Intro: As someone who came out in the late 90’s I sometimes am awed at how quickly the landscape has changed for queer folk. We went from not being able to marry, legally transition or even get protection from discrimination when accessing basic services like healthcare and housing to people who had most of those rights in western countries. As I see those hard-won rights being stripped away, I often feel alone in my memories of the bad old days. A political apocalypse for queer people, a moment when we were legally 2nd class citizens – a time that many of us did not manage to survive. This memory and acute awareness of what is at stake in sometimes complicated political fights is shared with the artist, Aurelia Theodora Mohl as they talk about the fragility of the nation state, historical lessons and how all of this shows up in their art.
D: What is your name?
A: Aurelia Theodora Mohl. Theodora is the English pronunciation, yeah.
D: What are your pronouns?
A: My pronouns are she/they and in German sie/dey. So dey with a D.
D: You were an artist at Visible Weekend of Trans Joy. How did you find out about it? And get involved.
A: It don’t really remember. It was probably, it probably had to do with the Doodle Group Vienna or with them or somebody I know from them probably. And yeah. Or it was Trans…not TransX, the One Film Project that has been like trying to go since a year. I don’t know, never know what they are. You could say I had my sources.
D: And did you mention Doodle Group? Could you tell us what Doodle Group is?
A: So Doodle Group is an Instagram account/discord server for Vienna based convention art and queer artists. So it’s based around the anime convention scene, but of course if you’re queer or artist and stuff, the Venn diagram is like pretty neat together. So it’s a good mix, mash up and yeah, the group itself the purpose is networking and also supporting artists. So there are meetings, when they are organised, but also like you can tag them if you’re part of it, you can tag them in your Instagram story and they will share your Instagram story. And yeah, just neat little thing.
D: So I wanted to read your description and the pamphlet from our Visible Weekend of Trans Joy. So your description says I have always been a creative mess. As a child, I spent a lot of time daydreaming and making up stories. At high school later, I began to actively write stories. These gave me first motivation to draw, and to learn to draw better. Doodles on the school desk became concept drawings of vehicles, and those became pencil drawings. Until I started drawing digitally over a year ago. Additionally, I have been active on YouTube for about three years now. First I made AMVs and from one sketch piece arose a whole series of interviews and visits from my character Doctor Plague. Meanwhile, I also stream on Twitch and have so many characters and ideas that sometimes my head explodes. But now I’m here and happy to present you readers three of my art pieces. So I loved these art pieces. And can you tell us a bit about this world in your head of stories and characters?
A: Yes. Well, it’s a bit complicated, but I think that’s also a bit of the charm, at least for myself, because it keeps me entertained, because if I’m not entertained with my own stories and ideas, why do I have them. Because I’m not making money, much money with it, certainly. So, maybe let’s mention first the writing. The writing was like the kickstarter. Basically I saw a competition from a local shopping centre. They had like organised in this nearby city, crime stories, and they had, you should write a short story and you had like half a page and from that you should write further, and I was like 12 or 13 and I sent it in. And out of 50 stories that were sent in, I was chosen first place, so that started my head with short stories. But like everything I do, it’s not like a continuous work, but like short brackets where I do it really, really intensely and obsess about it until I’m just done or get distracted. And yeah, that’s like basically, the story of the Swallowers universe. So that’s my main writing that developed over the years. It’s basically since seven years. Six, let’s say six years then. I’m like, yeah, just one more story and I have my first anthology finished. Or I just need to finish that up and it ended up that I have like 20 or more finished stories from 2 pages, to one is 65 word pages. Which are all in this fictional, science fiction universe. So it’s based on ours, but like way in the future and stuff, and all from space opera to cosmic horror, everything. Every idea.
D: Who’s Doctor Plague?
A: That’s in our universe. So that’s the other thing with YouTube, and which is most active right now. That’s Murder Train productions basically, which is my fake production firm. And there you have me.
D: What’s it called? Murder Train Productions?
