The Cutting Edge of CREATIVITY – Space Cowboy takes art to new extremes
WORDS: Suzanne Simonot PHOTOGRAPHY Brian Usher - www.usherusher.com plus Supplied
Death-defying, jaw-dropping entertainer The Space Cowboy, aka Chayne Hultgren, has forged a record-breaking international reputation for his spectacular feats – from the streets to stage and screen. Driven by a desire to inspire people to push their boundaries and challenge the norm, the green-eyed dynamo from Byron Bay has added a new string to his artistic bow – visual artist and gallery owner. ORM caught up with the unique entertainer to find out what spectacular feats he has in store for audiences in 2022.
FROM street entertainer to multidisciplinary creative dynamo, The Space Cowboy is taking his unique brand of visual and performance art to another dimension.
Pushing the limits of the human body with tricks and twisted treats you have to see to believe, Chayne Hultgren, aka The Space Cowboy, is sideshow royalty.
From record-breaking stunts and mind-boggling Illusions to death-defying escapes, The Space Cowboy has been pushing the limits – and himself – to shock and amaze audiences since he was eight years old.
The creator and master of feats including his famed Black and Decker Digestion Wrecker, he’s constantly adding strings to his bow. Thanks to years of practice and money-can’t-buy street smarts, he can prune his insides with hedge trimmers and extinguish a propane torch with flames reaching 1995 degrees Celsius on his tongue – all for our viewing pleasure!
“There is nothing I love more than proving the impossible is possible,” he says.
“Many of my acts are death-defying and shocking but I take great care in preparation and training for every stunt that I do.”
The consummate showman, Chayne has fought hard to connect with busy audiences on the toughest, bustling busking pitches in the world – he was once famously arrested in New York for brandishing weapons in public – and taken his show to some of the most salubrious theatres on the planet, setting and smashing a plethora of Guinness World Records along the way.
“My favourite act is usually the act that I created most recently. I am a bit obsessive like that,” the fearless five-feet-11 dynamo says.
“I am really enjoying working with high voltage electricity. I just love the sound and frequency of the sparks and love the way it looks on stage. I am currently working on a few big escape acts and making dangerous props with swinging chainsaws, high voltage Tesla Coils and speeding arrows!”
A rare breed indeed, Chayne is a unicorn of sorts – a born and bred Byron Bay local.
“I loved growing up in Byron Bay,” he says.
“The town has changed considerably since I was a kid but I still love calling it home. I have been travelling the world. following the never-ending summer since I was 17 and now I am back in Byron Bay bringing up my young daughter in the only town I have ever called home.”
It was on the streets of the famed tourist mecca that Chayne first began plying his craft as a kid.
“My family encouraged my dare-devil lifestyle,” he says.
“I started busking when I was eight or nine years old, juggling and unicycling at the local markets. My sister had a unicycle that I learnt to ride and my dad taught me to juggle. My mum made me a small straight jacket that I learned to escape from and my dare-devil career began.”
Chayne won his first street performing competition when he was just 11 years old and learnt a valuable lesson at age 13 when he spent two weeks in hospital with third-degree burns after a stunt with fire went horribly wrong.
He “devoured Houdini books” and researched history’s greatest magicians.
“I gained a passion for mentalism and mind magic, practising spoon bending and practising reading the minds of anyone I could,” he says.
“In my teens, I learnt to crack whips and added this new skill to my ever-expanding repertoire of tricks. I started calling myself Cowboy as my stage name and then realised I needed to add something else to it to make it more unique and I have been called ‘The Space Cowboy’ ever since.”
As any freewheeling street performer knows, buskers are a tough breed. They have to be. If audiences don’t like you, they soon let you know. Every night is a new adventure, redrawing the lines between spectator and spectacle; every show a hard-fought quest to inspire the sort of connection that makes your crowd want to put their hands in their pockets to reward you. Chayne was just 17 when he packed his bag for his first world tour to do exactly that, living on his skills and wit.
