– Flash by Liv Phoinix & Digital Art by Djoto Eschei –
Sometimes, when I’m staring down at engorged genitals slippery with warm almond oil between my hands, our two shadows cast on the west-facing wall of this Berlin Altbau, me seated in seiza pose and my client, or Gast as they say in German, lying on their back, when I guide them to “breathe into the belly,” I think I’ve really flipped the script. I’m fully in control, and vulnerable in my hands, they can’t touch me.
I have never, in my eight years in Berlin, witnessed the orderliness that’s so often ascribed to the German character. I don’t feel ripped off though–it’s precisely the grit I fell for, on a weekend getaway with my college roommate, Berlin born-and-raised, during our first-year of studies more than ten years ago. The post reunification, pre property boom hype that I came to be a part of. That, and research. Xploration. First buildings, later bodies. The architecture faculty that I used to teach at is just around the corner.
The Namazu tantra studio is on the second floor of a residential turn-of-the-century building. One floor above what used to be a post office and is now a shisha bar. The owners are constantly in strife. Massage is a service best served in peace but the floors often rumble with hip hop beats. Two years ago, when I first started working at Namazu, still under the spell of who I’d been, type A and bastardized by academia, I took to the building straight away. Its ostentatious entry, the carved banisters, creaky wood floors. The studio itself, generous in proportions with five rooms of varied sizes, each with: two chairs and a table between, a 180cm floor mat covered in red, floor-to-3.5m-ceiling black out curtains in a drapey taupe, a speaker, three dimmable floor lamps in the size and shape of a globe. Some rooms have a Buddha painting. Large, back-lit and abstract. Others have a Kachelofen, a tiled floor-to-ceiling fireplace that once heated the space with coal. Now they stand as decoration, testament to the aristocratic origins of the structure itself and the neighborhood as a whole. I was glad to be somewhere I wouldn’t be expected to deliver profound words, spared from the torture of performing the rituals of institutional rank climbing. I considered myself lucky to have escaped before the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie took deeper hold of my life. After two months of training I was earning three times as much as I had been at the university, after seven years of higher education. And I was my own boss.
One day, quite new in the studio and seated at the table in the staff kitchen with some down time between sessions, I ask Lara, the first person I spoke to on my first day, drawn by her kindness, what brought her here—to labor on the periphery of sex work. Drying drinking glasses with a checkered linen cloth, she responds with certitude and without hesitation, “I needed a change.” After a long pause in which I feel her searching, she continues, “or maybe the change needed me.” It’s something nearly all fifteen of us have in common. Most of us are in our thirties. There are several artists and musicians. There are the new age hippies—the ones who are open with what they do here and devote themselves to surveying a range of eros. Some are into sexological bodywork. Or sexology. Even sexual surrogacy. The majority identify as she/her, though there’s a few he/hims and a they. Some of the people I share the studio with do the work mainly for the money, but there’s something of a pedigree to this place in that everyone who makes it through the finely tuned radars of the owners, two female and one male, has genuine interest and skill for the healing aspects of somatic experience. To touch places that talk therapy cannot reach. Eva, who plays the harp, quotes Anaïs Nin “you can only be in touch if you feel”.
It’s getting close to 7pm. My next scheduled appointment will soon ring the bell. I slip my head out the red lunghi I kept on since finishing my last session and let it fall to the kitchen floor. Wet a washcloth with water still warm from the kettle and wipe it over my arms, under my armpits, over my neck and between my legs. Toss it into the green bin at the side of the sinks just for washcloths. Reach into the black box on the shelf with my name on it, pull out my black dress, La Perla, and slip it over my head. It has a halter neck and two thin gold chains that hang loosely over my back. I’m checking myself in the mirror as the doorbell rings. Quickly, I make my way toward the guest’s entry. Even with briskness in my step It takes about thirty seconds to get to the buzzer. I take care not to let my bare feet cause creakage over the one hundred-and-thirty year old parquet floors in the foyer and pad over the thick deep red rug stretching the length of the corridor. Pull open the heavy black curtain before the door and press the grey button on my left. Pulling open the door to the hall I hear the door to the street open below. Listening to the ascending steps, I can begin to gauge what sort of person I’ll be spending the next two hours with. These steps are slow. Not heavy. But not light either. After a few seconds a woman I take to be a few years older than me appears at the door. My eyes meet hers and I feel her pain. I gesture for her to come in and reach out my hand to hers. As we touch I say, “I’m Liv,” quietly, so as not to make myself heard by those in the rooms immediately to my right and left. “I’m Mirjam,” she whispers.
Liv Phoinix is emerging from an intense period of research on physicality and sexuality, putting three years of deep immersion into words. She’s writing creative nonfiction while hosting and producing the podcast Body Is Construct. With Body Is Construct Liv interviews hybrids on where they’re at with their body of thoughts and body of work. From 2015-2017 Liv taught students of the Architecture Design Innovation Program at the TU Berlin while pursuing -and abandoning- a PhD in the faculty of Architecture at ETH Zürich. Prior to architectural academia she worked at the United Nations Programme for Human Settlements in Nairobi and in film production in Chennai. She was born in Kremmling, Colorado and lives in Berlin. Follow her on instagram @liv.phoinix and @bodyisconstruct. And find her on Twitter @liv_phoinix.
Elliot Schei aka Djoto Eschei is a musician and artist based in Tokyo, originally from the U.S. He writes electronic music and creates digital artwork and experimental video. His focus is on coding experimental audio & image processing algorithms from scratch, adding controlled chaos at a very low-level in order to produce music and art with unique character. Follow him on twitter @central_ganymede_bass_warriors, or on Soundcloud, Basecamp, or Facebook.