by Mel Brooks: "If God wanted us to fly, He would have given us tickets."

(Thanks to Mirko Ilic.)

For more Steven Heller, check out his book Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility—one of the many Heller titles available at

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