We run an online magazine, so of course, we’re interested in what’s happening with art on the web. Every other Wednesday online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, selects a Web Artist of the Week.
Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran are international, multi-disciplinary art provocateurs who create under the brand name Fecal Matter. They formed Fecal Matter in 2016 to express their uncensored views through fashion, film, music, photography, and performance.
Through their collected work, Fecal Matter have created a world of dark, confrontational fantasy that encourages critical and free thinking about our own beliefs and perceived realities. The deliberate subversion and disruption of expected aesthetics and behaviors within their chosen disciplines have lead to huge extremes in how they have been received. Reactions have ranged from “extreme passion” to “vilified hatred.” But the negativity has only strengthened their resolve to express solidarity with other “outsiders”—“to give courage to those who are just beginning to discover themselves.”
Fecal Matter are probably best known for their uncompromising approach to fashion. Their surreal, visceral, and alien creations are a direct reflection of their opinions about the wider fashion industry. Their views are not only expressed by the subversive aesthetic, but also through their whole method of construction, promotion, and distribution. It took a while for them to find the confidence to embrace existing wholly within their provocative vision, but they found the resolve to do so with the question: “if you don’t have the guts to wear your own designs, then who will?”
Christian Petersen: What were you like as children?
Fecal Matter: Steven is originally from Sri Lanka and Guyana and Hannah was born in New Zealand but both of us grew up in Montreal. Although we only met each other a couple years ago, we both had been spiritually and physically creating ever since we were young. We were fascinated with the idea of creating something that had more to it than just beauty, shape, and texture. We understood the notion of censorship from a young age and were always trying to challenge that through creating.
“Calling our platform Fecal Matter was really a stab at the heart of the industry—showing that all of these material belongings we are all collecting and harvesting is all just shit at the end of the day.”
CP: What were your early experiences of the internet and how did they affect you?
FM: We were both very obsessed with Sims and similar games that you can play through the use of a computer. These parallel universe-like games were really an introduction to us on the power of the internet and the idea of a simulated reality.
For a long time I (Hannah) rejected social media in my youth as a way to combat the boundaries of privacy and the egotistical side of invasive new technologies for that time. But as we all know, these machines became more and more a part of our lives that none of us really had a choice but to accept them into our homes, our lives, and soon our bodies. Our relationship with the internet now is quite different. We purely see it as a tool. We also understand it’s a device that is watching us and we are aware of its constant presence. We use our work to question the power and control technology has on humanity.
CP: Did you ever feel that you were part of an online community?
FM: It is very hard for people to understand our true self and for society to grasp our vision of what it means to be human. So we always felt that our community was really just within the two of us because we were the only ones who understood our values. But due to the internet and its ability to link us to people all over the planet, we do feel as though there is a larger than life community of people all over the world that really connect on a mental and spiritual level as we all contribute to the world in our own ways. It’s more than just a Facebook group you can link onto or a party you can all attend: it’s something purely non physical, almost ethereal.
CP: When did you first understand what fashion meant?
FM: Our definition of fashion is always developing. Fashion is something that changes with time and us too, as humans, as cells, we mutate and grow, so our vocabulary, references, and ideas transform with that. As young kids you are not exposed to or have access to knowledge as much as you do when you are 7, 14, or in your 20s. We really began to create our own definition of fashion around the age of 14. And it is only now that we can manifest it and make our definition come to life.
“We use our work to question the power and control technology has on humanity.”
CP: When did you first start to think about social issues and politics?
FM: I (Steven) never had the opportunity to just think about social issues and politics because I was experiencing it at first hand. Growing up, I faced a lot of discrimination and hate from the very closed-minded environment I was forced to be around. I had to protect myself from the violence I was exposed to as a child. So that is how I was introduced to all the real issues people face concerning race, gender, sexuality, and poverty—through my own struggles. Hannah has been passionate about social issues and politics since a very young age. Her curiosity and passion for discovery led her to countless hours of research about what was happening behind the closed doors of the picture perfect house the media likes to sell to society.
