If your life is rich and fulfilling, then it is full of unique and varied individuals. Almost as long as I have been a performer in Vancouver, I have known Russ Foxx. He has been a driving current in the underground stream that is Terminal City’s rivers, and continues to marvel and amaze folks not only with pushing his own body to it’s limits, but helps others experience that as well. For those who live outside of Vancouver and have not made the acquaintance of him with his needle, scalpel or sutures, they may know him from American Mary as Penis Guy, but he also played an important role in the film’s production, serving as the Flesh Artist Consultant to the Soska sisters in order to ensure that the body modification community was adequately and accurately represented.
I have had the unique experience of being on the business end of his needles, and I can attest first hand to his professionalism and his joy at helping people achieve their goals whether it be scarification, suspension or flesh alterations. The one and only, Fantastic Mr. Foxx.
Little Miss Risk: What first piqued your interest in body modification? What was that moment?
Russ Foxx: I started becoming interested in body modification at a young age, when I was five years old. My mother allowed me to get my ear pierced, took me to a hair salon, and had it done with a gun. So, I was the only male in my school with an earring. From there, I enjoyed that and continued over the course of my elementary school, I continued to pierce that ear… I kept going back to that same hair salon. I also was dying my hair different colours, getting a lot of piercings in my left ear, and I saw a movie, ‘Stand By Me’. That inspired me at one point to take a razor blade and cut a word into my upper arm. It was ‘FTW’, actually. That was all at a pretty young age, and that’s where it started.
When I hit high school, then I got myself a fake ID and I started going to tattoo studios and getting properly pierced and tattooed. Well, ‘quote, unquote’ properly pierced and tattooed… I was getting worked on by people who were inexperienced, but they were at least in proper establishments. So that’s when I made the jump from ear piercings with guns, to moving into the body modification industry now. So through high school I collected a few more body piercings, besides my ears, multiple tattoos, kind of scattered and spattered all over my body… and then after high school, that’s when I decided I wanted to learn to pierce. So, I ended up getting an apprenticeship. I started piercing myself and my friends to build up my experience. Over time I ended up finding a website called BME, which is a body modification resource and community. I found a lot of people on there that were doing the same things, different artists, different collectors of body modifications, and I started finding out about all these things that I had no idea existed. Tongue splitting, scarification, body suspension, and a list of other things. Some interested me, some didn’t. So I started getting those things done.
When I first saw tongue splitting was a thing, I HAD to have it done. I went and got my tongue split. I went and searched for somebody in Toronto who was able to do it, and they did the procedure for me. The person who did it for me, his name is Tom Brazda, he ended up becoming a mentor to me in my early years, when I was learning to do the heavier and more advanced things that I wasn’t experienced with, he would allow me to bring my clients to his studio, and he would supervise me or he would just do it and allow me to shadow him. So that’s where my progress as an artist really started to snowball from there. By that point, I started collecting a lot, I had started doing a lot of body suspensions, I found a suspension team that was local, I tried my first suspension with them, their name is I Was Cured. They are still running now, and they are one of the oldest suspension teams in existence. I did my first suspension with them, and I wanted to be a part of it and I asked them if I could help. As it stood, there was no actual professional piercers on that team. They were all different professionals from other things, and they were brought together by suspension. So they had all learned to pierce for suspension, they learned the health and safety, and the rigging – everything involved. They were more than glad to have me on board, bringing my knowledge as a piercer to the table. So I ended up performing with them, multiple times and facilitating suspensions for the public with them until I moved out to Vancouver, and my progress with body modification throughout that whole time had been slowly growing with different things I had been picking up along the way. Now, at this point, there isn’t much that I don’t do, I don’t do traditional tattooing, that’s a career in itself… and I don’t want or need to put the time into that. Everything else is been kind of piggy-backing everything else the I do. A lot of the different types of modification that I practice are related to the other ones. Even if there’s lots of differences between some, there’s going to be similarities and there are things that lead me to this point where now if I have a scalpel and sutures – there’s not much I can’t do.
Little Miss Risk: You’re part of the RISE Suspension Crew, how many suspensions have you participated in with them and over the years, both locally and internationally?