A: Murder Train Productions. Yes. Really dumb name. Dumb, but fun name. Yeah, and there. I have like, one’s me, a fictional, half fictionalised version of me Auri. Then there’s Aureelian, which is, which is a demon, or better said, a demon with just a floating head and magnificent hair, who started off as the original persona for the channel and stuff. But turned, is now like the lead for Twitch, the presenter or pinch avatar. And Doctor plague is a quirky plague doctor who thinks he’s doing a children’s show called the Quick Travellog, where he goes around and shows people/children on the internet, interesting places and/or people. So yeah, there was a long tension, yeah.
D: And what do you draw from to kind of make some of these characters? Are you drawing like, just from some of the influences, and combined with things in your imagination, or? How do you come up with this?
A: Yeah. Yeah. So, like with Aureelian, was like, the original channel was anime music videos and I started it because I thought, I was still in like a bit of a metal purist phase and I just wanted to have more metal in this and good music videos and conventions, and so on. So I started with him as a persona because I have a bit of marketing experience slash I’m a bit dumb in that case, then start world building. And so yeah, Aureelian had a lot of metal influences and like polite horror, but also comedy. It’s the focus, is always more in comedic, because I know the world is already pretty dark and grim, and I think it’s more entertaining if there are a few jokes, even if it’s like some story about some dark thing that happened in history. It’s easier to understand I think if I can laugh about it. So that and Dr Plague – one influence was that a friend of mine has played Doctor Cosplay, which is like all out of Madeline and everything he made himself with like garbage. And so he gave me at the end like a plague doctor. And Corona made a mask and then it first locked down and then whole characters just started just happening. And yeah, I would say of course influences like, for once with Doctor Plague, you have a lot of comedic influences. Like all the comedy I like, Monty Python are a classic. Maybe a bit of Community, or just general like improvisational comedy and stand-up stuff. Because like the character is, sometimes I have really tight scripts, but then, especially with interviews, I have to be like, OK, I have to get something out of the people and react to them and their stuff and that’s more improv. It basically just happens out of my head and I’m just really interested in history and also movies and literature, even if I’m like mostly watching YouTube video essays, because I don’t know, my brain works like that. It’s a mess.
D: What has it meant for you to have a community of like other queer artists around you. How has that shifted your process?
E: So first of all, having queer friends and queer community is like what brought me to the realisation that I’m queer and getting into the community. I’m from a small village in Burgenland. Til I was 18, I wasn’t really outside of the village for long, and so it took me a lot of time to start getting to know myself, and not what I thought was myself. So it’s a whole process and our people helped with that so. In school, I thought I couldn’t really draw and it was shit and everything. But then, with the later gymnasium years I got, we got a teacher who was an artist herself, who was relatively young and she was the first who were, taught me stuff like how to hold a pen. Or just give us some, a bit of theory or just give me motivation. And that’s like really something a bit mind blowing that maybe it wasn’t bad, but nobody had connected, helped me connect the thoughts in my brain and the same thing is with queer friends and artists, or queer or not, because they just showed me world, or gave me tips or just were there and listened. Or said yo, your things look good. And yeah, as an artist, the worst thing is you’re your own worst critic, and this won’t stop. It only gets worse because you get to know, you get more skill and feel like you have more skills, so you want more out of what you’re working and. Yeah, it gets a lot.
D: A lot of times in the myth of an artist, they talk about the isolation being part of the process. Do you think coming up in this small town in Burgenland, do you think that that was somewhat what was necessary to sort of like create this like whole world of imagination?
