Håvve Fjell: The Man Who Feels No Pain

Håvve Fjell makes Johnny Knoxville and friends look like, well, Jackasses. If you're of a sensitive disposition, grab a cushion.
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How would you describe exactly what you do?

It has always been important for me to define my art according to my own standards and to present to the audience a show that has it all, not just the shock factor, but also timing and choreography, humour, good music and mind blowing acts. So, how to describe what I do? I eat fire and lay on nails and knifes to earn my daily bread. And then I help people who want to hang from hooks to do so in a safe and healthy environment.

When did you discover you could do these things to yourself?

I became aware that I had a special talent for enduring pain as a young teenager. I explored my threshold by cutting and burning myself with just about anything I could find.

What was the first painful/harmful thing you did to yourself?

I don’t remember. Already as a child I was drawn to fire and sharp objects. I would get too close to the fire and get burned, over and over again. When I started to have a conscious relation to exploring pain I think cutting was among the first and most frequent activities. Then I got into piercing and branding and it all escalated from there.

Is it really true that you feel no pain?

No, that’s not true. I do feel pain. I just don’t care. All the things I do to myself deliberately have no fear involved. I know exactly why it hurts, and I know how much it hurts. I also know how long it will hurt and that it will stop eventually. Pain is just a feeling, like any other feeling.

Is it a physical thing, or a question of mind over matter?

I’d say both. Some things just don’t bother me any more. Like cuts and bruises from glass and needles, or blisters from the fire acts. Since I get them so often, the feeling of them, the pain they provide is part of my life and has become a normal sensation for me. Then there other acts I do, like the 4 nail bed or standing on machetes, and sometimes suspensions. That is truly painful. In these cases it is mind over matter.

What’s the most extreme thing you’ve ever done to yourself?

Hmm… That’s a question of perspective I think. I did an art project back in 2001 where I made five different installations using my body as a sculpture. In one of them I was in a plaster cast from head to toe, only with holes for my nose so I could breathe. In the second I had one hand stitched to my face and the other over my genitals. Both arms sewn to the body and my back stitched to the chair. I was also buried in broken glass for one of them, and sitting back bound in a cage with water dripping on my head, like the Chinese water torture. Then the fifth and final installation was a suspension where I hung from 12 hooks in my body. Each of the five performances lasted for three hours and was performed over five weeks. That was pretty extreme. The broken glass burial was definetly the most painful and most challenging to endure for the full three hours.

So, how to describe what I do? I eat fire and lay on nails and knifes to earn my daily bread. And then I help people who want to hang from hooks to do so in a safe and healthy environment.

If you stub your toe when you’re not expecting it and haven’t got yourself in the right state of mind, does that hurt like it would for anybody else?

Yes. I have tried when I was younger to change the reflex from “ouch” to “mmm” when I stubbed my toe or similar. But it didn’t work and I gave up on it.

Can anyone learn to do these things to themselves?

No, absolutely not. I believe that one needs to have a special talent. And those who have that special talent can develop their skills and discipline to become good fakirs. Anyone can be a jackass and a show off, but only a few can be for real!

Do you worry about people trying to copy what they see you do?

Not so much. I think most people realize there is a lot of hard work behind our acts and that it can be dangerous to try to copy what we do without the proper guidance and training.

When you’re doing painful things to yourself, do you enjoy it?

Yes, most of the times I do. I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t enjoying it. It is my job and what I do for a living, but it doesn’t pay enough to be doing it just for the money.

Does your act attract the ladies?

It attracts some, and repels others. Those who dislike what I do would never be of interest to me either.

If so, do they want to stick pins and hooks in you? Or vice versa? And do you let them?

It might happen that some wants to do that, but no, I don’t let them. I do not mix work and pleasure. I do put hooks in lots of people, many of them are female. This is strictly professional. Even if it is sometimes very intimate and personal, it’s on a different level.

Have you ever needed medical treatment after a performance?

Yes indeed! On several occasions I have had to visit the emergency room after a show. But I’d say it very seldom considering I’ve been doing this professionally since 1993. It has mostly been deep cuts that need sutures and second degree burns that need treatment. The most severe accident was a mouthful of paraffin in the lungs; it resulted in a chemical pneumonia and two weeks in hospital. I have always finished the show before going to hospital though. And I have never done the same error twice!

Have you ever done permanent damage to yourself?

Yes. I have severed some nerves here and there and have permanent numb spots. I have plenty scars all over, some that are slowly changing my appearance over time. Nothing that really bothers me.

Where in the world are you right now, and what are you doing there?

Right now I’m back home in Oslo and catching up with emails, accounts and this interview. There has been a lot of travelling lately and there’s a lot of travelling ahead. Just recently we were in Tokyo and in the next couple of months we have shows coming up in Germany, Croatia, Finland, Italy, Russia and Austria. And also some around Norway of course.

Any plans to come to the United Kingdom?

I was in London in the beginning of June. Nothing scheduled at the moment, but I’d love to come back!

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