Intro: Recently at Villa Vida, we had an event called Visible – Weekend of Trans Joy. It was a coming together of trans folks in Vienna to share their works of art and celebrate around the Trans Day of Visibility. This included an art exhibition, short film showcase, Open Mic, a delicious vegan feast, and a bonfire. One of the featured artists was Finn also known as Animal Bro. I’ll be starting season two, episode one with their interview where they discuss their identity, artistic process, unique perspective and comic avatar, Kweerkat.
D: Hi, thanks for coming
F: Hi, thanks for inviting me, its always good to be here
D: You know I love it when you come around, like all the time, and we’re around each other pretty often there’s no need to be nervous just because we’re recording each other now
F: Yeah sure
D: You look like you don’t believe me. What is your name?
F: My name is Finn, and I use the moniker Animal Bro for my art and writing
D: And I wanna read from the description of you at the Visible weekend of trans joy, as an artist, the description of you as an artist and a little bit about the kind of art that you do. So, Animal Bro, they/them are your pronouns right?
D: Animal Bro is a Serbian-Australian visual artist and writer mainly working with ink-drawing, printing and illustration with a special interest in independent publishing and art in public spaces. Personal matters which was the artwork which was shown, we’re gonna put a little photo of it up. The work is part of a series exploring and expressing the trans experience from a personal perspective. The protagonist KweerKat is my own alter-ego and the stories are always based on true events. Though the subject matter of stereotyping, objectification, instrumentalization, and dehumanization can be conflicting or difficult, the focus is always on avoiding blame and judgement and having a positive impact instead by providing insight and allowing people to empathise and ultimately form their own opinions. Aww. I love this, I love this. So KweerKat is such a café favourite. Everyone was just in love with KweerKat. Can you explain a little bit about KweerKat.
F: I created that character to tell these stories, and it’s a cat because everybody likes cats and then I can say some serious stuff and then people will still be receptive. So, in a sweet way I talk about some serious things. My art, I’m a visual artist primarily that’s what I studies and I what I did commercially for a long time and then I started writing when I was introduced to zines and independent publishing. So that was sort of an interesting development. Visual art is more effecting emotions and it was very symbolic, I was using a lot of symbols and somehow visual art is very powerful but not so direct. But when you write, when you use words in a particular way that has a much stronger impact I think. I was always inspired by nature, maybe this a universal thing, every painter we think of the whole universe, it is sort of a very zoomed out perspective. As I’m a migrant and a queer person I started having these experiences that I somehow had to turn into a story. That’s how I started writing and that’s also how I came out as a trans person through writing and sort of found my voice.
D: You know this is maybe like the second conversation I’ve had about discovering queer identity through your art. How do you think that your art led you to that, or how do you think you found that through your art.
F: So first through art and then your life, first through your life and then in your art. It happened to me especially when I was doing painting that I would paint something and then they would happen. I think that’s what it means to be an artist. So it’s a, it has something to do with the voice. I needed time I think to find this voice and to verbalise these feelings that were somehow it took time for me. But I believe it’s also, what is happening globally with queer people and trans liberation and everything that definitely happened somehow helped a lot of course. Maybe, I think painters and maybe also poets are kinda tuned into some collective consciousness and this is how I think that works. That we feel very deeply things maybe even before they happen and so anticipate.
D: You talked about addressing these serious issues through this cat what are some of the issues that you are addressing?
F: You asked me about KweerKat and I went somewhere, sorry.
D: That’s what we’re doing
F: Well, there is a lot of this pain in the world and all sorts of discrimination, is something that always bothered me since I was a child, but I also learned that I have to express my experiences first, and then I can also empathise with people who have some other experiences but I have to talk for myself. But through this talking I also invite people to also talk for themselves. This is how I think it worked for me I always had some role models and people that I liked in art, that were inspiring and they somehow lead you in this way to find yourself through your art, even if they’re long gone. This stays in this sense history is also important in queer history, we know that there was someone before us who did something and then helped us and then we done something and it helps someone in the future and that’s how it goes.
D: You’ve travelled a lot of places and now Vienna has you. What have you found here that has kept you here?
F: I have a bit of a strange story because the country that I’m coming from doesn’t exist anymore and since I don’t have this identity or this identity is something that is shifting, there’s nothing to go back to. And then I migrated to a far away country I was outside of Europe for a decade and then I came back here and I think it’s, Vienna is interesting because it’s not such a big city but there is some variety, people are active, they are making these collectives, creating these collectives, there is a lot of art activity, there is activism. people really try to, I like these connections and community, something that is always really important to me to feel that I do something with other people and this is endlessly inspiring for me that people do something together, constructive
D: So what does your process look like for your art. Is it very collaborative, are you sort of bumping ideas off of other artists. What does it look like?
