Pinar likes Viola, Viola likes Pinar, and together they are the cosmic sisters Pinar & Viola. They are digital craftswomen bringing their fantasy-like inner world to the real one. By expressing their critical standing point in a playful, visual way, it doesn’t feel like a moralistic boring lesson. Instead, their art will make you connect, reflect and make a sense of who you are within yourself and the society around you. Plus, their beautiful creations are as embellished as haute couture, not regarding fashion, but instead digital image making. Get to know these unique women and their work by reading the fun, genuine, sometimes deep and always intense conversation we had with Pinar Demirdag and Viola Renate.
Who is each of you individually?
Hi, this is Pinar, I like dogs and I like Viola. I’m a mix of three different countries: Turkish in blood, Canadian on paper and Dutch in mind. My biggest career goal is to get to know myself and have a healthy balance in this mind-body-soul triangle. Currently, I’m busy lifting the veil that I let the system impose on my personality and how I behave. Among all illusion, I find truth in the work I create with Viola. At the end of the day, other than love and nature, it is all an illusion. A large part of humanity is living in other people’s fantasies, which I do not agree with. Thus, I am creating a fantasyland with my cosmic sister. In that world, there is freedom, love, equality, peace and abundance.
I am Viola. Very grateful to create so much visual ecstasy with this beautiful sparkling Pinar for many years now. Besides being a digital image maker and digital painter, I’m making space jewellery. Yes, jewellery for physical spaces. They are hanging objects that look like 3D graffiti coming from the anarchist community of fairyland. That’s the best way I can describe them. For now, I’m just making them for myself and I made a few for some close friends, each of them crafted specifically for that person with a specific message for them. Each jewel sends out a particular message into the space. Besides their decorative effect, they are tools, they function as reminders and motivators. The space jewels are a new hobby of mine and it makes me feel like a kid again. I am very excited about this combination of digital craft and handcraft, it balances me.
You describe your design practice as “couture digitale”. What is it exactly about?
Well, it’s a made-up term combining couture and digitale. Oh, really? (laughs). ‘Couture’, as you know, is a reference to haute couture, and ‘digitale' is a reference to us as digital artists. We are digital craftswomen when we create, having the patience of an haute couture atelier worker while embellishing our digital artworks. So the idea is that our creations are like haute couture but in digital image making instead of fashion. Confusing, isn't it? I guess it’s time to drop that term.
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What about your regular workday? Is it possible for you to have one? If so, how is it?
Not really. Well, it was like that before. When we had five people working in our studio, our lives were pretty much regulated, yes. But now, I guess we are living the full package of the ‘life of an artist’. Waking up when we want, working when we are inspired, overworking day and night when necessary. Following what makes our heart beat. It’s a quarter past one after midday now, I came back home an hour ago after a wonderful evening, I’m writing this interview, and probably going to read my book under the sun in the afternoon. I guess tomorrow I’ll work the whole day, but not sure.
I’ve been reading about how clichés are essential in graphic communication, even though they are taken as derogatory in the literary context. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think you use clichés in your work? How?
These days, I’ve been following movie classes about the hidden language of cinema. The meaning of codes, signs, symbols, colours, the arrangement of the scenery, references and so on. The more I learn by watching the works of grandmasters, the more I understand that, in order to ‘convince’ the viewer, one can’t avoid using that language. Even the Wachowski sisters, makers of the new world, phenomena creators, breakers of all rules, still use these visual rules of cinema.
What I meant to say is that it is important to know about clichés yet not be their slave, and rather tame, master and morph them. If few clichés are part of your eclectic sauce, the viewer can recognise something of her or himself and create a base, like the mast of a sailing boat. As our works are filled with signs, symbols, icons and idols, and as it reflects what tomorrow will bring in a stylised visual fashion, these clichés differ from year to year.
From what I see, I think you use them as for selfies, netspeak words, Internet buttons, among other symbols of contemporary society. But you link different ones in order to create something unique and new.
Yes, Internet buttons were present quite a lot around 2011, as in that time, our mind was busy with creating a visual Internet folklore. We used them in the music video for Diplo. Actually, these buttons were just the side effect of a bigger picture. When it comes to selfies, around the same time in 2010, Apple introduced the first front-facing camera, and in 2011, the selfie Olympics began. The Pinar & Viola visual collection of 2012, Scandal Aqua, had a series of hot, sensual teenage girls sending their bathroom selfies to their politician idols.
That was the time we were truly fascinated by the rise of selfies and political sex scandals, two different things yet very much intertwined in the mediatisation of the self-image. Something as banal as a front-facing camera changed our relationship with how we capture a moment. From you to me, me, me. Honestly, as an image-maker, in 2011, there was nothing more interesting than the selfie. We used it in a few other works as well, then wrote two extensive articles about it for Dazed.
In your project I’ll Make You Feel Real, you created a website where the user can merge with an Internet art piece, very much like how Instagram filters work. But you transform this into something more meaningful by associating it with how today’s society can easily manipulate and design their ‘Internet persona’. What feeling did you want to evoke with that? Was it supposed to make him/her think, or just have fun?
The original work is created together with Ryder Ripps from OK Focus. Again, around 2011, we were simultaneously growing an interest in selfies. This brought us together, I guess. We decided to create something together. He was already working on a website where you could overlay graphics over your selfie ( Then, we created eight hyper embellished, optical illusion artworks that became a special feature of the website.
