Interview Via Zoom

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See her work HERE

Influenced by her countryside roots in Cornwall and Congleton, 22-year-old Lou is a multidisciplinary artist who focuses on taxidermy and sculpture, with a keen interest in dust and remains.

She upcycles dead animals by turning them into art and accessories – from squirrel handbags to cat vertebrae belts. She’s also an ardent vegetarian.

In lockdown, she started turning the bones into jewellery. Here she talks about her interactive arts course at MSoA, common misconceptions about her work and why her flatmates don’t mind her keeping hedgehogs in the communal freezer.

When did your interest in taxidermy begin?

I’ve always lived in the countryside, from being born in Cornwall to growing up in Congleton. Naturally, I came across a lot of dead animals and so became very desensitised to seeing the inside of beings and blood. My cats constantly brought dead rodents into the house and I’d have to clean it up. Also, my mum is really into paganism, [a modern religious movement that believes nature is sacred and that the natural cycles of birth, growth and death profoundly spiritual meanings]. In my early teens, I stumbled across a paganism and taxidermy store in Macclesfield and made friends with the owner, Kate (@themaidenmotherandcrone). I started helping out in the shop and at 15 I treated my first rat. My mum always thinks I love taxidermy because I was obsessed with cuddly toys as a kid and taxidermy is sort of just the real thing.

Where do you find your animals?

I was worried there’d be no dead animals around in Manchester, because obviously it’s a city, but there’s been a surprisingly good amount. My friends are always on the lookout and call me saying, ‘There’s a magpie on Parrs Wood road,’ or  ‘I’ve just seen a fox on this street.’ Then I get on my bike and collect it. At first, picking up a dead animal is unusual because – and this sounds silly – they look so real! It’s strange because they are lifeless, heavy and sometimes still warm, but you do get used to it. They look so beautiful, especially up close, but it’s terribly sad that they aren’t alive anymore.

Tell us about some of the reactions to your work.

Most people are shocked, but it goes over my head, because I'm so used to it. I’ve had some grief at exhibitions and sometimes people don't want to touch my work or see it. My housemates are so used to it now, at our house there are bones everywhere and hedgehogs in the freezer… I have a designated drawer, of course. We’re all vegetarian too. My work is ethically sourced so there are no issues there. People find that almost contradictory, but it’s totally not; I’m not killing animals, I love animals! My work is all about upcycling. The first thing one of my hardcore vegan friends said when she saw one of my squirrel bags was, ‘Oh, I love recycling!’ I like the feeling that I’m looking after the bodies and giving waste a new lease of life.


What is the physical process for taxidermy?

It’s honestly easier than you think. My housemates thought it was just going to be gross, blood and guts everywhere, but when you skin an animal all the horrible stuff is in a membrane. However. I've had some really bad experiences where I've cut into animals and babies have come out. That was really nasty and I cried my eyes out, it was horrible.

First, you put the dead animal in the freezer for a couple of weeks to kill fleas, then you have to defrost them. I can't fit any food in my freezer draw because it’s full of animals I still need to work on. Then you skin the animal, cleaning the hides by hand with fleshing with a knife, until it’s fat free. It’s a simple process and I like picking at bits, so I enjoy it. You use a tanner to treat the hide after washing it clean with a gentle soap and pure alcohol. After the skinning is finished, the skull is cleaned and it can be placed back inside the head for shaping or moulding. The moulds vary depending on what I’m making, but quite often I don’t use them, because my hides will be turned into bags or puppets, instead of traditional ornaments.

Tell us about the jewellery you started making in lockdown.

I’ve always piled on jewellery ever since I was young, but lockdown gave me time to start crafting. I live in a house full of artists, so my flatmates and I spent lots of time together beading our various projects. It feels even better now that I’m making use of the bones of the animals as well and it’s good to commodify some of my work to make some money. I’ve made fox pelvis earrings, sheep coccyx necklaces, cat spine belts and squirrel bags. The bags are fully functional, but you can only fit the necessitates; a lighter, maybe lipstick or bank card. Prices range from £10 to £30.

How else have you been diversifying your income in these tricky times?

Everyone’s skint and struggling trying to keep a roof over their heads. Creative jobs are wholly discouraged right now and it’s easy to feel at a loss with no work. I work part time job at Ol Brewery, sell jewellery and have recently started a job as a fieldwork surveyor, which is actually fun. Modelling has been a fabulous way to connect with other artists and I recently signed to Liquid agency. I also cat sit on ‘Cat in a Flat’ app, I do home visits, overnight stays and water plants. Hire me, please!

