When I was a kid, I never got why the Borg were bad guys on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I mean, I understood that, within the context of the show, they were essentially space-zombies transformed entire races to join them on their endless quest across the universe, but, I never got why the writers would give them villainous motivations. They were part man, part robot. What about that wasn’t completely awesome? With bodies full of microchips and cybernetic implants, they were better, stronger, faster than the human Enterprise crew, limited only by their technological imagination. Why weren’t they good guys? More importantly, why weren’t they real?
Well, they might not have been in 2017, but, we’re moving closer.
“I have an RFID chip and an NFC chip implanted in me so I can interact with different devices,” Russ Foxx tells me, and I’m absolutely floored. “For example, my car and my motorcycle, I can have readers installed in them so I don’t need to use keys to open the door or start the engine… I’m a transhumanist.”
Though he’s perhaps better known for his tours on the Canadian freak circuit as “The Human Tacklebox,” a man who takes slapstick routines to their logical conclusion by driving all manner of objects into his body, the Ontario native is also on the cutting edge of human transformation, taking body modification from the realm of ear gauges and septum piercings into the brave new world of split tongues, suspensions, and, yes—cybernetics.
“My front door on my house, I have an NFC reader so I don’t have to use keys for my home,” Russ tells me, and it’s as nonchalant as if I were telling you I just got my hair cut. He speaks with a casual yet authoritative ease that is probably necessary for someone responsible with treating the human body as equal parts living organism, biological canvas, and, in some cases, walking hard-drive. “I can scan the chip in my hand to lock and unlock my front door. It’s cyborg stuff. I’m really inter cybernetics, and robotics, and transhumanism, and seeing the human race progress by using technology internally… I have a magnet implanted in my left hand so I can feel magnetic fields… I’m really into mixing technology with my biology, integrating different sorts of implants with technology embedded in them so I can interact with different parts of my world from within.”
Though my primary purpose in meeting Foxx was to discuss his participation in this year’s annual Women in Horror Month Massive Blood Drive PSA, I was too enamored with him—and his work—to stop the conversation there. There’s a fantastic distillation of eras, ethos, and aesthetics in what he does, a bringing together of ancient scarification, punk-rock piercing, and futuristic cybernetics that’s visually and conceptually arresting. It’s as though a Mesoamerican warrior hopped a ride aboard the TARDIS and took a trip to Deep Space Nine by way of 1970s London. As cordial as he is visionary, Foxx was kind enough to stick around after our WiHM chat to help paint a picture of himself as the artist-engineer as a young man, taking me on a trip through Canada’s body-mod community, into a global realm of extreme tattooing, naval removal and horn-implanting that exists just beneath the surface of “polite” society. It was a fascinating journey I’m glad to share with you, citizens of CineDump, as we move one step closer to a world in which cyborgs live next door—and, hopefully, are a bit more polite than the ones on Star Trek.
Preston Fassel: How did you get into this line of work?
Russ Foxx: I started out as a body piercer in I think 2001. At the time I had no idea that it would lead me to where I am now. I started learning a lot trial and error, and I had to travel a lot to find mentors and other artists to help me progress and learn from. And over the course of years I started to learn about other practices such as scarification and tongue splitting, and body suspensions, and when I learned about these things they were kind of my next step. My level up from body piercing, where I can learn about something that’s related and interesting and still a lot of fun for me. But much more advanced and complex and sometimes much more dangerous work.
PF: Do you have any sort of science background? When we were chatting before you were using a lot of medical terminology like “vascular” and identifying the placement of veins in the face…
RF: I’ve done a lot of my own research. Reading anatomy books, researching anatomy on the internet. I have taken certain courses, post-secondary, I’ve done my sciences, I’ve gotten into biology and psychology which I apply to my work. But most of my knowledge has come from traveling the world and taking different courses, classes, workshops, and seminars with other artists who’re willing to offer any information. There is no school for the types of practices that I do, so I’ve had to travel the world to find any bits of knowledge, and learning what I can.
PF: What interested you in wanting to go beyond body piercing and into some of the more extreme forms of body modification?
RF: It was more of less once I became aware of these things, they struck chords with me and intrigued me in personal ways. In that I don’t just want to do this for other people but that I’m curious about doing this for myself. So that began—I can pretty much pin that down to the point I found a website called BME, which is Body Modification E-Zine. At that time in the early 2000s, body modification had not come as far as it has today. There were fewer people that had done things like tongue splitting and body suspensions. So there was no way for us to really learn and progress these practices, without this website that acted as a social media middle ground for international backgrounds. We could all get together on this website, talk to each other, become friends, learn from each other and inspire each other. So that was a really integral part of my growth, as well as meeting people around the world who had common interests. Then over time, in doing so, many different groups formed. Body suspension teams started forming, conventions, there’s a conference in Germany that happens every year called BMXNet, and that’s a conference I’ve been to many times to learn from other artists and see what they’re doing in Europe. So from there, what happened was I found that website and it gave me awareness of a lot fo things I’d never heard of before. I started reading about different types of body modifications and more experienced artists were practicing, and that started to appeal to me on a very personal level. I saw tongue splitting and I thought, “Wow, I want to do that.”