CP: When you (Hannah) were a teenager you got some press for rejecting mass-produced clothing. Can you talk about that?
FM: When you are a young kid you are always told lies; the truth is sugar coated. But as a young girl I took it upon myself to discover that adults were lying to other adults and sugar coating the world for even themselves. I began researching the clothing brands I would wear and spend my own money on. As a 14 year old I learned about child labor, unlivable wages, and the conditions of work that even I was putting pressure on companies to uphold. I remember going to school the next day and telling my friend that I was never going to buy from H&M, Zara, Gap, or Abercrombie & Fitch again. From there I really had to teach myself how to sew, how to make patterns, and how to create myself a new wardrobe that didn’t promote fast fashion. I definitely became an activist for this cause and spent all the time I could revealing the truth behind the label and exposing the harsh reality of the fashion industry. Looking back, I obviously still have strong thoughts about the fashion industry but I choose to express it in a different way. Instead of projecting very vocally my thoughts on the industry, instead I just practice what I preach by offering individuals clothing from Fecal Matter that do not support those industries. We give society/clients an alternative.
CP: When did you start to reject visually “traditional” fashion?
FM: Steven once said to me: “if you don’t have the guts to wear your own designs, then who will?” Before meeting each other, we were each simply too afraid to be the person we wanted to be. Being honest with your outer appearance does cause, without a doubt, a lot of safety issues, concern from family members, daily attacks, stigma, judgment from classmates/friends, stress and anxiety; there is a possibility you will lose it all. Looking back, we were too afraid to risk our lives for what we believed in. It is easier to look like everyone else than be the pink elephant in the room. Even today, there is still such a heaviness that you feel when out in public or around strangers. Although you may feel and look fabulous, there is at times this weight put on your body and your mind from being that pink elephant 24/7 in a world full of clones. I (Hannah) was always in love with what Steven would draw and come up with for his school projects, but never felt that they could be worn (even though I wished I could). It really was about finding that courage and strength between the two of us to be able to dress and feel how we wanted and risk losing everything.
CP: How was your art school experience and what influence has it had on your practice?
FM: Because our school was so technical, it allowed us to explode afterward with creativity and a drive to push boundaries even further than we thought was possible. We had a strong desire to challenge censorship and create with no rules. After going to such a technical school, our thirst for combatting corporatized clothing and meaningless designs was so strong (and still is today), that we really risked our lives for Fecal Matter and created a space for us where reality was able to be put in question.
CP: When did you first meet? What were your first impressions?
FM: We didn’t really like each other at first. Although we were in the same class, we were not friends. Personally, I (Hannah) always admired Steven’s school projects. I thought his designs were always highly complex in terms of their thought process and had imaginative shapes and structures that really created a new identity of fashion for me. But other than that we really did not connect. It was only until much later that Steven randomly came up to me while I was sewing in class and we suddenly felt like we must have met in a prior lifetime. I had never found another person who had the same mission as myself, the same passion for topics I wanted to explore through fashion. Ultimately we realized that our life paths were looking in the same direction. So why not walk the path and combat all that comes with life together?!
“With Fecal Matter, you really have to be buying into the design, the message, the fabric, the construction, the technicality... not just the logo on the label.”
CP: How did you come to form Fecal Matter and how would you describe its mission?
FM: We wanted to create a platform that was uncensored and where we could express our ideas to promote critical thinking. We felt as though the market was flooded with garments that were cheap but had no meaning. Simultaneously there was a gush of clothing that was expensive but had no design value other then the banded logo sewn to its back. We wanted to offer our vision of fast fashion as well as our take on the luxury market. Calling our platform Fecal Matter was really a stab at the heart of the industry—showing that all of these material belongings we are all collecting and harvesting is all just shit at the end of the day. We treat it like shit and eventually we flush it out of our closets and replace it with something new. Fecal Matter was also our way of challenging the luxury market and showing that a brand did not have to be someone’s last name to be desirable. With Fecal Matter, you really have to be buying into the design, the message, the fabric, the construction, the technicality...not just the logo that is written on the label.