Russ Foxx: I started with I Was Cured, at that point that was when I still lived in Ontario and I had done a LOT of suspensions myself and a lot for friends. I was doing a lot. I was probably suspending about once every month, month and a half on average at that point. I was just really into it, and it was a lot of fun, I was learning all these different things that I’d never seen before and wanted to try: different amounts of hooks, different placements, different sizes, and back then it was almost more of a pissing contest. (laughs) There were a lot of things that hadn’t really been done yet. So there were all sorts of firsts, having them all over the place. So, I was one of them, but there was a lot of us that would see something that someone else would do and think, ‘Oh, I have to try that,’ and then you’d think, ‘I have to try something harder,’ and keep raising and raising the bar. So through that time I had suspended quite a few times. I think upwards to probably a hundred, myself. And I think I had participated, helped, and facilitated other people as well.
When I moved to Vancouver, that’s when I stepped away from I Was Cured, and started my own thing. At first Modern Body Suspension was the name I put on it, and I started with a small crew in East Vancouver. For about two years, maybe three years, we were doing a lot of suspensions, all the time. It was a brand new thing for Vancouver. There was one other person here that was doing suspensions here and there, but not the same way that we were. So when I brought my practice an my knowledge to Vancouver, it seemed that it was really welcomed with open arms. We ended up doing that first summer in Vancouver, I suspended hundreds of people. And I, myself, suspended easily probably twenty or thirty times. It was constantly, all the time: suspensions, suspensions, suspensions, suspensions… It was a really fun summer for that.
As time went on, the crew sort of dwindled down, people moved, some people took different paths with their lives, so Modern Body Suspension sort of fizzled out. I continued to facilitate suspensions for the public. I would pick friends to help out with it and crew in. I’d bring suspensions to the stage quite a bit. So I’d perform doing suspensions a lot. So now, at this point in Vancouver, I think it was 2012 that The Rise Suspension Crew came into play. I had this idea that I wanted to start a team that was national. Not just me, not just Vancouver, but a bigger picture, a team that basically encompasses all of Canada. I headhunted different crews in different parts of Canada and trained them up, Vancouver division was one, and then there was two in Alberta, there was one on the East Coast, and there was almost going to be one in Toronto, but that ended up being kiboshed. The Rise has kind of become the new thing in Vancouver now. That’s our team now: we facilitate suspensions for the public, we do them ourselves, we bring them to the stage, we’ve our own little family.
Little Miss Risk: That makes me happy. I have a vision of walking through an old growth rainforest, and everyone is just hanging up, suspending in the trees, like pretty ornaments or wind chimes.
Russ Foxx: One thing we haven’t done a lot of is more performance art stuff. We do lots of other performances that aren’t necessarily suspensions. But the more artistic side of performance art, we haven’t really brought to the table yet with The Rise. But that’s something that I’m inspired to do more of in the future.
Little Miss Risk: You’ve travelled extensively as a flesh artist, and performer. Are there any surprisingly awesome pockets where you wouldn’t expect to find people who practice body art, or enjoy it? Any places your path has taken you that have surprised you with the reception to your work?
Russ Foxx: I’ve been travelling Canada with my art, aggressively, since about 2007, maybe 2006? And over time I’ve built up quite a bit of different, what’s the best way to put it… different groups of people that have come together through body modification. There are a lot of small part of Canada that didn’t really have anybody practicing body modification, so there wasn’t anybody with any body modifications. Since I started going to there, the amount of people who were collecting slowly grew, and over time I’ve built up quite a bit of bases in different parts of Canada. It’s been a lot of fun to travel Canada so extensively and so often because I meet so many awesome people, all the time, and I get to see so many parts of this huge country, that a lot of people don’t get to see.
Different parts of it, as far as body modification is concerned, have different feels to them, different crews, different groups, different types of people, different things going on… For example Alberta there’s a lot of people with heavy mods. I’ve been going there a lot of years, and I’ve built up quite a base there. I’ve worked in many studios there, worked on a lot of people. So there is a lot of people there with mods, and there is always a lot of work for me there, and I really enjoy going to Alberta for that. It’s really fun -lot’s of really cool people getting cool things done. Ontario has also been really busy from day one. The East Coast has been slowly building and I’ve seen it grow. When I first started going there, there was really not much going on at all, and now there’s quite a bit. There’s a lot more studios that I’ve worked in that have done mods and a lot more clients have been built up, a lot more friends as a result of this and gained over the years.