A: Yes. Yeah, that goes for both worlds totally, because in the end, my art, like every art, your art is a manifestation of your mind. So it’s not only the crazy ideas, but also your past experience and trauma is certainly things that influence it. The best example for that would be one of the drawings I had an exhibition that was, Do the Evolution, which was like a rage drawing, you could say in which I, which I worked through my emotions I got while viewing a video about the Upstairs Bar, which was a queer bar in New Orleans which burned down in 1947. And yeah, and where they talked about, the YouTuber talked about the whole history of the bar, but also what happened and especially what happened afterwards because that was like the worst thing. Because, the media and the people around them just made the victims of this arson attack – I have to say it was an arson attack – made them their enemies because they got basically outed as queer and basically which, and the media and everybody basically wanted to start witch hunt about these deviants. And yeah, I worked this story in a painting with some other things. It’s called Do the Evolution because it’s also based on the Pearl Jam song Do the Evolution which is basically about man and humanity and how it has always consumed everything in its path, and also they have banger music video with a nice character, nice personification of death which I used. In the front of the, actually fireplace burning I used this personification of death from the music video, which is in an iconic pose which is doing finger guns, which is first reference to the video but also a bit of distraction because the character is queer, queer lions everything, while the burning of the building is bit more abstract. So you will look at the foreground, another in the background, which is also one thing and with this whole story was you could say. When the public turned to the victims because they were queer, they forgot the background for all this. What happened is because a drunk, possibly gay or closeted gay man and was kicked out and then set and then set the place on fire, and people died, people burned to the death or had to jump out of windows, of first floor windows to save themselves. So people, many wasn’t just like, oh, there’s a fire everybody got out now. Many people were hurt. Many people who had died, I think, let’s say many. And probably everybody and the whole community behind that, not only the people who were there at the moment, were probably traumatised for their whole life. So yeah, but this all in that moment in history it was all in the background because, ooh, look at these queers. We must, we must make it public and get them out of our society because they are queer.
D: How do you think that things have changed?
A: Things have changed, but I think especially in Austria or at least in the, or even the Western world, you could call it like that. Western societies. We are leaning too much on the laurels. We are saying, yeah, we are friends. You can marry. You don’t have to hide anymore. But then you look at what progress has been made in queer laws over the years because there’s, like this one group who, at least for the EU, makes an index and shows how much a country did for queer rights just with simple colours. And like in the year 2020, 2021, yeah, was last year, so it must have been the result of 2021. Montenegro did more for queer rights than most European states. Which is like absurd, especially if you have like some knowledge of the Balkans and so on. Like Austria, one law that I like to get out, or one fact is in Austria and you are legally protected based on your sexuality, so if somebody like hit you or would fire you because of your sexuality, then this would count as a hate crime. Which is good. But there are no such laws for gender. So what this means is not only that, because if you’re trans or something, like if you’re a woman, you go on the street, some guy knifes you because he hates women. That’s not a hate crime. That’s a stabbing, but not a hate crime, which means that the in the eyes of the law will go other ways. And you think also is a safe country for queers or general people who are marginalised in societies. So basically everybody who is not the cis white male. But no, it’s not, it’s yes, we did strides in the last year, in the last 30 years, but it’s not enough. We have to do, and the government hasn’t been helping like we saw with the Genderklage lawsuit recently. So yeah, I’m historically and politically interested, so I like to point at these facts and I get really worked up about these facts so. Yeah. At least two other pieces went into this.
D: That’s the horror elements of kind of like our existence right now. A little bit is that there’s always this undercurrent that things could go kind of, stuff could be wrong and there’s a limitation to what kind of legal cover we will be giving.
A: Yeah. Yeah. My father is from Zagreb. So he was 19 when he came from Croatia to Austria, not speaking a word of German. He had, he told me he had German in school. But everybody was like, what do I need that for? But yeah, I got basically Yugoslavian slash system-state collapse baked into my identity, into my own life. So yeah, like you said, it can get worse and most people don’t want to be too negative because there are still procedures in place that help, that the society doesn’t, or society, or at least the political landscape, doesn’t turn too sour. But, there are too many precedents, precedented cases in the last year. Like the gender lawsuit was result of the Supreme Court brief from 2017 in which said yes, not only inter people can say they are diverse or say their gender and stuff, we don’t have to choose between man and woman, and the Austrian state/the Ministry of Interior has basically ignored the Supreme Court brief. Till today, until a few months ago, up till a group of activists sued the state.
