Adele ‘The Taxidermist Of Uproroty Fox’ Morse Talks
We thought that it doesn't get much better than a world famous DJ coming to play for us at R$N for the payment of a badly stuffed fox that he'd seen on Ebay. But we were wrong.
During the course of our discussion with the artist that had the original Taxidermy-off-day, we realised that what we did with the fox is a mere damp squib in comparison to the rest of the tale, which includes: controversy in The Kremlin, an expedition to discover a new species of ape, Santa Claus, Poppers, Anneka Rice, and the market value of a stoat. The fox has been involved with all of the above, and more.
We join it as Adele (the artist) is describing the latest Russian interest in the fox to Mike (the original purchaser), and Lord R$N (Mike's words, not mine Ed) himself, Wil:
AM: MTV emailed me this morning, apologising for their persistence in trying to contact me, but in order for them to make a documentary about the most famous fox in the world, they need my input, and I thought 'what a scam' but then I looked at the email address and it was "@mtv.ru"
WT: That's insane, that's absolutely insane.
AM: I almost fainted, and I've never fainted. How ridiculous. Foxes in Russia, they're like the magic formula.
WT: That ties in with what you were saying to me on the night with SDC, about how your life has just completely changed overnight.
AM: It's gone mental, completely mental. It's so surreal. If you'd have told me in October when I sold it… and I sold it on my birthday actually… I was just thinking like, 'birthday lunch – I'll treat myself' and I checked to see how much it sold for… that was exciting enough.
WT: 330 wasn't it?
MB: Yeah, what mug paid that aye?!?
AM: Yeah, and obviously you [MB] got in touch first and I thought it was a bit weird, like why were you wanting to come all the way from Manchester to pick it up?
MB: I just thought it would be funny.
AM: Then you told me the story with the DJ [headline news on R$N, no less] and I was like 'this is mind-blowing'.
MB: Yeah, although I bought it on Ebay it was actually not my idea originally – a mate of mine up north alerted me to it so we went 50/50, so he also ended up getting a gig out of SDC at his night, Uber.
AM: I think it was a week after the auction ended that I got the first message about it – someone who had joined Ebay that day, no feedback or anything, just to send me that message, saying "I'm an Investigative Journalist, and I've been hunting you down and I've found you please can you do an interview for my blog". I thought it must be a scam. But we exchanged email addresses, and he sent me an email with something like 100 links of the fox with various people like fox with Obama, the fox with Stalin, the fox with all these people…
MB: Tom Hanks, we can't forget Hanks.
AM: Tom Hanks is actually one of my favourite people, and then I thought 'okay, maybe he isn't lying' and then just did a little interview with him, and he posted that on his Live Journal and I didn't realise at the time that Live Journal is massive in Russia – a Russian company actually bought Live Journal – and within an hour of him posting that on his blog, I got 10,000 hits on my blog, and prior to that I'd had my blog for three years and had 320 hits in total, and now I think my current total is 65,000, which is insane. And then he posted that so I thought I'd put a link on my blog as a thank you to him… he had done it for his girlfriend because she was a huge fan of the fox, and he had actually made her a T-shirt with the fox on, and I put that photo on my blog. Then the next day the Metro Moscow emailed me and asked me if I could do a Skype… I still didn't really know what was going on… I was still in my pyjamas but I just said yes, loaded up Skype and the screen flicked on, and you know when you have one of those moments? I was sitting there with my two cats either side of me, kind of like little prison guards, and then the guy at the other end was sat at the desk, in the Metro office with about 20 people behind him who were hysterical; like on the phone to their mothers shouting "uporoty lis!" "uporoty lis!" [Stoned Fox] and then he wrote the story up, sent it to print and he'd mistakenly put up the photograph from my blog of that woman (the girlfriend of the Live Journal blog poster) wearing the T-Shirt, as me, the artist, despite the fact that he'd just spoken to me for an hour on Skype and we look nothing alike! He couldn't retract it from the paper… the circulation is something like 4 million and then what I didn't realise at the time was that girl is the Press Secretary for the main opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, and they took this as slander and they thought the Metro were trying to make a fool out of her and the party's campaign, so they went on a public spat on Twitter with the Metro guy, calling him a shambolic Journalist, an excuse for a magazine, an excuse for a man, all this stuff and in the end he had to apologise to her and to Alexey Navalny, and that's when I thought 'is it safe to go to Russia on the back of this fox?'
