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A lock of Elviss hair, the skull of Pablo Escobars hippo, a stuffed swoose if its macabre, Wynd collects it. Our writer takes a trip into his absinthe-fuelled world

It was with no small degree of scepticism that I recently journeyed to the lodgings of a Viktor Wynd Esquire in the East End of London. It had been relayed to my editor, on what I deemed to be dubious authority, that Wynd was the keeper of rare and exotic beasts, and that his basement dwellings contained examples not just of two-headed lambs and mummified fairies but also of erotica so unseemly it could redden the eyes of anyone who glanced upon it. It had furthermore been rumoured, in less salubrious quarters, that Wynd was a purveyor of hallucinatory liquors in his upstairs bar and would dispense them to paying punters alongside small packets of miniature anuses sculpted from Belgian chocolate.

This Wynd character, it seemed likely to me, would prove to be nothing more than a charlatan if indeed he existed at all. But after relaying such doubts to my editor, I was displeased to find him still keen on ushering me out the door on a blustery March morning to investigate further.

Lair Mr Wynds establishment in Hackney. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

I perchanced upon The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History before the clock struck 11, with instructions to knock twice and attend its opening. Wynd was in, as fortune would have it, and I must report he is indeed a most curious gentleman. He greeted me in a suit of pink velvet and was possessed of both a fine beard and a mischievous glint in his eye. After making pleasantries, I requested a visit to the water closet, which I confess to having found rather disturbing on account of a bronze sculpture of Wynds bottom on the outer door for no other purpose than to fondle, it seemed to me and a photograph purporting to depict his own suicide, positioned next to the cistern.

Feeling somewhat unsettled by this, I then descended with Wynd to his basement, whereby I was forced to admit that his home was, indeed, most unlike any other I have come across. A half-monkey half-fish hung in wait atop the stairs, suspended from the ceiling, its mouth preserved in some kind of blood-curdling scream. At the bottom of the staircase lay the legbone of, Wynd attested, a giant. Our rational friends would have us believe its from a mammoth, he murmured, but a giant is more fun.

No sooner had we arrived in this darkened lair than Wynd disappeared upstairs to concoct me a warming beverage of what he said would be liquorice root, while I was permitted to peruse his collection at my leisure. It was a most peculiar assortment: feathers from extinct birds, shrunken human heads, the golden-plated skull of one of drug lord Pablo Escobars hippopotamuses, artworks by the great English surrealists, a lock of Elvis Presleys hair, a syringe found in the very room where artist Sebastian Horsley died, the skull of a cyclops, portraits of fellating nuns, radioactive seashells, condoms made specifically for the less well-endowed, and jars containing the preserved front bottoms of Victorian prostitutes, or so the labels read.

And this, spoke a voice from within the gloom, is a horses stomach thats been infected with botflies! This startled me somewhat, because I had not noticed Wynds return. They lay their eggs around the horses mouth and then, when it licks them, the eggs go in, the larva hatches, attaches itself to the horses stomach and pupates. He paused and intoned: You cant make this stuff up.

I studied Wynds expression closely in the murky light. For surely a man of twisted means could make this stuff up, and indeed would were it to prove successful in providing even modest financial remuneration. I glanced up and noticed a jar resting on a shelf, with its label claiming it contained the faecal matter of a Ms A Winehouse. The specimen, Wynd claimed, aroused the attention of the Human Tissue Authority, who recently paid a visit. This suggestion struck me as preposterous, and my suspicions around Wynd redoubled.

We retired to a bench at Wynds sarcophagus, the top of which boasted a glass panel through which to view the human remains within. Next to Wynd sat a taxidermied goat a self-portrait, he said, while stroking its face. I sipped my drink and listened to his divulgences, the details of which I reproduce faithfully for you now.

Curiosities a cabinet of birds, beasts and wonders. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Wynd told me how hed started collecting as a boy, but that upon reaching manhood, when his peers found their interests diverted elsewhere, he had simply kept going. I grew orchids and carnivorous plants, I kept reptiles. And I still do those things.

His curiosities are the spoil of Wynds countless voyages around the globe to the Congo or along the Sepik river in Papua New Guinea, where Wynd was enthused to find they still discuss spirits and fairies. Not a conversation you can have seriously here, even though right up until 70 years ago it would not have been regarded as unusual. Wynd also told me about his own travel agency, Gone With the Wynd, which he set up so that others could accompany him. But he was adamant that travel was not essential for building a collection: I could find an amazing broken childrens toy just by looking in the gutter.

How did he know how much to offer for such unusual items? Its what Ive got in my bank account that day, he ventured. If I can afford it and I want it, then I tend to buy it. He furrowed his brow. I was just the other day offered a mummified arm, but I hadnt 2,000 on me. Could he not have haggled? Im not interested in haggling. And its not the end of the world if I cant get one specific thing. I see the museum more as a three-dimensional fictional novel a sculpture of the inside of my brain.