D: Based on that precedent.
A: Based on the precedent, because the state actively said ‘I’ve ignored it or said no’. So basically we had now six years of the Supreme Court brief that was actively ignored by the Ministry, or Ministries even. So that shows a bit, that’s like a strong precedent, I think, for both sides. Like it’s cool that the lawsuit was won in favour of the activist groups and I hope we will relatively soon see some bureaucratic changes. But it also shows that, how much basically those who are currently in these seats where they should actually do that, care or how much the Supreme Court has power at the moment. And I know it’s from country to country a bit different but I think in all, in Austria, you should at least think that if the Supreme Court says yo, that’s…
D: That’s what it is.
A: That is what it is that you should do it. Like, yeah, that’s, like, logical. The Supreme Court is there for key constitutional cases. And if in this case, it’s that your Constitution says it is, yeah.
D: One of the things that I’m very familiar with is that a law can say something, but for certain segments of the population there isn’t an equal treatment under the law, as the law is written. Specifically, within the American context, there were certain laws that were written with the understanding that certain populations would be excluded from the protections of that law. And that system was even codified into Jim Crow. You know.
A: Yes, I know. Yeah.
D: This is, this has happened and we saw this happen with women as a class, with people of colour as a class, black people specifically as a class, and so on. So now we’re seeing it in the Western context to happen with this concept of gender and also with the concept of sexuality that those people are being systemically excluded from protection under the law. And so we have this thing where we’re trying at least in some ways to get the law to say certain things that we need it to say. But at the crux of it, the law is only a piece of it, right? And you know that also coming from a small town in Burgenland, I mean the law is this abstract thing. What really matters is how are people going to treat you.
A: Yes, exactly because with the people, I just love the world from Orwell ‘all people are equal, but some are more equal’, which you can put on so many topics. And it’s just really good quote, also. Really like post material. So yeah, the law in effect, the law also reflects the ones, the people who are writing it, and in the longer sense the society. And maybe also the world does in theory, of course, some people who in power place of powers can decide to make a law that’s just favours some people. But in the end, the fact I think most politicians, at least in also in the European sense, are looking out for potential voters or potential financiers past, present, and future then like for their own power, power structure. Because we are thinking with the European Union, we have a bit too knit tight political system that you can just say yo, I am chief of police now and can do what, and what I want to say will be done. This in most European state is not that possible, or at least not like in a [wimp?]. So, in the end you have to get the voters on your side. But if they, but if society is already looking in, like in that way or things, it’s going that way, then you will be more, easier can get the words. So with Burgenland perspective, it’s a small town and I never fit in. My father and my mother also they do not fit in there, but through my grandma I get a bit of a vibe check for the village and like the whole thing with migrants and stuff is still relevant for them because they heard in corners that or from the cousin of a friend who’s married to the second sister of Dad and whom, that there have been again, like some people coming over the border and stuff. And like you, you have to be careful when you go out, or if you go walking around and stuff. So that’s not only what they think what it is, but it also reflects probably the broader society in which they live, because they are integrated parts of the village. They wouldn’t talk with people if they weren’t integrated in their society, because those who know better or think different will probably just say, I know better, I might say a bit, but I don’t want like, the whole village on my bad side because I still live here. Yeah, schau ma mal, in good Austrian sense, so yeah. I don’t know where I wanted to go, but yeah, society is pretty complicated, and even without social media you are in your own little bubble.