MB: You've just spoken for four and a half minutes solid, and it's all quotable. For fuck's sake! This is ridiculous. So anyway, he gets called an excuse for a Journalist, he apologises…
AM: He apologised publicly and then loads and loads of people came out in support of her and I was reading on her Facebook loads of people saying how this fox is now a symbol for the opposition, and what a great idea it is etc.
WT: An icon?
AM: Yeah. Obviously this is completely crazy!
MB: Ed Miliband, take note.
AM: And then after that happened I emailed the guy back whose girlfriend it was saying 'I'm really sorry to hear all this, I didn't realise this would be such an issue etc.'. He didn't email me back, and then on Twitter I noticed that they'd broken up, and…
MB: [embarrassingly loud guffaw obscures the rest of the sentence]
AM: so after that I just thought I'd best leave it alone… I didn't want to pursue that any more.
WT: Fucking hell.
MB: So hang on, just to clarify what I think you'd said, who'd broken up exactly?
AM: The Press Secretary, and the original Investigative Journalist.
MB: Bloody hell, that's immense. So what month are we in now?
AM: Still October. A week or two after the auction ended. Then the government newspaper did an interview and a couple more websites got in touch, then I started getting all these weird emails, like from disabled people saying that they can't look after animals and they'd like nothing more than to be able to have a fox to stroke.
WT: Was this from Ebay or your blog?
AM: So initially I was getting loads of messages on Ebay from Russian-looking names who had just joined Ebay especially… I'm still getting some. Like I just got a message from one guy saying that he wanted my professional opinion on his website… I thought maybe he was a Taxidermist or something, but no, he sells gift baskets! I told him a few things and then a week later he comes back saying "I've hired a photographer, I've done this this and this… can we be friends?"
MB: Haaaaaa. 'Can we be friends' – that's such foreign-vagrant-speak! Is there anything more that happened next?
AM: I got a few emails from people saying they wanted me to make a replica of the fox – one company wanted to make a viral video but when it came to it I couldn't make it look like the original… it's hard to make that happen again.
MB: How many foxes have you been through since ours?
AM: I've made one, but I've had to throw another one away, which is sad; not something I want to do, but there was a slight disaster with the tanning process that was irreversible.
WT: Ha ha ha, that's a line right there!
WT: So I guess it would be good to give a bit of a back story about what got you in to Taxidermy… you're still learning by the sounds of it… no offence.
AM: Oh no, none taken – it was neglect on my behalf. I was supposed to move the skin around every couple of days, and I went through a break up and I was just very sad for a week and didn't feel like touching any dead animals, so errm, I neglected to move the skins around and it went bad.
WT: So neglect after it was dead?!? Double neglect!
AM: I'm sure it was very happy when it was alive!
MB: So what about our fox, did you neglect that one?
AM: No, I did that one too quickly… you're supposed to salt it for five days then tan it for five days I do believe. I didn't salt it at all and tanned it in four days which is not enough time to properly cure the skin I've now learnt.
WT: But what's the attraction of Taxidermy?
AM: My mother used to take me to the Natural History Museum in Cardiff.
MB: I didn't know there was one.
AM: It's not very spectacular. I think there's one whale which I'm pretty sure is plastic, a turtle, and a bear; and I think some other little bits like caterpillars and stuff, but still, I really liked it there… used to go there every weekend. Then I went to this weird, only-happens-in-Wales type event, where you can go and look for newts in the pond, take your bucket to this tent where they identify the species… and anyway, there was all this Taxidermy in there, so I asked someone how much he charges for it, and he said 400-600 for a stoat. What a great way to make money, I thought! It seemed like an amazing thing to do. I dunno if that makes sense.
MB: It does.
AM: It's really interesting… you get to see the physiology and stuff because you never get to be that close to a fox and squirrel or a deer. I guess it is a bit weird, but you get over that. I like the idea of preservation… I mean, some of the animals in the Natural History Museum are completely extinct and that's the only record of them.
MB: For me to see a Dodo in the Natural History Museum when I was Six… that was a big fucking deal.
AM: So about six years ago, I started doing it properly. But it's completely different for each animal, so the process for a fox is completely different to a rat or something like that, and that is why the fox went so…
MB: Cherie Blair?
AM: Yeah! There was a series of disasters that led up to that fox being shown in a crit at college. So basically there were sixteen of us, two people would show their work, and then for an hour you couldn't say anything, and people would slag it off basically. So I ended up showing the fox and a squirrel that was Taxidermied in the same way.