F: Nowadays, my process looks like I write, first I experience maybe some unpleasant things. This especially started since I started medical transition and I even had some negative experiences within the queer community, and then I think about these problems and write a bit, and then I make a little scenario for KweerKat. Basically, I retell the story but I try to, they are kind of small slice of life, a small comic, like everyday situation, but I try to talk about issues in general to try and actually pin point the problem with that, what is deeply wrong rather than some superficial happenings.
D: So, exact scenarios with KweerKat, like what are some of the scenarios?
F: A long time ago I had some friends from Germany and that was a time in my 20s that I was starting to feel that something was strange about me but I couldn’t figure out why because I was also attracted to men, but I felt also I was queer, and how can I be queer if I am attracted to men, and then now I know I am a transmasculine person and that I’m gay. But in a conversation with this friend I was like, I was commenting something that like I am such a fag and stuff, I do have this stereotypical behaviour and stuff. You know I was still like very early and I didn’t have community or anything. I was in a very homophobic space. And she was like you shouldn’t be saying this, these people are oppressed, you know a bit of like policing and stuff, and then I just, you know went back to the closet. Basically I didn’t think about it for the next ten years, but now when I think about it I’m like okay this person, I was coming out of the closest, so KweerKat is saying something like you don’t know, it’s just the beginning and somebody tells you something like that and you just shut-up you know. There is this three or four squares with KweerKat in a literal closet because the closet is a symbol, because I still like to use these symbols. I am more like a lateral thinker or, I am more like actually like I feel like think through feeling or something like, its somehow mixed with me, and then later it kind of materialises, but it’s very fuzzy actually, it’s more like a feeling. So feeling was, I was trying to explain this feeling like this is actually wrong to police other people’s identity, we cannot do this. So we always like if I want to say something to someone I always first have to think why am I doing this? I have to think what I am doing, not what other people are doing.
D: I think that that right there touches on something for me, because I think it’s really hard for a lot of people when they learn the new terminology and when they learn different ways that they themselves maybe in the past have been oppressive, to not want to evangelise that, so they speak and tell other people that oh don’t do it like that because it’s hurtful to other people. People may think being politically correct, being queer, is like walking on a tightrope how do we know what’ right and what’s wrong and how to show up in different situations.
F: I think it’s very important to not have this atmosphere where you fear and I think we have to create this atmosphere where people don’t fear judgement because it ends like, this feeling to be just I don’t know rational and gentle with each other and then I don’t know, I think the best practice is always to go back to yourself, and not think about what other people are doing but what you are doing. And then everybody does that and there is some sort of responsibility.
D: That’s a wonderful value, a wonderful recommendation, a wonderful ethos. But it’s really hard sometimes in community, right? Especially in the wake of recent events, one of the things that had come out is, is that we’re not always kind with each other, we’re not always gentle with each other. Sometimes, even in queer spaces there’s a reproduction of violence.
F: Yeah, there is a lot of things to deal with, as queer people experience discrimination and there also if we are intersectional we also look at other things that might be difficult for people and there is a lot, I think this toxic behaviour comes from you know shame and some unresolved issues. I can recommend therapy to everyone, at some point in life I think it is very important, and also I don’t know like maybe to be humble, try to be humble, and also learn from others. Vienna is good for that, I really like, I don’t know, I learnt so much from the BIPOC community for example.
D: What is sustaining you? When you’re dealing with visa issues, you’re creating, I see you running from here to there doing a ton of work, right. I’m just the barista in between meetings a lot of times. What do you do to kind of like give you this wellspring that you have, like creativity and energy?
F: Yeah, well, I was always energetic, that’s my nature, and my partner likes to say that I fell into the magic cauldron when I was a kid and now I can’t stop. I like sports really, that is something that is very healing for the mind but also like very good for the body, and this is what I do for like self-care basically. But somehow for me was always like the more energy I spend the more I have it, so its really like if I don’t have any problems there everything is okay, everything is working like this, I just need, I actually need to be active, that’s one of my needs, so I just kind of utilise that then. But this sense of community is also something that, I want to do something to contribute something to the community because I fell that is also sustaining me, and this is also very important I think for example for me was very important to have very accepting community before I came out, you need some kind of space where you can figure out, you know, who you are, where you belong, and its really important these spaces are diverse, because sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out these things, the way it was for me. So I wish our Viennese queer scene is less divided into some small groups, but I don’t know if that’s too much to ask.
D: It’s also like a wonderful aspiration to have, and you have like plugged into this community of trans artists here that produce that vibrant show, and what did you learn from that community specifically?
