Performance artist and DJ Lewis G. Burton talks us through the debut single and claiming their own kind of ‘fat, femme and unapologetic’ beauty
A camera pans ominously around a dimly-lit operating theatre in the opening scene of Lewis G. Burton’s “Hermaphrodite” video – the debut single for the London-based performance artist, DJ, and Dazed Beauty community member. There’s a sense of foreboding amplified by the steely glint of surgical tools, but it contrasts sharply with Burton’s tender monologue: “There really is no such thing as perfect / but I am my perfect.”
When the screen cuts to black and a frenetic beat kicks in, we finally see them in all their glory: legs sprawled open, hairline shaven back, features manipulated by alien-like prosthetics. Their black latex glove clad hands slice into their flesh and pull out bloodied organs – a scene intended as “a statement on society’s fascination with trans bodies and the surgeries they undergo,” Burton explains, highlighting that intersex genital mutilation – so-called ‘corrective’ procedures carried out on intersex infants, despite being condemned as torture by the United Nations – is still legal in the UK.
It’s a visceral, graphic scene, twisting the grotesque and macabre into something beautiful. This visual formula is part of Fecal Matter’s signature aesthetic, combined here with the performace artist’s own: “fat, femme and unapologetic”, as the avant-garde duo (Steven Raj Bhaskaran and Hannah Rose Dalton) art-directed the video. “We’re cut from the same cloth – we’re close friends and really understand each other,” Burton says of their frequent collaborations (most notably, the duo’s SS19 fashion show which they organised, produced and cast). “They have this otherworldly alien aesthetic that worked really well in terms of what we wanted to create with “Hermaphrodite”. I really wanted to do a queer recreation of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, as it felt intrinsic to how I wrote the song and representative of one of its many meanings.”
The song’s lyrics are a tribute to Hermaphroditus, an androgynous Greek deity that fascinated the performance artist as a kid in search of queer role models. They recall being obsessed with mythology and drawn to its ‘strong female energy’ – to the extent that they filled notebook after notebook with poetry praising the celestial being. The video’s extreme beauty reflects this, presenting “what a contemporary queer deity would look like in 2019”, filtered through a futuristic lens.
“I think it’s important for people to look at things that aren’t traditionally deemed beautiful and try to find beauty in them. We should always be learning and growing, I think that comes from challenging why we feel a certain way about something ” – Lewis G. Burton
Burton also says – with a chuckle – that they’re a “big old goth at heart! Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals album artwork was another inspiration, but we wanted to portray another side of androgyny that is rarely explored, because of the stigma surrounding the beauty of fat bodies.” The arresting image is still iconic, featuring Manson as a slim, almost extra-terrestrial androgyne with breasts and an airbrushed pelvis. But the artwork is also part of a wider cultural bank of imagery, which positions thin, white bodies as the default canvas for androgyny.
By embracing their fatness and queerness, the performance artist, who’s also an acclaimed techno DJ, drag entertainer and host of monthly club night INFERNO, dismantles this notion to create a new vision of androgynous beauty. “I think it’s important for people to look at things that aren’t traditionally deemed beautiful and try to find beauty in them,” they explain. “We should always be learning and growing, I think that comes from challenging why we feel a certain way about something.”
Whether in the ethereal “Hermaphrodite” video or on the decks at raves across East London, Burton’s commitment to unconventional ‘beauty’ feels liberating. “It’s nothing more than a word used by capitalist society to make people feel like shit about themselves because they don’t look a certain way, or don’t have the perfect body,” they say. “That isn’t fucking beauty!” The performance artist has spoken about being made to feel ugly or grotesque before, but now they boldly claim their own kind of beauty – one that’s rooted in creativity, kindness and radical politics. They sum up neatly: “True beauty is about appreciating imperfections, it’s all about self-love.”