Printout Interview: Jonno Revanche & Tracy Chen (Vaein Zine)
We spoke to Jonno Revanche and Tracy Chen to learn more about the third installment of their beautiful zine, Vaein, and its accompanying art exhibition 'Documentarian'.
Vaein is a stunning zine that brings LGBTQIA creatives to the fore, highlighting work across visual art, photography and writing. Now in its third issue, the project has woven together a diverse array of contributors from around the country, and we thought it only fitting to talk to the minds behind Vaein to find out more.
Hello! Tell us a bit about yourselves?
Jonno: Hello! I'm a 24 year old capricorn, I'm gender non-conforming and non-binary, and am predominantly a writer and editor but also do photography/art/magazine stuff, and occasionally acting as a hobby. Those are a lot of descriptors but I promise I’m good at balancing. I'm also very invested in mental health and am passionate about discussing it. I have plans to start studying post-grad in that field soon but am taking my time with life until that’s a reality. I’ve worked for and had my words/images in places like i-D, Kill Your Darlings, Krass, Galore, Oyster... which have all taught me a lot about how print works in contemporary settings and how I could respond to that myself. I guess the most relevant thing about me in the context of this interview is that I'm an editor of Vaein Zine, alongside Tracy who has been co-editor and designer for this issue!
Tracy: I’m 21 and am currently an Arts and social sciences student, but am kind of getting bored how distant and wanky some of the content is, haha! I think I’m interested in looking at studying public health/something more practical later on. I think it’s important to bring awareness to broader issues, without getting caught up in our 'good person' identity or one way of thinking. For Vaein #3 I mainly worked on the layout design and ended up semi co-editing a bit. I’ve always really liked designing things and making stuff so I’m glad Jonno was happy for me to do it… I’m also a musician :)
What was the motivation behind the creation of Vaein?
Jonno: What Tracy mentioned about bringing attention to broader issues without getting caught up in the 'good person' identity is pretty close to why I wanted to start it. We want to focus on solution based approaches instead of slapping activist labels on ourselves and expecting kudos. There’s definitely this sense of wanting to create a space that encourages people to use whatever methods they have to describe their experiences instead of reinforcing one kind of “acceptable” expression. However I think those intentions were a bit more unformed and smokey when I first began, and solidified more once I actually began working on the tumblr and thinking about what themes would re-occur in physical issues if that came to life. If we’re being honest I just wanted to make a zine. I was around 19 or 20 when I first came up with the idea… and at the time it felt like it was an accessible way for me to express myself and to collaborate with other people, and I also had this freedom in a way of not being exposed to much of a zine scene so I didn’t feel a pressure to conform to any sort of ideals, or fit myself into a prescribed idea of what I should be. I had been feeling a lot of that and feeling like I wasn’t valuable if I wasn’t contributing something in a certain way. Which was an attitude quite prevalent in other circles, the art scene in Adelaide for example, and the music scene. Being present in these places particularly in 2011 and 2012 was quite isolating for me, as a sexually/gender diverse person, (as well as a sensitive and socially anxious and vulnerable person yadda yadda) and realising that other people like me in these spaces were also confined to the outer rims of the scenes, tolerated but not really centred or celebrated. I noticed this particularly in punk, hardcore, even forward thinking dance environments, which was a shame because there were elements of all of those which I really loved. Obviously everything is going to be flawed but that doesn’t mean we can’t look into that and try to change it.
Since those original outlines, the concept of Vaein has really evolved into something beyond just "emerging artists" and is now focused on creative people that feel ostracised on the basis of their sexuality, their queerness, their gender identity, and also analysing how those things intersect with race, class, perceived ability and professionalism, etc, but doing it in a way that feels personal and human. That’s such an important part of the message.
Tracy: I’ve only been involved since this issue but I’ll just talk about what it’s meant for me. It’s been really nice having a space where there wasn’t a lot of expectation for me to be a certain way… I think in the past I’ve felt things like having to sound 'smart' enough in my writing or when I spoke for it to be valuable and feeling intimidated by political conversations because I didn’t get them, and spaces where these conversations existed felt more judgmental than open. Honestly, when I first noticed Vaein and Jonno online and met them I was a bit intimidated and felt they were cool or something… and was surprised someone ‘cool’ thought what I had to say meant something when I expressed wanting to maybe get involved. I wouldn’t have thought we’d end up doing this together or this much together! Long story short I’ve learnt a lot and no one is cooler than anyone and no one is perfect and I do have things to offer. I knew that I did which is why I wanted to do it but at the same time had doubts to work through. Getting to do things like co-edit pieces and offer my thoughts and criticisms (particularly when I’ve felt weird about fluffy or exclusive language) and having space to realise they’re valuable has been validating.