MB: So the squirrel worked then?
AM: The squirrel worked – everyone was in to the squirrel – but then when they saw the fox they were like "wowwww – what is that?" You're allowed to talk for up to two minutes about each item, but I just said "can I just say that there is nothing that you can say about the fox that I'm not already thinking". They say to be an apprentice Tanner takes six years.
AM: but for me I did it in a few days, so I wasn't mad at myself about it.
MB: So when was this?
AM: The year before last – I had it quite a while before I sold it. So anyway, after this, the fox featured at our Christmas Party, inside a scary Santa's Grotto, like errrm, imagine Santa On Acid, that kind of thing, in this Life Drawing Room, which was the oldest Life Drawing Room in Europe… they still do Life Drawing on a Tuesday… Anneka Rice and Ronnie Wood go to it, and the guy from Frankie Goes To Hollywood…
MB: What, Paul Rutherford?!?
AM: Yep. And he always has a huge fur coat on!
MB: So was this fox ever drawn in that room?
AM: No, but this is the room where the Christmas Party is, so normally, people do something boring like a quiz or something, but we thought we'd do something a bit different, like some kind of Acid Trip; so I was Mrs Claus and Santa was this almost 40-year-old ex-Ministry DJ, half French, half cockney, and he looked suitably seedy because he's quite tanned and anyway, he was giving people a sniff of a bottle of Poppers as they came in, giving them a present, then making them sit on his knee, and I'd take a photo…
MB: Yes yes yes!
AM: and then all of the tutors would come in, including 50-odd-year-old men… some guy had a cane but he insisted on coming in… up for a laugh… he kind of had to fall through the doors and obviously a lot of people had never done Poppers before and found it quite overwhelming. And at the back we had a plinth with the fox on, with a Christmas hat, and everyone would come in and…
MB: So hang on, everyone was getting on the Dennis Hoppers, issued by Santa?
AM: They had to, they didn't have a choice. We actually got in quite a bit of trouble for that.
MB: I dunno like, it's just room deodoriser…
AM: It's legal!
MB: "All I want for Christmas, is Pure Gold… baby" I think the Mariah Carey Christmas song goes.
AM: So yeah, the fox has been through quite a lot really. It's got to a point when I mention the fox to friends of mine, even things like it going mental in Russia, and people are like "oh yeah, the fox", quite casually… they are not that surprised.
WT: They knew he had it in him from the start.
AM: Yeah, everyone had some kind of faith in him for something.
WT: So why did you put him on Ebay?
AM: I needed the money to go on an expedition to the jungle to look for an unknown species of ape…
WT: What, for Taxidermy?
AM: No, to discover it. No one's ever taken a photo of it, so I want to take a photo of it.
MB: Fuck me – this is just getting better.
WT: Where is this?
AM: Sumatra in Indonesia. There's, you know, 150 tigers out there, wild elephants… all sorts of dangerous things to sleep next to, especially when you don't even have a tent.
WT: What? Not even a tent?
AM: No. It's proper hardcore. And I said yes to it… you can't say no to something like that.
MB: Aye, you're in good company with that philosophy.
AM: So you have to get all these travel jabs, must have cost me something like £600, so I thought okay, 'I'll let the fox go for the greater cause of going to the jungle and finding a species of ape'.
MB: So have you actually gone on the expedition yet?
AM: No, not yet.
WT: So anyway, how the hell did Jack (SDC) find the fox in the first place?
MB: He just said he was on Ebay, bored, looking at Taxidermy. He was probably overdue a remix or an album or something, and was just wasting some time so he could be more overdue.
AM: I actually met a Taxidermist earlier… I'm supposed to be giving some lessons, although thinking about it, should I be giving anyone lessons?
MB: The Russians think otherwise.
AM: Actually, perhaps I should teach bad Taxidermy – it's so much more fun than good Taxidermy… I often mess stuff up on purpose.
MB: Seriously, you could create a process and trademark it.
AM: It could happen.
MB: So you were saying to me before that you get your foxes from gamekeepers that have a nice little sideline, but who was the dealer to this other Taxidermist?
AM: Pest controllers in and around London. I reckon I've got a better quality of supplier though.
MB: Pest controllers are always good banter – never met a dull one when I used to have to manage these things at work. Their casual racism about the cause of bed bugs was something else…
WT: Can you Taxidermy bed bugs?
AM: I wouldn't touch them!
WT: What's the smallest thing you've tried then?
