We thought we’d take a quick break from the hustle and bustle of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to share this interview we did for our last Zine with you. Enjoy!
Many years ago, I used to travel down to London once or twice a year to attend, either as a stall holder or customer, the Bust Craftacular. It was great fun putting faces to names and getting to know my peers, seeking out new work for and meeting new customers.
One of the stallholders who I will always remember is Jazmine Miles-Long, an ethical taxidermist. I was mesmerised by her stall and especially the beautiful lamb in the suitcase (it wasn’t for sale, I would have bought it). Jazmine told me about how she came to have the lamb and I was struck at the tenderness by which she described the process. I’ve kept up to date with her work ever since and introduced HZ shoppe girl Anna Forrest to her work. Anna also fell in love and suggested she interview her for the HZ Zine. Here’s a version of the interview for the blog!
Jazmine’s Taxidermy Squirrel.
How did you get into practising taxidermy and how long have you been doing it?
When I graduated from Sculpture at Brighton University in 2007 I wanted to get a job I loved but had no idea what I wanted to do. So I started by volunteering at the Booth museum of Natural history. Once a week I would go and help renovate old Taxidermy cases, clean Bones, and type up chapters of Mr Booths diary. The first thing I actually ‘preserved’ myself at the museum was a moles skull. I enjoyed the process and so started doing Taxidermy at home with the help of a book a family friend had given me.
What inspirations lie behind your work…were you particularly inspired by anyone/anything?
I am inspired by animals and my love of animals (a bit obvious but there it is). I have always had them around me, cats when I was young, I worked on a farm as a teenager and now I have a horrible little grumpy terrier that I love. There are many artists and people who inspire me but when I do Taxidermy I am only really interested in that animal and the emotion I hope to give it.
What do you love most about what you do, what you perhaps not love so much?
I love and hate how hard and frustrating it can be. It’s very rewarding when it goes well and there are tears when it doesn’t. You only get one try with each animal so its high pressure for it to be perfect and it’s dreadful when a skin is too old and the whole thing has to go in the bin. All the animals I work with have died naturally or have been hit by a car so I often have no way of knowing how long the animal has been dead and can almost finish the process when I realise its too late and I cant work with the skin.
How do you feel when someone brings you an animal that was perhaps a loved pet, have you had any interesting or memorable experiences that stand out in your mind?
The first cat I skinned made me feel very uncomfortable, it was a bit too familiar for me. And when I first started doing taxidermy and every animal was new, I found it sad and hard working on them but it got easier. I have done pets in the past but not had good experiences as you just can not make the animal have the feeling the owner remembers, its impossible to recreate that bond. I won’t do any more pets unless they are simply donated to me because it’s just too difficult emotionally for myself and the owner.
The process looks very delicate and complex, how long does it take from start to finish? How do you decide what you want the finished idea to be…the position, pose?
Tiny Lamb by Jazmine Miles-Long.
I always start with deciding on the pose before getting the animal out of the freezer. It is good to be thinking about this when you are skinning, so that you can literally figure out how it works and how it would sit in that position. Taxidermy takes a lot of patience to get right, it is much better to take as much time as possible, you can tell when a piece of taxidermy has been rushed. Birds and Mammals have very different skins because of the feathers and fur. Mammal skin needs to be tanned first otherwise the fur falls out; this is called ‘slipping’. It also depends on the mammal for example a squirrel only takes one day to tan but a deer can take a couple of weeks. There is also the fat to consider, a fox has half as much fat as a badger and every fibre of fat must be removed and it takes ages! It’s the same with birds; ducks and geese have a very very thick fatty layer in comparison to a garden bird. The mannequins I put the skins onto I mostly carve from Balsa wood and it simply depends on each animal as to how long this will take me, I can spend days just making the mannequin. But because of this I like to work on a few pieces simultaneously, at the moment it’s a Mallard Duck, a Vole and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
What has been your favourite collaboration with another artist to date? Have you any up and coming projects that you are really excited about?
I am currently working with Illustrator and Artist Benjamin Phillips , my favourite pieces so far are a tiny duckling with an evil shadow painted by Benjamin that we had in a group show in November. I enjoy working with Benjamin because his work can be seen as humorous and often lude or creepy but he has a very particular sensitivity to the way he captures characters and mannerism’s that I find very beautiful and seductive. It is hard however for me to find someone that I can work with as I have so many personal rules about my own taxidermy, I want the taxidermy to be beautiful, I want the animal to seem respected and for the viewer to empathise with its predicament. I get very upset when I see Taxidermy art that is demeaning and badly done. Benjamin and me will be showing some of our new work in London in June.
What direction do you want your work to go in the future?
I want to keep doing what I am doing now, developing new techniques and collaborating with other artists. I really enjoy learning and it seems that with taxidermy there are endless things I can learn. I only hope I will be able to do this forever.
You must love animals, what is your favourite?
I love dogs. They are very weird creatures. My difficult runt Betty is the best obviously.
Thank you to Jazmine and Anna for the interview, I really enjoyed finding out more about Jazmine’s working methods and ideas. Please check out Jazmine’s website to keep up to date with her work at jazminemileslong.co.uk.
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Duckling Shadow. A collaborative work with Artist Benjamin Phillips.