“I was performing a circus street show with whip cracking and juggling skills on a tall unicycle. I was following the summer busking circuit from festival to festival and working busking street pitches like Covent Garden, in London, and the Leidseplein, in Amsterdam, in between. During a stint busking at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I saw a show that changed my life,” he says.
“The show was a dark, twisted freak show with wild and dangerous performers and that is where I learnt sword swallowing and decided I wanted to focus on learning the world’s most dangerous stunts – but present them in a new, positive and happy way.”
Space Cowboy style.
And thanks to a congenital division of the stomach, Chayne discovered his performance abilities could stretch a lot further, literally, than cracking whips. It was a discovery that would help take him and his amazing feats on an amazing ride to even bigger audiences.
“It was only after I learnt to swallow swords that I realised I could turn my natural deformity into my art,” he says.
And the further he pushed himself – and his body – the more The Space Cowboy discovered he could do.
“My strangely shaped, elongated stomach enabled me to swallow longer swords than any of my predecessors,” he says.
“It enabled me to take sword swallowing to new depths! I can now swallow a 72cm sword blade all the way to the hilt. X-Rays show that the blade goes just below my belly button.”
As the great Andy Kaufman once said, pure entertainment is not an egotistical lady singing boring songs onstage for two hours and people in tuxedos clapping whether they like it or not.
“It’s the real performers on the street who can hold people’s attention and keep them from walking away,” Kaufman said.
And so it was for The Space Cowboy.
“Street theatre is for the people, rich or poor,” he says.
“It is for anyone and everyone who walks by and I think that is why I love it so much. It can change an ordinary day into something unforgettable.”
With his red-hot reputation as street performing royalty cemented on the busking world’s most coveted concrete performances strips, Chayne turned up the dial and took his show indoors.
“It started at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (again),” he says of his move from streets to theatres.
“I was with three of my friends and we were all doing solo street shows. We used our street shows to earn a buck and to also advertise for our group, night-time ticketed stage shows. Our show was called ‘The Happy Sideshow’. It was such a success it sold out and we were approached by a manager who then toured the show around the world – places like Japan, Croatia, Italy, Germany. Back in Australia, we even performed three seasons in the Sydney Opera House. I went from that to presenting my solo stage shows with equal success.”
Chayne has now travelled the globe many times and delighted audiences in more than 40 countries, appeared on television shows and clocked up more than 20 million Youtube hits.
“I am featured in the Guinness World Records and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books and TV shows and I have my own statue in the ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ museums.
“All this started from a very humble beginning and a passion to entertain and inspire and awesome encouraging parents that always had my back,” he says.
A record run
‘Shock! horror! and amazement!-style entertainment acts have exploded in popularity over the years, but they were few and far between when Chayne first hit the hustings.
“I was very fortunate to have many performer friends who inspired me from a young age,” he says. “We were all on the same or similar travelling festival circuits so there has never been any shortage of inspiration for new skills or acts to perform. I was also very inspired by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Guinness World Records books. It was always my goal to be featured in the record books.”
And featured in record books he has. In fact, Chayne has as good as rewritten them.
“I currently hold 55 Guinness World Records – the most ever held by an Australian,” he says. “Many of the records that I hold were broken on the Guinness World Records (GWR) TV shows in countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and China. When breaking records on a GWR TV show, the GWR adjudicators do all the authentication processes for me so I only need to focus on doing the best I can at the record I am attempting to break.
“The current record for most records is held by an American who will attempt anything silly like blowing a postage stamp the furthest in a minute. So for him, it is all about numbers and it doesn’t matter if the record itself is silly or pointless. I only like to break records that push my mind and body. All my records are for high-skill, dangerous stunts.”
Chayne’s first record was broken in 2008 when he swallowed 17 swords at the same time.