CP: How has Fecal Matter evolved?
FM: Although we continue to discuss controversial topics though our work, we definitely understand how to talk about our ideas and how to express them better. As many artists know, miscommunication can lead to a plethora of misunderstandings. Especially when you are first starting to share your ideas with the public, it’s easy for ideas to be brought out of context and can be difficult to understand how to talk about subject matter in a way that is not hard to misinterpret. Now, we have a better understanding on how to push those boundaries of censorship.
CP: How would Fecal Matter be different without the internet?
FM: Well before Instagram, we were dressing up as ourselves, spreading our message from word of mouth, talking about the power of expressing your true identity, and we were obviously creating clothing. So with or without the internet, we would be doing the same thing. The only thing that would be different is that without the internet, we may not be able to reach as many people as fast. But there have been so many creatives, so many souls that existed prior to the internet and we still are learning from their lives today. Society often forgets that humans were happily able to live without technology not so long ago and were able to create far more impressive creations that even now (with the internet) we still cannot understand.
CP: When did you first start using social media to promote your creativity?
FM: We started using social media as a way to share our courage to others. We were aware of how hard it was for us to begin dressing in our own designs and in our own look so we wanted to help others around the world be able to express their true selves. We wanted to showcase that you did not have to be chauffeured around or have specialized makeup artists and stylists like a celebrity to live your truth. We wanted to showcase how you can be yourself in the real world, with real human issues. Today, we still share those moments through social media. Our relationship with social media has its ups and downs. But we really try to focus on the positivity and light that our story can bring to others.
CP: Do you think the internet is generally a positive or negative influence on humanity?
FM: We are strong believers in yin and yang, so there is positivity and negativity within everything. You can’t have one without the other.
“It was hard for us to begin dressing in our own designs... we wanted to help others around the world be able to express their true selves.”
CP: Can you talk about the extremes of reactions that people have had to you work?
FM: There is a vilified hatred as much is there is an extreme passion for our work. People have spat at us on the street, screamed and yelled, beaten us up. We get harassment on the daily, death threats in our inboxes (etc.) but at the same time we have unbelievable amount of support, love, and kindness around us. There are so many who experience the same things we do and don’t have that type of support or acceptance. For us it is so important to be able to give courage to those who are just beginning to discover themselves. Even in our own experience, it is very hard for one to begin to look outside the box if they feel like there will be isolation, loneliness or rejection. We hope to offer those individuals a safe spot in their minds and within their hearts where they can understand the power of being authentic.
Photo: Nick Knight
CP: How has your reception been within the larger fashion industry?
FM: The fashion industry, just like any other, is run by a multitude of highly powered individuals who are afraid of change and need validation before giving it the ok. We will forever be fortunate for the incredibly talented Nick Knight for seeing us without any validation, without hundreds of thousands of followers, without a fashion show, or without really anything other than some imagery that we had created on our Instagram. He brought us to London to be a part of a photo shoot for Chaos SixtyNine. Later we all worked all together on our first fashion show presentation at SHOWstudio in London. We really see Nick as someone who is and continues to push the boundaries of what defines fashion. He has created an uncensored platform for many artists to express their vision. We always say that even if Nick’s work had never been discovered by the fashion world or he wasn’t considered one of the best fashion photographers of our time, this is still someone we would have wanted to work with regardless. His work has inspired us to see beauty in a new form and help us understand the power of darkness.
CP: What else do you have coming up?
FM: Currently we are working on music and using this new outlet to continue to express our thoughts about reality and the world we exist in. Although we have been DJs for over three years, producing our own tracks and manifesting our sound is something new for us. We are enjoying learning from this new form of self-expression. We are also planning on debuting a new collection this summer, so stay tuned for that.