australian artist jonno revanche on conservatism and community
Using Tumblr and Twitter communities as a springboard for self-acceptance and creativity, Jonno Revanche has defied the norms of small rural Australia, to become a multi-disciplinary LGBTQ artist.
Growing up queer is rarely easy, but doing so against a backdrop of strict conservative values makes it all the more difficult. For Australian photographer Jonno Revanche, who grew up between Adelaide and rural Victoria, solace and support came in the form of the internet and social media. Stumbling upon examples of creative expression online unlike anything they'd ever seen before, Revanche slowly came to terms with their own identity. Using this to inform their creativity, Revanche now edits zines, curates exhibitions, pens passionate op-eds, and photographs the unique beauty of their friendship circle.
"Expressing myself creatively was something that I always saw as being pretty integral," Revanche says, "but there was always a huge gap between what I was capable and what I wanted to say — I didn't have any formal training in visual art or photography." Despite this lack of quantifiable tuition, a desire to spotlight individual expression permeates Revanche's imagery. We spoke to the young artist about community, conservatism, and the importance of creative expression in small, rural areas.
Can you tell us about general attitudes towards queerness in Australia?
Queerness goes against the very grain of Australian national identity; we value family units and this cartoonish, hegemonic ideal of masculinity. There are big groups of creative people operating in Melbourne and Sydney who get their own artist features in cool publications, but people who live in Adelaide or other regional locations are locked out and essentially humiliated. I feel the general attitude is that queer art is 'low-brow' or simple, stereotypical, and basic. If you venture into queer art you get categorized and reduced to a soundbite or tagline. I'm interested in offering opportunities to deconstruct that and explore a multiplicity of experience; I want to show how varied LGBTQ art is, and how varied the artists are.
Were your own experiences growing up largely negative as a queer Australian?
Growing up between Adelaide and rural Victoria gave me these secret understandings of two different worlds. I was a fly on the wall, misrepresented by boyhood and trying to digest the fact that the 'right' way to perform gender just wasn't for me. In both of these places the degradation of femme/queer people was common, and it operated in different ways in different places and contexts. My childhood also gave me an understanding of how gender and sexuality are uniquely contorted, bent, and subsequently defined by culture and subculture.
Has that changed?
It's not catastrophically bad. Luckily a lot of collectives have sprung up to challenge and resist discrimination — there are publications like Archer, Krass, Armed, Sleepover Club Initiative, Subbed In, Sweatshop and even collectives like WAR. I've been pretty lucky. I get published and compensated for my work regularly, although probably not enough. I actually don't have much to complain about and I am surrounded by beautiful people, but that doesn't mean I don't notice these systems and attitudes persisting.
How does your own identity tie into your work?
I think every artist is, in a sense, communicating with their own ego when they create. If I'm honest the foundations of my life, the things I've struggled with, things that have brought me joy, moments of vulnerability or disconnection, and the faces of the people I love all drive my photography. Visually, there is always going to be an opportunity to reveal something bizarre or unbelievable about a situation, so I'm really interested in honing in on that.
Other people fascinate me too; what are they doing to survive day to day, especially as queer people? How are they generating hope, self-satisfaction, and a sense of community? How are people learning to listen to their intuition and internal feelings? Perhaps these aren't immediately present in work, but they're certainly things which I think about. I'm a very sensitive person too, so I think that leaks into my creative process.
Why do you think a sense of community is so important for queer individuals in particular?
When you're being worn down by invisible forces designed to belittle queer people, community offers connection. It's clear to resist nuclear standards of family means to be denied safety, respect, and sometimes even money, and it alienates us. Connection quashes shame, self-doubt and self-hatred, and it protects us from the roving eye of the cis gaze — it normalizes our feelings and experiences and makes us realize we aren't alone. It counters the ostracism of a rigid, conservative, heterosexual world and I feel the camaraderie I have with my friends makes me understand that I'm deserving of love and respect. Still, I wouldn't say I'm fixated on any one queer community; a lot of the groups of people I'm surrounded by are queer, but we don't label our togetherness in that specific way.
How did you come to terms with accept your queerness in, what sounds like, quite a claustrophobic town? Were there any queer artists in particular that tapped into your own psyche?
I recently wrote about this, and it still feels poignant to say that online circles like Tumblr and Twitter were so integral to accepting my imperfections and — what society labelled as — my transgressions.
During this time I was so hungry for art that reflected this unique mix of confusion and excitement, so I started reading writers on Tumblr like the late Mark Aguhar, Allison Gallagher, Arabelle Sicardi, and Devan Diaz and even poets like Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Saeed Jones, and Richard Siken. I explored and admired the work of Juliana Huxtable, Boychild, and Clayton Pettet. I was so humbled by the maximalism and all-in attiude of these artists, so 2012 and 2013 were very expressive and theatrical for me! There weren't, however, many artists making work like that in my town. I basically just decided that was a change that I would have to make myself.
Your art is interdisciplinary, spanning zines and exhibitions — what is the common thread that unites your work?
When I work on other mediums I like to explore different things and feel like moods and vibes adapt differently to whatever practice I'm focusing on. I've always loved zines as a form of radical self-expression — self-publishing has such amazing potential. For that reason, issues of accessibility, openness, connectivity, and vulnerability are all essential to my work over various different formats.
Text Jake Hall
Photography Jonno Revanche