D: One of the things and I think we’ll kind of conclude with some of this is one of the things I wanted is to point out is I think a theme in your discussion and also in your work is the actual fragility of things that are seen by the larger society as extremely stable things. And it kind of came out to me when you were talking about your parents’ experience coming from Yugoslavia and having that baked into sort of your DNA. This idea that, you know a world could look like this and then on a dime it could just completely flip and not exist that way anymore. And it again popped up when you were talking about the EU, being almost like too big to fail, right? Like the idea that we’re so big, so safe and so tight knit that hopefully it’ll stick together. I mean, I think one thing that especially people in North America don’t fully understand is how much radical change Europe has gone through, Western Europe, has gone through in the last like, let’s say, 50 years, radical, radical change. And then there’s the radical change of your yourself as an individual. And then there’s this radical change that’s happening in your art. There’s this radical and somewhat catastrophic change in your inspiration with this like massive fire. How do you, what would be in your utopia? In your dreams? The radical change you wish to see?
A: It’s hard to say because like I’m testing political or social ideas and work, but like going from different angles. Like with more real politics standpoint, I really wish that also with Ukraine crisis, I think it’s getting in the right way again, that the EU stops its stagnation it had since the failure of the Amsterdam Protocols does something.
D: The Amsterdam Protocols?
A: The Amsterdam contracts. So around the time the former Eastern Bloc states came into EU, there was movements for next big contract that should bring EU further into a federal state. But it failed. It first failed in England and then that whole triggered a failure of ratification in multiple states, which then led to the Lisbon Agreement, which is a watered down version of that, and, in my opinion, from what I’ve seen with, it’s like the European after the failure. They didn’t do a lot of change, or more reacted to what happens instead of doing something for the future. And I really want, I only see increased wealth for the people in this current system if the EU gets federalized. Because nationalism is the crack of the people. I made this quote based on a saying from quote from Marx, who said once religion is the opium of the of the masses. Yes. And so nationalism is the crack of the masses because it sounds good, it’s like really cheap, but it will fuck you up so hard you will stab your neighbour for a quick buck. And you just look have to look at the 1930s/40s to see what nationalism. What happens. Yes. So yeah, I really think nationalism in current system, EU has a really good system. It has a lot of flaws, especially if you go like lobbyism and stuff, but it has the potential if enough people push that it gets more democratic and more federalized. Because I think democracy should, democracy should be for by the people, for the people, from the people. So the politicians aren’t just somebody who wants to be a politician, but somebody who wants to represent their people, be it their village, be it their district, be it their, be it their state.
D: Do you think it’s possible to be queer and apolitical?
A: No. No way. I’m sorry we don’t live in this world. We don’t live in this world. You can be cis male and apolitical because you have everything that you can want. You see how much privilege you have or how easy you have if you turn from cishet white person, to a queer person, or just change your whole society, your whole societal standing, you see it really, really fast how much of a privilege you had.
D: So how do we find you? How? Do we follow your work. How do we see your art? Of course I want some art that I could also like show people. That like, how would people go on to find you?
A: Sure. Yeah, yeah. So the fastest way would be to go to my card as a bloody card, which is Aureelian with EE dot card with double. How to write it? It’s like an external site with double R dotcom? No. Now I have a QR code on here, so let’s skip the, let’s skip just. Yes. Oh, really?
D: So its Aureelian. So AUREELIAN. And that’s the Instagram, that is the Youtube.
A: That’s the twitch. That’s the Etsy. And you find further links through there, yes.
D: Artist, content creator and travel logger. Creativeness, creative chaos.
A: Yes, I’m just a burning dumpster fire of creativity.
D: But I love it. And it was like such an inspirational and wonderful to, like, talk to you and have this like download of all of the things that you’ve been learning, and thinking about, it’s really important.
A: Yes, I hope it’s not too confusing for the listeners.
D: No, it’s not. I’m gonna edit this down to like 5 minutes.
A: Cool. Well, then you have to meet again for more 5 minutes. Yes. Yeah, you have enough words for me that you can cut it together and let me say anything you want.
D: OK, say The Queer Truth. What is your Queer Truth? I meant to start adding a question and I forgot to do it.
A: Ah so. Queer truth.
D: What is your Queer Truth?
A: Everybody, everybody’s queer.
D: Everybody is queer.
A: In any definition you want, yeah.
D: Everybody is queer. Thank you so much.