Jonno: Awwww, this is so lovely and I feel happy reading this… knowing that you feel this way is a great start to achieving the goal of the whole damn thing! If anything I’m really touched that we can have these conversations about what cool means and why we can move away from it as a measure of definitive value, I don’t want to indulge that when it’s already so prevalent in every other magazine…
Tracy: Yeah same, I think it’s easy and natural to think about people as ‘cool’ from far away when you’re only or mostly exposed to their activities and image and stuff, then doubt yourself in response especially if you’re insecure like I was. It’s nice having these conversations and learning about each other being human and feeling similar feelings.
Jonno: So true. I’m enthusiastic about doing that because focusing entirely on image and cultural status/perceived worth hasn’t ever really brought me much real joy. I think opening yourself up to other people, showing your flaws and insecurities, is really powerful. In my experience that brings people together and encourages real connection. There are so many aspects of our world that try to convince us that isn’t important. I guess I want to fight back against that when I can. But at the same time, I love fashion and pretty photos so I’m going to keep my Instagram :P
Tracy: Bloody oath!
Tell us about some of the artists and writers featured in this issue?
Jonno: This issue is “cyborg” themed and from there I initiated/encouraged different conversations about technology, authenticity, and power from different contributors. I really love straddling that line between fake and real, and those binaries are sooo prevalent in perceptions of the LGBTQIA community which makes for very fruitful conversation. There’s are some really moving and evocative conversations with people like Conrad Tao, Golgotha and an artist called Leone (who Tracy interviewed!) Mostly I’m just psyched about the more inexperienced artists who have work in the next issue, who may not have had much experience being asked to be part of something before but are still making really great stuff. I don’t want to speak for anyone or take responsibility for “including anyone” but I always feel excited when someone notices what I do and actively reaches out to me and wants to involve me in something, so hopefully this is something other people feel.
Tracy: Yeah it’s so nice how there are like relatively ‘established’ artists next to emerging artists next to drawings and photos people took for fun, and not really making a fuss about it. I like how there’s not really a consistent style amongst the visual work also… we’re not really attached to maintaining one 'aesthetic' and I think it’s nice just letting different things exist together, hopefully it also takes pressure off people to be anything besides themselves.
Jonno: Absolutely! We’ve definitely just started going with our gut feelings in that respect. That’s actually one of my fav aspects of the next issue, and I think I like how that seemed to happen kind of naturally… the essence of a zine means there’s more focus on going with the flow and accepting how things are working in whatever way they do. There aren’t those same rigid ideals of what “good” is.
Have you faced any challenges in running an LGBT+ focused publication?
Jonno: The technical aspects of putting together a magazine is so huge… people never really know what they're getting into until they're in that universe. Whenever someone idealistically tells me they’re going to start a magazine I feel a worried sensation in my stomach for them. It’s clear that the ability to run something like this consistently is predicated on time and money, which is why we did a kickstarter for this and took so long to put it together. There’s a reason that magazines like Harpers Bazaar or Vanity Fair have huge teams behind them. It often feels like so much labour for one little product. For that reason, it can be very hard to keep yourself on track and feel like what you're doing is "worth it." It doesn't surprise me that so many publications go under. You really have to believe in the message that underpins the work.
In another sense, I've met with a lot of resentment, passive aggression and criticism from people for running something centred around LGBTQ experiences. I live in my own supportive bubble a lot so coming up against that can be heavy. I think there are valid criticisms for everything and I want to welcome them but I’m less willing to engage with people who think doing ~queer stuff~ is less interesting or lo-fi or lowbrow or something. Those attitudes, if anything, are just encouragement that we’re doing the right thing. If this is challenging people in the right way, then surely I've done my job? Liberation for LGBTQIA people doesn’t exist yet and until it does resources like this will need to be around.
Tracy: Like I said I’ve only recently been involved, but… I think one of the things I’ve noticed with being involved with Vaein and just generally being exposed to convos about diverse/social issues etc is that it’s not really a matter of trying to include everyone in a conversation - maybe that’s something that’s easy to feel like you have to do with a zine that’s aiming to honour diverse voices. In the end, lives are different, we can’t relate to everyone and we shouldn’t act like there is one conversation about say gender/race that everyone should understand and care about. Most you can do is share what you feel and...whoever responds, responds. Something like Vaein is only gonna reach a certain amount and a certain kind of people and that’s fine and how it is.