F: First it’s the community where I feel the most comfortable, and I was thinking as I was also talking, we have this project Transphoria that is running, and we talk a lot about how it’s important that trans people represent themselves, because this is an issue I think with every small community that somehow we have to talk to have our own voice and we have to define who we are and not to be defined by cis people, because you know we have our own culture actually, and our own experience, and I think this is very important. This is why I think it was also a very successful little festival, kind of very warm and relaxed, kind of a very community feeling. So yeah, just like that, feeling at home, all the good stuff.
D: How do you want your art to evolve?
F:I want to tell a different story, write like a bigger scenario and it’s gonna be like a graphic novel. So these stories are about me, and people that I knew and people that I know but also how these let’s say social impact, social changes impact people’s lives, and queerness of course as part of my life but, yeah some really serious stuff, and I’m going deep, so this is my idea what to do next, to try deal with some really difficult things.
D: I wanna talk a bit about your specific identity, being a transmasculine person that is attracted to men right, puts you in somewhat a minority of a minority, of a minority, right.
F: Very small market.
D: And then sure, within that, there’s an experience there that is very unique can you elaborate a little bit about that, about how it’s been to embody that within the queer community?
F: This is very interesting, I think it depends also on the country, because this queer identity are also different in different countries I think, and being a trans person its very gender non-conforming, we somehow have different role depending on where we are, because women and men, and what it means to be man and women is different depending on culture. So it really shifts all the time. I didn’t travel that much, but I did travel far, so I was away from Europe for a very long time, and it was like a bit in a sense cultural shock when I came here, but also many things are very common, I know what they feel, I sort of remember. So, yeah, as you said, it’s a very small minority but I think the hardest part for me is actually to come out and to find people who will support me, it was hard to figure this out, because of the sexuality thing, because its always like, but oh you know gender is kind of fluid, I’m also like, you know somewhere on that spectrum, but also sexuality, sexuality is also fluid, and I have some kind of general masculine expression, this is something, when you ask me what gives me energy and stuff, this is I think also a big part of my personality and what makes me feel good if I can express myself as a masculine person. That gives me something, for me it’s the best thing. It was hard figuring out, that was I think the hard part, but now I think I’m like over the hurdle.
D: So, how do we find you?
F: I have an Instagram account, @animal_bro14, there I put most of the stuff that I do, yeah I want to have exhibition in Semmelweisen Centre it’s gonna be in November. It’s like a big space for creatives, studios. But everything I have now is on Instagram, little comics. I’m gonna be at this zine fair, this international zine community, and I’m gonna have my zines and stuff there.
D: Wow. What is your queer truth?
F: What is my…
D: Queer truth.
F: I think this feeling of belonging. And knowing when we belong somewhere. This is something that guides me, so it doesn’t matter what people say, what they do, or how I feel, how people make me feel, I also think what I do to other people, how I make other people feel, so like community, and this feeling of belonging and being free to express yourself, the way you are, even if you might be different than others.
D: Thank you so much for coming and talking with me.
F: Thanks Denise, it’s been super comfy here, and nice.
D: Do you have any questions for me?
F: Actually, actually, okay. But this is very interesting because I see you, you are always there, you are actually the reactive and you are like creating this space, and that can be felt. So what gives you energy?
D: What gives me energy. Wow, gosh I don’t know. I mean I just, I think of you know, I think its different things at different times for sure. You know, I think it’s…anticipating things is definitely my drive, you know thinking of something really big I’m going to create and then creating it. And you know extra points if the things seems impossible.
F: Only hard tasks.
D: Only hard things. Only hard things. Like, I love that, that is the thing that I absolutely love. I’m not very motivated by security, I’m not motivated at all by money and fortune.
F: I know what you mean, I know what you mean.
D: Right! I kind of wish I was. But I have values. Clearly community is one of my values, but the thing that really wakes me up in the morning is tell me I can’t do something. It’s horrible, it’s like my own oppositional defiant disorder to someone telling me I can’t do something.
F: Yeah, I know what you mean. This is sort of motivation like, exactly like, to resist.
D: Yeah, like it’s totally embedded in my DNA, is resistance. Especially if it’s resistance to something that doesn’t make sense. That’s what wakes me up.
F: Yes. I was saying how there are sort of two types of people, you have some kind of restraint, and some people yell and resist. And these are two ways of dealing with life, and I also like to resist and reclaim, like okay let’s see what we can do, it’s good feeling, it’s powerful feeling.
D: So that and drinking coffee with friends.
F: Yes, yes.
D: Asking them the questions that I’m curious about, putting them on the spot. I absolutely love that. Thank you, thank you, thank you, so much.
F: Thank you.