Yaz XL: ‘Subverting nature is kind of what gets me off’

The artist and designer shows us around her studio of curiosities, including taxidermy ‘seahorse’ sculptures, an animatronic goat baby made for FKA Twigs, and the graduate collection dress worn by Björk

In the corner of an unassuming studio in a sleepy Sussex town, two taxidermy seahorse hybrids rear their heads. Created by Yaz Exall (otherwise known as Yaz XL), they hang suspended over her workstation, a very distinct departure from the straightforward still-life paintings of flower arrangements that the older retirees she shares the space with have created. “I think the taxidermy horses might freak them out a bit,” she says now the studio has emptied out and we’re preparing to shoot, though she adds that the plan is to eventually add six more “seahorses” to complete a whole birth scene. “Subverting nature in any way is kind of what gets me off.”

That much is evident throughout her diverse disciplines, which span fashion, fine art, special FX, and sculpture; all rooted in inspiration taken from the farmland she grew up around. Be it the warp of wood and tree rings that featured on the “Hot Air” dress that formed part of her CSM graduate collection and was later worn by Björk, or “gorgeous” images of animal placenta, the patterns and colours found in nature heavily influence the world of Yaz XL. Preserved stages of embryo development decorate her workspace as casually as a candle might. “I just saw sheep as much as people [growing up],” she shrugs. This lifelong fixation paid dividends when she was then asked to make a foetal goat for FKA TwigsCaprisongs album last year. Combining artistry, animatronics, astrology, and notions of animal husbandry, the “Capri baby” commission was a “dream project” for Exall. 

“You know how HR Giger did Alien? Or Jean Paul Gaultier did Fifth Element? Yeah, I need to do the Barbarella remake, like so fucking bad” – Yaz XL 

Though she maintains she veers more towards bioengineering than the mythical creature side of things, there is still something otherwordly about the way Exall executes her vision. Translucent silicone aquatic appendages added to horses provided by Alexander McQueen’s taxidermist, Simon “The Stuffa” Wilson, refract the light, giving the piece a soft glow – a demonstration of Exall’s ongoing experiments with “creating things that diffuse light in different ways that give it life.” The levitation boots she invented, for example, cast a shadow so the wearer looks like they’re floating, while her cable-knit flesh vest dances with veins in certain lights. This talent for creating uniquely interesting pieces through the blurred boundaries between her interests has earned her a cascade of achievements already (and a Dazed 100 nomination) barely a year since graduating.

Moments of metamorphosis form the foundation of Yaz XL’s practice. “It’s like that moment in the film where someone’s first turning into a beast and they’re like ‘What’s happening to me?’” she explains. Fashion in film is important to Exall, who takes this moment to manifest another dream job. “I would literally die to have a part in the next Barbarella film,” she says of the proposed remake set to star Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney. “You know how HR Giger did Alien? Or Jean Paul Gaultier did Fifth Element? Yeah, I need to do the Barbarella remake, like so fucking bad.” Just from her corner of prosthetic tails, bags made from repurposed tubes, oil slick visors, scaly bras and floating orb dresses, the extrapolation to dressing a high camp sci-fi sex symbol is easy. 

Spend any amount of time in her space and you’ll realise the constant alchemy of creativity is always bubbling away, even just under the surface while she’s going through the organised chaos of her desk, or in the organic, whirling, twisting prints and shifting forms of finished pieces. There’s an intriguing restlessness that permeates everything that she does. In a way, life ends up mimicking art, with this process making her nocturnal, producing the most in the witching hours. “I think the moon really does something to the water in my body and really warps my brain,” she says, ”which is quite annoying because it’s very antisocial…I’m alive at night and that’s not really how the world works.

“Subverting nature in any way is kind of what gets me off” – Yaz XL 

This frenetic energy is well-suited to the things that she’s applying herself to though. Nasir Mazhar’s Fantastic Toiles initiative is a celebration of works in progress, outside of the current fashion system, that Exall contributes to. Through these toile submissions her creativity is kept in motion; getting over this precious idea of a perfect finished product, to reach the harder achievement of being happy to release anything at all. “At the end of the day, it’s good to just give people a part of your work,” says Exall. Part artist, part designer, part mad scientist, watching any part of how Yaz XL gets it done is a rewarding process.

Explore inside this mind through a tour of the curiosities that make up her world in this episode of In The Studio With... in the link above.