Garden of Celebration, launched by Auckland dance group Jang Huddle in collaboration with a number of talented artists, is an experimental day of celebration including workshops, exhibitions, and performances. Taking place on Saturday 19 October from 2pm until late at Raynham Park, the event features artists including: Hans, Imugi, Tei, Alexa Casino, Lion Dixon, Bb girl, Cindy Jang, KC, and more. Their mission is to create a platform for minority groups in Aotearoa to share their stories and their experiences in a safe and welcoming environment. They will be sowing seeds of change, acceptance and understanding with this community-focused event.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Lin
After frantically trying to find an open café in the Auckland CBD on a Sunday afternoon, Kriti Mehta and Janna Tay sat down with Brandon Lin who is exhibiting at Garden of Celebration. A 22-year-old UX designer, he was born and raised in Auckland and is of mixed Thai and Taiwanese heritage. In his personal time he works on a bi-annual self-published zine titled, ‘Homo’, which is a diary, time capsule, and a collection of thoughts all in one. In an honest and insightful interview, he shared with us his thoughts on design, the origins of ‘Homo’, and his experiences as a gay Asian man.
The career stereotypes in Asian families are well-worn, but Brandon’s choice of career is more traditional in his context than anything else. When we ask him how he came to study design, he cites a good friend of his at high school who introduced him to Photoshop. But as he reflects, he describes how each of his family is connected to art. His parents went to art school; his grandfather is a painter. “All my family did [art school], and they told me not to do it. Then I did it and they were disappointed, but later they were like yes! You’re really good at this.”
He studied Communication Design at AUT with a focus on UX/UI and designing for screens. User experience, he explains, concerns how humans interact with screens and devices. It’s the human aspect of this that he finds fascinating — UX design gets at human thinking and psychology. “You think you know humans, but then you get to understand the thinking behind why they do what they do. Even the way that humans interact on the digital world is very similar to how they would interact in the real world. You’d be surprised to see how many similarities there are, besides it being a different world; your whole world is in your hands on a screen.” Although less than a decade old, the field grows bigger every year. And understandably so, as technology continues to explode in growth and we are ever more tied to the digital world. Popular apps, Brandon explains, look very similar. That’s because humans experience decision fatigue — we don’t want to have to learn a new app interface all over again.
As Brandon puts it, the work he does in UX is “user-friendly”. But in his person work, he wants to be “user-hostile”. While he has to edit himself to be palatable in the real world, in polite society, when he creates art he does it for himself and not for anyone else. Thus, his zine ‘Homo’ was born. It began as a school project that came out of the peaks and troughs of depression. A “letter to my exes”, as he describes it, it became like a diary that documented experiences, how to navigate family and friends, heritage, and gay culture. He never meant to show it to anyone else, and only lecturers saw the different iterations of the zine. But what made him decide to go public? “I had to pass my paper!” He explains that UX is very digital, and what he wanted to do was to combine branding and marketing with UX. He made a café and community in which the brand was centred around UX and was a gay safe space for people to also display artwork. As a demonstration, he displayed Issue 5 of ‘Homo’. He printed 150 copies and gave them away for free. And it has been strange at times for him to see people connecting with all of these past versions of himself, particularly as time moves on but the zine immortalises his thoughts and emotions at the time of writing. “After I write it and put it out into the world, I don’t feel the same pain that I did when I was writing it. And writing it is hard — it is really hard to write.”
He’s unsure if this is a one-off occurrence or if he’ll display other parts of his work in the future. The main drive behind making the zine, besides getting that degree, has been catharsis. So often we are unable to say what we want to say to the people we want to say them to. ‘Homo’ is built from those words. But that catharsis is lost, or at the very least changed, when there are readers to think about and the general public to remember, particularly as he has to be more careful in portraying his exes. Unusually for the zine, the people on whom issues 6 and 7 are about will know that Brandon is writing about them. These are also the first issues in which Brandon has edited the writing before leaving it on the page — in the past, he made the decision to leave all of his writing untouched. While it has led to self-editing, much of what Brandon would have put in anyway has made it into the zine. “Again, it’s about not being palatable!”
Issue 6 and 7 are what he’s exhibiting at Garden of Celebration, which he got involved with through uni friends. Organised by Cindy Jang who heads Auckland dance group Jang Huddle, the event centres on people of colour. We ask about whether he feels connected to the Asian arts scene in Auckland, but he says he’s not very connected to either the Asian arts or gay scene. For him, it’s been a personal thing — most of his friends are already Asian so he’s never felt the need to seek out likeness in the art scene because his art has always been incredibly personal, and he’d never been comfortable with sharing it. And particularly with the Asian art scene being so focused on culture, as a gay Kiwi Asian man he’s never fit into any one place. Perhaps that’s why it’s so fitting that he’s exhibiting in an event that features a whole range of identities. The overall vision of Garden of Celebration is to start an arts collective that goes beyond the event, though it is their hope that the event will continue to be a regular thing and that its reach will grow.
When asked about his inspirations and obsessions, Brandon expresses that he is inspired and driven by his own emotional journey. He questions what he is trying to achieve with his art and comes to the conclusion that it was most likely a call for help. ‘Homo’ is a complete contrast to his day job in which he creates for mass consumption — this part of creative life is very personal and confidential for him. “One thing I toss up is whether I show this to family and friends.” In his project, ‘Together Alone’, Brandon wrote a set of 20 postcards in which he told his dad everything and would give it to him, but in the end he decided against it. Reluctance to show it to his family and friends arose from his fear that they may not understand.
He contrasts his straight friends’ dating experiences with his own, particularly when it comes to finding connection in such a small pool and being able to process trauma together in a healthy way. “Straight people may see these are red flags, but to us it’s normal. When you find someone you can relate to, it’s easier to open up about these things that other people may not have experienced. People always ask me why I always date white guys, but they don’t actually understand how small the pool is for us to choose from.” He has always felt external pressure to feel bad about the relationships he’s been in due to the disconnect between his friends and their understanding of gay culture. Never feeling close to the Auckland gay scene, as most of his friends are straight and Asian, these zines often feel like the only thing which tether him to the gay community.
What’s next? He wants to learn more in all areas of life, but he’d also like to continue ‘Homo’. “Now that I’ve started it, I can’t imagine processing those emotions in any other way.” It’s such a huge part of who he is. He’d like to have a library of his own journey and have something to look back on and to document and understand what he was going through at the time. “Sometimes I feel the anger again and I relive that entire story, so it’s interesting that it’s cathartic but I go back into it and get fucked up again.” Alongside this personal journey he’s also keen to continue being involved with collectives and events like Garden of Celebration in a marketing and event organisation capacity. In a world where so much art is produced for an audience and to be consumed, ‘Homo’ stands as a reminder of what art can do for the self in catharsis and reflection.
Don’t miss Issues 6 and 7 of ‘Homo’ by Brandon Lin and so much more at Garden of Celebration on Saturday 19 October!