By Florence Lo and Aly Song
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Inside a dimly lit bar in Shanghai, amazed spectators held their smartphones high as artist Wei Yilaien suspended a couple in mid-air from hooks piercing their bodies.
Onlookers snapped pictures and videos as the tattooed bodies dangled from a metal frame for 20 minutes before Wei and two assistants lowered the couple to the floor.
"I like being unique and I don't like doing things that many people are aware of and would accept," said Wei, 24, who staged the show of extreme body piercing in China's normally buttoned down financial capital.
On a recent Sunday night, some 100 spectators watched Wei pierce the bodies of four people with sterilised metal hooks and lift them into the air.
A 23-year-old woman named July said she was excited and nervous ahead of her first body suspension.
"During the process, I felt some pain, which didn't last long," she said. "There was a little burning sensation afterwards, but I felt very happy and nothing else".
Viktor Liu, 25, said his first experience hanging from hooks thrust into his skin was three years ago.
It was a hasty decision made on a night when Liu was drunk, he said, but he now takes up the challenge once a year.
"The process is very calming, as if I had separated from the world and entered a different space altogether which was wonderful and unreal," Liu said.
However, he admitted it comes with a price. "After the suspension, it felt painful. Very painful," Liu said.
Others agreed the experience was unique.
"The surge of adrenaline caused by the pain in the process can be surprisingly calming," said 23-year-old Angus Shen, who was suspended upside down from hooks in his legs.
Censorship has been tightening in China in recent years, and a once-thriving performance art scene has been driven underground.
Wei has staged an annual extreme piercing show in Shanghai since 2016, and says it is becoming more accepted by audiences.
Asked if she had faced resistance in China to her art, Wei said: "Nothing can stop me from doing what I want."
(Editing by Tony Munroe and Darren Schuettler)