AM: Baby mice. Not really possible. Also I tried the smallest bird in Britain… is it the Goldfinch?
MB: I'm pretty sure it isn't, my money's on the Wren. (ED: It is actually the Goldcrest)
WT: Why does it become more difficult when they get smaller?
AM: The skin just dries out if you put a preservative on it. With a fox that doesn't happen… you treat it the same way as you would a cow skin. Even a squirrel, technically, you should tan it.
MB: I think science has let us down a bit here. I'm sure there is a process that could be arrived at, but there probably isn't the demand for small things like baby mice.
AM: There is plasticising, the technique pioneered by Gunther Von Hagens…
MB: Ah, the autopsy man.
AM: I was going to learn it myself, but then I realised the extreme danger I would be under with all the chemicals, so I thought I'd best leave it alone until I get a bigger studio… I'm quite accident prone, I could lose an eye or something.
MB: Yeah, but back to the original point, you couldn't lose an eye if you were trying to preserve a Wren… not enough chemicals surely?
AM: Well you might if you plasticise it.
MB: Anyway, let's re-tell the story about the Russian scammers, the first ones that showed an interest [which featured on R$N a couple of months ago].
AM: They said that all the proceeds they raised were going to go to the foxes at the zoo.
MB: But have they fuck.
AM: They've taken the website down!
MB: The fact that they'd lied to you by saying they'd negotiated with me to buy the fox… you thought I'd double-crossed you!
AM: Yeah, they sent me an email saying that this was for an exhibition at the Moscow Contemporary Arts Centre, which is quite a big deal, and the government newspaper, Lenta RU got in touch saying please confirm that you are coming to Russia – we cannot wait for your arrival! I said I didn't know anything about it and I couldn't confirm that the original fox was available anyway but they ran a story saying "Uporoty Fox possibly coming to Russia". And then I did another interview on a blog/website where they said people had spoken to you [MB] and agreed a fee for the fox, and they'd been told that it was all officially happening. The original website, which has now been taken down, had raised loads of money.
MB: Put 'em on Watchdog. Get Nicky Campbell on that.
WT: What's the volume of emails you're getting per day?
AM: Now, about three. At the peak, about thirty, split 50/50 between Ebay and email. And then also people commenting weird things on my blog, like saying how the original Press Secretary woman is a Princess of a small country… just weird stuff that I don't understand… I don't know whether this is Russian humour or something.
WT: So what are your plans for the future?
AM: To find the Orang-pendek Ape.
WT: Whereabouts in Sumatra is this?
AM: The Kerrinci Seblat National Park… it's the biggest Tiger Conservation Area in the world, and it's in a volcano.
WT: So this is in the south?
AM: Yeah, there's orangutans in the north, but because there was a volcano that erupted, they think that as a result of the vast wasteland in the south the orangutans evolved to walk on two legs. Even if it is just an evolved species of orangutan, the idea that a species could evolve to bipedalismin in that timeframe is just insane, and it could teach us so much about our own evolution and that we wouldn't be the only bipedal species; apart from Kagaroos, but they don't really count.
MB: So once you find that and photograph it and document it…
AM: If that happens I can retire.
MB: What would pay the bills, just that photo?
AM: Pretty much.
MB: Sounds like a career plan.
AM: It would probably be the biggest discovery of our time! It's one of those mental plans – if it does work it's the best thing ever, if it doesn't work I might just get attacked by a tiger or something.
MB: Well there is that.
AM: But people are starting to take notice of this now… people like Channel 4 are getting funding to start looking for this… somebody on this last expedition… a guy called Dave… he just got a divorce settlement, got some money and wanted a break, so he used that to go out there. He saw the Orang-pendek and cried for 45 minutes!
MB: But he didn't document it?
AM: He did, but he didn't want to release it! It's really dark. No one out there had proper equipment to do a professional job.
MB: This whole thing does have an element of Moonraking about it… I can remember Fraggle Rock covering the matter of Moonraking, and it didn't work out. But despite that, I think it's a brilliant idea.
AM: It's an entirely mental idea… it's one of those things… it could work.
Which pretty much sums up this whole story from the beginning; a truly mental idea. But it ain't over yet – not by a long stretch. Although Space Dimension Controller has played his gig and officially taken ownership of the fox, do not be surprised if El Foxy pops up in a former USSR near you. The Russians are talking!
Check out Adele's now globally-sensational blog, and see some far better but equally mental pieces of art.
And of course El Foxy himself, shooting the shit on Twitter.