Before opening his museum, Wynd told me he had been a disillusioned artist: I got bored. The great triumph was if some boring rich person came in and bought something. I gained no pleasure from that.

Instead he turned his attention to throwing debauched parties throughout the 00s: My life at that time was as hedonistic as I could make it and still be alive to tell the story, he sighed. Wynd recalled for me the occasion he transformed one venue into a recreation of the Onion Cellar from Gnter Grasss The Tin Drum filling it with dead flowers while fining anybody caught smiling the sum of one pound. I made chopping boards in the shape of teardrops so guests could chop onions and cry. I suppose it was a commentary on the reason why people drink and take drugs until 6am. A lot of it is to do with escaping the black dog you live with.

After 10 years, Wynds parties started to blur into one. So he turned his attentions to his childhood passion: collecting. At first the building was known as Viktor Wynds Little Shop of Horrors, the business side of his endeavour leaving him at near-permanent risk of financial collapse. Now it exists as a museum (6 entrance) and absinthe bar, which allows Wynd the freedom to turn himself to other projects. One of these is a new book, The UnNatural History Museum, a tome that has been written with admirable wit and whimsy.

In it, Wynd delightfully recounts the stories around the items he has amassed: a wooden carving believed to tell the story of a New Guinean village in which the women spurned the men as lovers for dogs; a tongue-eating louse (the most disgusting thing in my collection); even a curious crinkled stone that turns out to be a baked potato Wynd once left in his Aga (I found it rather attractive so I kept it).

Indeed, it was while lost in these pages that my perception of Wynd began to change. I had assumed him to be a shallow fellow, but the book reveals instead a tortured soul, drawn to solitude and prone to melancholy. Indeed, I am still haunted by something Wynd opined: Being alive is a terribly sad and miserable experience. There are little chinks of happiness and joy that light up an otherwise dark world. But we are all miserable, arent we?

Beware Falmouth, scene of Wynds next endeavour. Photograph: Paul Abbitt

The degree of Wynds sadness is difficult to discern. The museum is still open at the time of going to press, and he is about to stage a deconstructed version of his collection in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, where visitors will be able to see such wonders as a swoose (A cross between a swan and a goose, one of five, preserved by the esteemed Victorian taxidermist TE Gunn) and a caul, the amniotic sack that lies stretched over the face of one in every 80,000 children after birth. If you were born like that, he whispered conspiratorially, you were supposed to have magical powers. This one was found in a family Bible!

It was while discussing such oddities that Wynd seemed at his most animated. You must come to Falmouth! he declared. But I wont be there. Im going to be in west Africa for voodoo ceremonies.

He was insistent we see yet more of his objects, including an orchidometer used for the measurement of testicles and a human intestinal worm. Was this tiny basement, I asked myself, where the worlds true magic and wonder resided? But just as I was beginning to fall under my hosts charming spell, my attention was seized by an item of such alarming grotesquery that I tremble even now to recount it in full. For lying beneath a glass display cabinet of bones, toy dolls and sordid literature was a full length, semi-rotting human figure. I leaned towards it cautiously, only to jump back with fright. The left half was unmistakably that of the bass baritone and political activist Mr Paul Robeson. But the right side well that was no surely not a topless and fishnetted Ms Pamela Anderson.

Unsettling a caged skeleton. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Ah yes, the Pamela Anderson and Paul Robeson Unification Cake, explained Wynd, although whether you consider that an explanation, dear reader, I will leave to you. Wynd then recalled how it was created by the artist Magnus Irvin, the same entity who concocted the chocolate anuses sold upstairs. He also made our wedding cake, added Wynd, whose domestic contentment he has taken a good lady wife, with whom he has three young girls doesnt entirely chime with the forlorn figure depicted in his book. At the ceremony everyone was dressed as animals. Although we werent. We didnt want to look silly.

Wynd laughed and, trapped in the darkness, I felt suddenly gripped by a stomach-churning sensation. Whether it was the liquorice brew Id imbibed or something more sinister, I could not say. But I knew I must leave while I still could.

I made my excuses and turned towards the staircase, only to hear Wynd call after me, distraught. I glanced over my shoulder and saw him gesturing towards a stuffed monkey.

But you havent met Hamlet! he cried, as I made a bid for the daylight, finally realising that the strangest beast in all this museum was not the two-headed lamb nor the wretched screaming mer-monkey but Wynd himself.

Viktor Wynds UnNatural History Museum is at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Falmouth, 20 March-31 August. His book is published by Prestel.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/mar/16/viktor-wynd-collector-museum-of-curiosities-unnatural-history