PF: It really had an impact on you.
RF: I researched it until I hit the point I was sure I wanted to do it, and the next step was getting an artist to do that for me. Same with body suspension. When I first saw a team from Toronto doing a performance—the team was called “I Was Cured”—when I saw them performing on Halloween one night, I didn’t know why, but, it struck me on such a deep, profound level that I knew I just had to try it. So that pushed me to seek out a team and to find an opportunity to try it myself. And once I did my first suspension, the rest was history. I knew it was for me. And since I’ve suspended, easily, over 200 times, I’ve trained a handful of different teams across Canada, to start them up so they can practice it, I run a team here in Vancouver… The tongue splitting thing, when I had my tongue first split, the artist I found in Toronto—his name is Tom Brazda—he ended up becoming a mentor and friend of mine. Whenever there was something I wanted to learn to do, or to progress my practice, he was always a really great support to me, and he would allow me to bring my clients to his studio and he would shadow me while I worked. Which allowed me to do things that I’d never experienced before in a safe space under supervision, which was integral to my growth at that point in my career. And I’m so thankful for everything he’s done for me.
PF: What does body modification mean to you?
RF: It’s a way for people to express themselves. That could mean anything from expressing their sexuality to alternative likes and things that they’re into. It could mean simply that they want to express different aspects of their personality through their body modifications. I can be a LOT of things, and it really varies from person to person. There’s a whole world in that question right there. I think that a big part of it is to attract other people. To attract friends, to attract sexual partners.
RF: A lot of people don’t really talk about that, but I really feel that body modification is used as a mating ritual, a mating dance for people to interact with other members of society. Because it shows different things about you. To attract a mate, to attract other common-minded people to, basically, bring them into your life.
PF: What’s the most complex modification you have ever done, to yourself and to someone else?
RF: I’ve had a lot of body modifications done to myself that I’ve collected over the years. Some I’ve done myself, some I’ve gone to other artists to have. As far as extreme things that are permanent modifications, as opposed to suspension—which is more of an experience—I’ve had implanted subdermal horns in my head, so I have silicone implants in my forehead that give me horns. That’s a pretty bold visual statement right there! I have also split my tongue, I have tattooed half my head, a lot of my body is tattooed. It’s going eventually to be the vast majority…
As far as extreme modifications I’ve done for other people? That’s a day to day thing for me. “Extreme” is kind ofa broad, vague term that—it’s meaning is really in the eyes of the beholder. What’s extreme to one person may not be to another. But I know most of the things I practice are definitely in the fringe, and most people in popular culture, common social segments, they would look at most of the things I do as extreme. For example, I do scleral staining, which is permanently changing the color of the whites of the eyes. I’m one of the few artists internationally that—I’ve removed navels, I have done all sorts of custom implants and scarifications for people, artistic cutting, for the sake of artistic scars afterwards.
PF: How did you get into the freakshow circuit?
RF: There is a performer from Ontario, his alias is the Great Orbax. He has always been an inspiration to me. He started out as a wrestler, he did the performances like WWE sort of things where it’s theatrical, performing athletes. He went from that into emceeing and doing standup comedy at freak shows, shock shows, different displays of human endurance and enduring pain for the sake of entertainment. And he’s always been somebody who I’ve looked up to and been a friend of. He was involved in a suspension team I first started with, that’s how I first found him. Body suspension was another way he performed. But I’ve been friends with him, and eventually I was invited to act as a guest when he did performances onstage, and when I got a taste of the stage I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun with it. Since then he has teamed up with another performer, Sweet Pepper Klopek, and they’re a traveling sideshow duo now. They’ve been doing that for over ten years. And periodically when they come to the city I’m in I’ll jump on board, collaborate and do a performance with them here and there. I’ve done a few tours with them as well, performing with Orbax, Pepper, The Lizard Man—this guy from Texas-- I’ve performed with the Enigma, another guy from the US who’s blue and covered in puzzle pieces—he also has horns, he’s a musician and comedian, and I’ve collaborated with him in the past. A lot of times when these performers come through Vancouver they’ll get in contact with me and I’ll open for them or perform with them, give them a place to crash, it’s kind of a courtesy I do for other people who work in my field.
PF: A lot of people probably don’t realize there’s still such a thing as a freak circuit. Would you talk a little about that?
RF: That’s something that I’ve never done as a full time job, it’s always been more of a hobby and fun for me. I enjoy doing it, but the performances that I do are damaging to my body. Literally. So it’s not something I can sustain doing frequently and on a night-by-night basis. So for the people who do these shows on a nightly basis it’s definitely a different ball game than I’m used to. But I’m familiar with it because I’ve got to dabble. My performer name is The Human Tackle Box. In a lot of my shows, it will involve piercing and stretching my skin, body suspensions, bloodletting. Skewering my cheeks, mixing that with comedy and making it a little bit slapstick. I try to write different shows when I do different performances to keep it fresh. But when I’m doing shows I’m literally hurting myself and it’s something I need to recover from every time. That’s why I don’t do it full time and that’s why I don’t tour doing it.