Some of his records since include:
– Most speeding arrows caught with the bare hand in one minute while blindfolded
– Longest lightning bolts to shoot from the fingertips while conducting electricity through the body
– Most chainsaw juggling catches on a tall unicycle
– Fastest knife throwing
– Most underwater backward somersaults while sword swallowing
– Furthest distance travelled while balancing a running lawnmower on the chin.
He’s also a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians, but isn’t able to reveal exactly how it came to be that he was invited to join such illustrious ranks. Would he have to make us disappear if he told us?
“I have always been fascinated by magic and illusion,” he says, side-stepping the question about how he came to be invited into the brotherhood.
“I perform a mind reading and telekinesis show where I do acts like drawing images that people think about and bend spoons in their hands. I use magical techniques to create the acts in this show and I use my stunt training and circus skills to perform my record-breaking feats.”
Like most performance artists, Chayne had to dive into his creative well to survive what have been the darkest couple of years the live performance industry has ever experienced in the wake of Covid. And in typical Space Cowboy style, he’s not only risen to the challenge – he’s taken his work to another dimension.
“I know it has been a very tough couple of years for so many and certainly for all in the tourism and entertainment industry. Although I am empathetic for all those who have been suffering during this time, I have quite enjoyed this change in my life,” he says.
“Before the pandemic, I was solely focused on creating new stunts and organising tours and gigs. When all the gigs in the world cancelled, I was sitting at home wondering what to do and I started painting art. Within a year, I painted and sold over 100 paintings and then opened my own art gallery in Byron Bay.”
More than just a gallery, the space, at 12 Wollongbar St, Byron Bay, features around 70 of his artworks, brought to stunning life thanks to augmented reality, his sculptures and some of the ‘oddities’ he’s collected from around the world. Using cutting-edge technology, viewers get to see each one of Chayne’s paintings come to life and leap from the canvas in their own unique way.
“All you need to do is bring your smartphone,” he says.
“The AR platform that I currently use to connect my animations to my physical artworks is called ‘Artivive’. It is a free app that once downloaded on any smartphone or tablet you can walk through my art gallery – or in this case, look through pages in Ocean Road Magazine – and look at all the AR on the paintings or photos and images.
“You don’t have to reload or scan a different QR code for each image – you can just move your phone over a page and different animations will appear for each image (try not to have two images on your screen at the same time or the app might get confused).”
It’s a magical addition to what’s become a remarkable body of creative work.
“Over the last 20 years I’ve been bending spoons and reading people’s minds,” Chayne says. “I’ve always been fascinated by the art of illusion and now for the first time, I’m bringing illusion into my artworks
“I would not have dedicated the time and energy to create visual art if it was not for this worldwide pandemic. I now love painting and will continue to create visual art while performing and creating record-breaking stunts.”
But wait! There’s more!
Those ‘oddities’ on display at The Space Cowboy Gallery include mind-bending items from Chayne’s infamous, ever-growing Mutant Barnyard, his private collection of curiosities so valuable it was once insured by Lloyd’s.
“I have had a strong love of nature and science for as long as I can remember and my particular interest is mutations and oddities,” Chayne says.
“So I started collecting anything that I could find that I thought was truly unique. I’m especially intrigued by anatomy and mutations, like creatures born with extra heads or limbs, but unfortunately, most of these strange animals do not survive long, if at all. The ones that don’t survive I have preserved for my collection.”
The oddities feature in his travelling museum of wonders, The Mutant Barnyard, which returns to the road for a season at the 2022 Sydney Royal Easter Show.
“It will be bigger and better than ever as I have been working hard collecting new specimens and making beautiful displays for them,” Chayne says. “Last year alone I added to the collection a series of conjoined twin chickens, an eight-legged puppy, a kitten with two bodies, a cyclops lamb, a bulldog calf (A dwarf calf) … and more.”
And if you’re wondering how on earth he managed to get half of the items in his collection into (and out of) the country, the answer is simple. Paperwork. And lots of it.