Winnipeg is an interesting city… There is bylaws there that restrict body modification technicians in that city form practicing heavy mods. In Winnipeg you have to have a body modification technician license to practice tattooing or piercing in that city. That licence is basically a cash cow, they don’t teach you anything, there’s no training involved, it’s just that you need to have that to work legally in the city limits, in that industry. But, the funny thing is, even though there’s body modification technicians with licences there, which is the only part of Canada with such licensing, the licence actually means nothing. It just means you’re allowed to pierce or tattoo there, and it doesn’t train you on anything, and those people are not allowed to do anything beyond tattooing and piercing. They’re not allowed to do tongue splitting, scarification, suspensions, anything like that. It’s all been banned in that city. So, I’ve obviously found that there is a huge demand for it. One work around we’ve had when we’ve had suspension events in Winnipeg, with people wanting to do it, and us wanting to be public about promoting it, we’d have to go to a farm outside of city limits, and rig up to a tree, or whatever. At one point we built a structure in the middle of someone’s huge yard, and it was JUST outside of the city limits, so the health department had no jurisdiction, and they weren’t able to give us trouble about it.
Little Miss Risk: Modification innovation continues to grow… Is there anything that you would like to create and have be known as a Russ Foxx signature modification? Something that if you can physically alter them, that this would be what you are known for?
Russ Foxx: I don’t know, there isn’t really a specific thing that I’d like to be known for. The one thing I really enjoy the most about what I do is making people happy. People come to me with all sorts of requests, all over the board, sometimes it’s things that I’ve done hundreds of times over the years and I’m really experienced with, sometimes it’s something that’s COMPLETELY off the wall, and it’s a one-off idea that someone comes up with. It can be just tweaking or changing something on them that they want to do, and it’s not something that I would normally come into contact across.
So, if there definitely I really enjoy the most, it would integrating technology into biology. I’m a trans-humanist, myself, and I’m all about cyborgs and that culture. So, when there’s new technologies that can be brought into the body so we can start interacting with external devices, that’s something that really intrigues me, and I’m really excited about getting into. I’ve already started scratching the surface of that, but the limitations I’m encountering are to make technology small enough to power it and to make it implantable for long-term use. So there’s hurdles that have to be crossed with every different type of technology implant that we are putting into the body. So far we’ve came quite aways, we’re implanting magnets, RFID chips, NFC chips, we’re moving into LED lights, moving implants, there’s a lot of things on the horizon. There’s already a lot of technological implants that are used by the medical field, those we’re basically trying to learn from what they’re doing and integrate that into what we’re doing.
Little Miss Risk: We were talking about Winnipeg as an example, have you found a lot difficulty in legitimizing body art for the average person? Have you encountered and obstacles in reaching a wider audience?
Russ Foxx: Given that a lot of the types of things that I do in my art are legal grey areas and controversial at least, and definitely off-putting to the general public, I find myself in kind of a position of activist where I didn’t actually plan to be. But because I really stand behind what I do, and support adult’s decision to modify their bodies, and I take the responsibility of being the person doing the modifying, I feel like I need to exude confidence. Because that’s also the way that I live my life, and that’s the lifestyle I choose, I’m proud of it. And I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to hide that. I feel that I’m more than capable, and I can express this however I want, and social media in the last few years has become very prominent. And now that people are posting things on social media, I’m posting my work on social media, it’s a lot more in the public’s eye and it’s becoming more noticed by the general public.
Now there’s going to be more people backlashing that, people that don’t like it, people that think it’s offensive, they are now going to be voicing their opinions a lot more. I find that I get a lot more hate directed towards me because now that I’m so public with what I do, I get hate from the body modification artists that are a lot more underground about it, because they feel that this should remain underground. And I see both sides of the coin, on one hand, if it was kept underground that’s going to keep it out of the public’s faces, and it’s going to keep it more in our hands, and I appreciate that fact, and I understand that fact. But on the other hand, there’s no room for progress that way. If it’s going to be really put out there, into the media, into the public eye, people are going to be aware that this stuff is happening, and there is no choice, we will evolve, these processes, these techniques, the health and safety – it’s all going to evolve. And it’s going to ultimately make things safer. It’s going to make body modifications more accessible to the general public, it could even, potentially, lead towards medical professionals being accepting theses practices and integrating them into their own. So if that were to happen, you’d be able to go to a plastic surgeon and get your tongue split, or to get your horns implanted, or to get your ears pointed and things like that. At that point it would be out of my hands, and on one hand I’d feel like it’d be better off that way, because they have the credentials for it, but on the other hand they’re not allowed to do it, so somebody’s got to – and I take that role. But I understand why some people feel it should be public and some not, but ultimately, I take the stance that I’m not hiding, I do this, I stand behind it, I do it with conviction. So there’s no sense in hiding that.
You can find Russ Foxx online at his website at http:www.russfoxx.com
Keep up with him to see where and when he’ll be next.
Hugs and hisses,
Little Miss Risk