You were forced to finish your university degree work from home due to the pandemic, how did this affect your craft?

There was some technical support at uni for people doing complex work like AR or virtual reality, but I wasn’t even allowed to go in and collect stuff from locker. It's such a social mobility nightmare, because either you have the resources to finish your work or you’re literally fucked. I'm lucky that I could borrow good cameras from friends, but it's been rubbish. The university has expected people to have the space, money and equipment to finish work. Everything has been compromised. Thankfully my housemates and I have a garage, which is where I do most my work, because it’s so messy and the latex I use stinks of ammonia.

I like the feeling that I’m looking after animals’ bodies and giving waste a new lease of life. ”

How did it feel to graduate during this bizarre Covid era?

We submitted work  in lockdown and our degree show was an online exhibition. It felt almost non-existent and extremely lazy, it's been a total downer. But it’s been nice seeing people push themselves to keep their creativity alive. My friend is part of a collective called Studio Scum, which had a zine launch and amazing AR exhibition online which I put some work into.

Were your art courses encouraging of your practise?

At A-Level, I was told I had to paint because my ‘sculpture’ was taking too long and they wanted to tick boxes for units. During my foundation art year at Newcastle Under Lyme College, I experimented with hair detached from the animal. My teachers discouraged my taxidermy practise because they thought it was dirty and wouldn’t touch it out of fear. Then when I came to Manchester for my Interactive Arts degree, which is essentially fine art without being put into a specialism, it was such an intimate course and they were really encouraging. It was the perfect course for me, because I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I loved drawing, sculpture, film, and you can do all of that.

Tell us about representation on your course, do you feel there was adequate diversity?

It was a really intimate course of about 25 people, five boys in the beginning which dwindled down to two, so it felt like real community and everyone was super supportive. There were a handful of BAME students on my course, which was nice, but at the university there were barely any black tutors. There are no black female tutors, no Asian female tutors – there's no representation, really. I only saw women who look like me working in the cafe or as a cleaner, which is crap.

From a cultural standpoint, this could be why a lot of people don’t understand my work. My dad’s from the Ivory Coast and there are lot of cultural references of this, which are lost on people. Life can be brutal and raw, and I've been censored for trying to interpret this. I completely understand that I can't do work that injures myself, for example, but art school is meant to be a place where you can be open and honest.


Tell us about the work that was censored.

I made a sculpture of a penis about the pain I felt after I was raped. It was going to be alongside a mask I'd made, with aperformance. I put so much time and effort into these pieces, and they told me I couldn’t exhibit them due to their explicit nature, even after I offered to put a warning sign and age rating next to it. Surely, if I’m comfortable letting people know about the this personal trauma, I should be allowed to express my experience? They just made it really difficult for me. Like many other people, I never went to the police about the incident, then when I actually wanted to talk about it I was shut down. Making art is a cathartic experience for a lot of people. Also, it seems you can have as many vaginas or boobs as you want on display, but when it's a penis, it’s suddenly too much.

Any advice for people struggling through this third lockdown?

Instagram is not a friend. Surround yourself with people who care for you. Drink enough water. Remember you are temporary; be mindful, tender and grateful.


Three words that describe your aesthetic.

  • Rusty, doyley, cupboard.

Three words you want your work to make people feel.

  • Stunning, beautiful, gorgeous

Who’s the artist you blast for max creativity.

  • At the moment, it’s Pa Salieu all day.

What’s your perfect midnight snack?

  • Toast, always toast. It’s all that’ll fit in my freezer really.

How do you tackle creative block?

  • Do nothing. Maybe meditate.

Best work environment?

  • In a chaotic environment, where people are busy all around me, or late at night, like 2am.

Who should we be following on Instagram?

  • Briony Siobhan, she’s a sick photographer and my friend @taboo420 makes really cool music.

Who should we be following for the lols?

  • @sovietlust, it’s a lot of carpets on walls porn, it’s weird.

Favourite place to go in Manchester?

  • Anywhere free, or cheap.

One positive that’s come out of lockdown?

  • I’m way more flexible, I’ve been really getting into my yoga.

Five words that sum up your lockdown life.

  • Guadeloupe, apple cider vinegar, spliffs.