At least personally, I feel like being able to reflect on my experiences, engage with certain conversations, find creative ways to express myself has a lot to do with having time and freedom and being exposed to certain social environments. I think it’s good to remember that. We don’t have to pity or hate on anyone who doesn’t think about racism and feminism, for example, in a particular way, maybe just remember that our voices only mean so much… you’re really not above anyone and you can’t speak for everyone. I don't know, I think sometimes I notice people involved with these convos can start to think a bit highly of their perspectives and project a bit. I’ve probably been guilty. Maybe not so much a challenge as much as something I’ve just been noticing as I go, haha.
Jonno: Same, I think that’s something we all need to work on because elevating ourselves above others isn’t the point.
What are your thoughts on zine culture in Australia?
Jonno: It's really quaint in a lot of ways. Places like Sydney, Melbourne and even Brisbane can have these zine fairs of biblical proportions, pull together huge crowds and still maintain a sense of cohesion which is really admirable. The zine community is so much wider than many other communities and bridges so many sub-cultures, it allows people to express themselves in whatever way they find fitting. It’s really quite amazing. I don’t have too much contact with it but I haven't had many negative experiences with zine culture, which I can't say with a lot of other scenes I've come into contact with.
Do you see it as something sustainable and thriving, or ephemeral and fading?
Jonno: As long as there’s a desire to make yourself heard (outside of the internet, I think) zines will exist. Naturally these things come in waves and correspond with the social/political/economic landscape of the time but right now there’s a really big interest in zines. Particularly now that we’re learning more about surveillance and the internet, people are turning to zines as a way to make sure information is disseminated in a way that works for the individual and isn’t being collected by unseen government agencies. Communities are also aware, maybe not consciously but perhaps inertly, that the publishing world and the literary world can't live up to it's promises. It's incredible that so many people feel the power to communicate their ideas, their work, totally by themselves without the approval of a team of editors. And this has meant that the literary scene has had to get it's shit together to keep up with that. I see this as a positive thing to be quite honest. Sustainability in regards to zines is not as much of an issue because there's less "rules" to follow with zine-making and so you can be constantly adapting.
You each have extensive creative repertoires yourselves, how does Vaein tie into your other work?
Jonno: Vaein has naturally become focused on the de-commercialisation of fashion, sincerity and earnesty through art and expression, prioritising accessibility and community, as well as a de-centring of overt systems of oppression that target the kind of demographics we work with. Those are themes I've come to explore within my own stuff too. Obviously, queer identity and experience under a corrupt system that actively devalues you is something that has become something I've explored a lot within my writing, and I think that resonates really strongly in the spirit of the zine. I think Tracy has made a big mark on the way this issue has gone too, encouraging me to narrow down my concepts and streamline them, even just aesthetically - I feel as if this next issue would be totally overwhelming for the senses if those collaborations didn’t happen!
Tracy: Aww, haha! Yeah, I think designing has always been something I’ve enjoyed and something I’d like to do more of. Doing Vaein has been good, working with such a wide range of content and trying to do everything justice while keeping the zine ‘balanced’ and easy to read. Writing is something I like doing from time to time too and I’ve gotten a lot of practice with Vaein, looking over pieces, doing the interview - practicing expressing myself clearly and honestly, learning to be critical/constructive with others’ work while respecting what they have to say and stuff like that. It’s also been helpful working with Jonno and learning to navigate each other’s different feelings/thoughts/ideas on things - these kinds of skills tie into everyday life!
Are there any artists, either locally or internationally, that you two have your eye on?
Jonno: There are so many, I'm just going to blab for a bit bc I'm always in awe of the people around me. I'm pretty biased because they're my best friends but Mia Van Den Bos and Jon Santos (Strict Face) are making incredible things. I'm honestly so wow'ed by the work and organisation of Stacey Teague, who I believe was originally based in New Zealand but now lives in Sydney. Athena Thebus is one of the most incredible artists and individuals I've had the chance to meet. Eddie Johnston is one of my favourite people and makes music under the moniker Lontalius as well as Race Banyon. I think Somayra Ismailjee is so unbelievably inspiring and the most passionate person I know and has the biggest heart! ;) Outside of Australia I'm really keen to get involved with Grace Dunham, Marcus Cuffie, Felagucci, Babymorocco, Boychild, Hobbes Ginsberg, June Canedo, all of whom are either involved in upcoming issues of Vaein or have been in the past. I'm just as excited about the smaller names as I am about the bigger names, they're all going to bring something fabulous to the table!
Tracy: Yes :) all names are important names!
Issue #3 of Vaein launches this afternoon at 4pm, and its accompanying exhibition of visual art, Documentarian, remains open until the 18th. You can catch it all at Good Studios on 33 Sturt Street, Adelaide.