“Sometimes it takes a lot of paperwork but it is possible as I even managed to bring a large collection of my mutated specimens from Australia to exhibit in London and then brought them back again,” he says.
“Certain species could not travel so I had to take out many items from the display, like my albino crocodile and the four-legged lovebird. It was insured by Loyd’s (but) only while my museum was being exhibited in London.
A master of mediums, Chayne has also racked up a plethora of TV credits … and politely declined plenty more … thanks to a skills set that would surely make him gripping viewing as a contestant on one of those push-through-pain endurance shows/tests. Think Survivor or SAS Commander!
“I was asked to submit my expression of interest for a show like this but I was not available for the dates so it didn’t happen,” he says.
“I would be open to doing something like this. I am always up for trying new things. I just love performing in new locations and television shows. I don’t have a particular venue in my sights. I just love variety and great audiences.”
It’s a philosophy that already has Chayne clocking up the frequent flyer points since international borders opened up again, travelling to Paris earlier this year to film an appearance on a French variety TV show.
“I have always liked presenting my performances in different ways and television and the internet is just another way to see my shows,” he says.
“Live shows are special and they can’t be replaced. There is something special about being in an audience, knowing that what you are watching is live and when this show is over it will cease to exist apart from in the minds of the people who witnessed it. However, I like performing on television because it is just the opposite. Once the show is over, it can be seen online for many years. It is a great way to immortalise my acts.”
While his feats are immortal, Chayne is well aware he is not.
He and his partner in life and work, fellow performer Zoe Ellis, aka Zoe L’amore (who astonished audiences in Italy by stopping electric fan blades with her tongue), are parents to chip off the old block daughter Scarlett Showbiz Wild.
“I believe that being a father has made me a better performer,” Chayne says.
“I am more focused on getting it right.”
So whether it’s sword swallowing, knife throwing, chainsaw juggling, fire eating or body burning, beds of nails and broken glass, blindfolded arrow catching, unicycles and juggling, underwater breath holds, escapology, mind-reading or high-voltage shock and awe, The Space Cowboy’s risks are finely calculated.
“Swallowing swords is a dangerous business,” he says.
“At least 29 deaths have been recorded as a result of sword swallowing injuries since 1880. Warning! Don’t try this at home!
“I have always been extremely careful because in my game if I make a mistake it could be my last. I never take unnecessary risks. It is all very calculated and rehearsed.”
The Space Cowboy’s Psycho Sideshow plays the Royal Easter Show, in Sydney, from April 8-19.
The Space Cowboy’s credits include:
– Holder of more than 50 ‘Guinness World Records, making him Australia’s most prolific record-breaker
– Three-time winner (2006, 2007, 2011) winner of the Street Performance World Championship, Dublin, Ireland
– Street Performer of the year award – Edinburgh Festival
– People’s choice award, Auckland International Buskers Festival 2011
– Voted in the top 100 record holders of all time by Guinness World Records 2009
– Featured in Every Guinness Book Of World Records since 2009
– Starred in 20 Guinness World Record TV shows
– Featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books and TV shows
– Statues of The Space Cowboy feature in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museums
– Winner of the Science Channel’s hit television show Outrageous Acts of Science
– A regular star of CBBC and BBC’s Officially Amazing
World records The Space Cowboy has held include:
Heaviest weight pulled by eye sockets (411.65 kg)
Most chainsaw juggling catches on a unicycle
Most weight dragged with hooks in the eye sockets
Most targets hit with throwing knives in one minute
Most swords swallowed underwater
Most blow torches extinguished with the tongue in one minute (temperature of flames reached 1995°C)
Heaviest weight lifted while swallowing a sword
Fastest arrow caught blindfolded
Most chainsaw juggling catches on a unicycle
Most motorbikes driven over the body while laying on a bed of nails
Most flowers whip cracked from the mouth in a minute.