Later on, we decided to take this idea one step further. Behind our webcam overlays, we placed the selfies of these exceptional women who go by the name of ‘human Barbie dolls’, like Valeria Lukyanova, and created I’ll Make You Feel Real. These works are an expression of the intensely aestheticized reality we live in, where the material and outer world, and how we are perceived are considered to be more important than how we really feel.
So, you use beautiful images to first catch people’s attention, and then make them think?
Like all our work, this piece contains a critical standing point, although it is expressed in a sensually visual way. This way, it can generate sensations in the viewer that echo on their identity. Instead of giving a moralistic lecture, playfulness is our way to induce criticism to the other in order to make us all contemplate our often-automated action. When you think about it, no one wants to be criticised, we all prefer to discover things for ourselves. That is the reason why playfulness is the attractive wrapping paper for the awareness we’d like to give to the viewer.
You launch collections about the future of the image every year by using the power of fashion. How’s the process of creating those?
Fun, incredibly fun! It often starts with a stereo urge in both of us: Let’s make a new collection. Let’s dive deep in visuals, images, patterns, prints and research, test, try, invent, innovate. Delicious. Our visual collections are reflections of our inner selves. Two years ago, we devoted all our time to healing, self-healing and healing techniques, thus our collection had healing as the theme: healing oneself, the other, and the planet.
And for one year, we’ve been working on our next collection, Alternative Prints, which will celebrate alternative systems, people and communities working to lift the veil – the veil of the corrupt, unhealthy, unsustainable and exploitative systems in all areas of life. There is a clear road leading us towards much more free, open and transparent choices in all sectors.
Look at #MeToo in cinema, Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise in art, gun violence protests, etc.; people are fed up with being treated like idiots. These are all steps in the ladder of a paradigm shift in the collective consciousness. Old systems of governance and oppression, in politics, race and gender, are starting to weaken and no longer fit with the contemporary mindset.
“At the end of the day, other than love and nature, it is all an illusion. A large part of humanity is living in other people’s fantasies, which I do not agree with. Thus, I am creating a fantasyland with my cosmic sister.” Pinar Demirdag
So you’re using fashion as a political tool? Or is it because the times demand to be political?
Sorry, got carried away. Can’t help it. Anyways, yes. This paradigm shift in the collective consciousness is our theme this year. We are currently visually creating the world that people are campaigning for. As for fashion, it has been our favourite method of expression since the beginning. Fashion is pop, is now, is imminent. You like, you buy, you wear. Thus, it makes the weight of our critical works much lighter.
At the end of the day, through fashion, we are using our bodies as billboards to communicate our view of the world. When you wear a T-shirt that screams “mass awareness” with a character running away with the Earth in its hands, others can’t help but ask, “what the hell is this?” There goes the start of an interesting conversation.
That sounds intense and great. Can’t wait to actually see what’s coming. A collection that especially intrigued me was the 2016 one, Family Special. The subject was polyamory and, for it, you “crafted the family of your fantasies”. Could you tell us more about this family and collection?
We were first introduced to polyamory in 2013 by an American friend living in Miami. Pinar and Viola, we both have ‘open-minded’ written on our forehands, yet, still, we were surprised by the idea of how more than two people can be in a relationship with one another. A prejudice, there you go. We had to make a collection about this prejudice on how to love. The collection is a very interesting creation of fiction, reality and potentials. We imagined a family, a consensual love relationship between six adults and their four kids. We cast this family free from gender and colour biases.
In 2013, when you would search for polyamory on the Internet, you could only find very few examples and they would not be enough to inspire you to re-think your how-to-love prejudices. Out of the portrait of our healthy and wealthy polyamorous family, we painted porcelain plates, like in the old days. Our strategy in marketing polyamory was to use the visual codes with which extremely wealthy families are depicted. The collective looks up to them, as they are idolized by the materialist and consumerist system. We wanted to create an alternative idol, a family that is not only rich in wealth but also rich in love and diversity.
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I think this is great. And I’d say you organised a very special launch, am I right?
Yes. We created a super intimate setting exactly the way we wanted it. Personalized intimacy is also what polyamorous families and couples choose for themselves: the creation of your family in your very own way, without restrictions and limitations opposed to societal expectations; choosing with all freedom to love and trust. We worked out every detail of the marriage ceremony, how it was shaped and styled.
The visuals and real life merged together that day of love celebration. It was our way to give an alternative narrative to the viewer: a desirable family of polyamory given in a charismatic visual form. We want to think that attending the love ceremony of three people, in opposition to the two people that society is used to, opened up new doors in the visitors’ minds about how to love.
And how do these collections complement your client work? Even though you have a lot of personal projects, you’ve also worked for big brands like Ikea and MTV. What are the biggest differences between working on these big projects and the ones that are all yours?
There is no difference in quality between our client and personal works. We put the same attention, love and effort in both. However, from a problem-solving perspective, with client work, we are solving their problem, yet in our collections, we are creating visually attractive alternative perspectives to current socio-cultural problems. We create new perspectives that are out of the box, yet due to their joyous and attractive expression, everyone can still relate to them.
With client work, at the end of the day, we are creating artistic expressions that inspire people, but the client’s aim is to sell their product. Fair enough, we all do. However, the end goal of our visual collections is not to sell fashion or technology. Yet we are using garments and technology in order to convey our messages. I think this freedom of artistic expression is what attracts these big clients; they want us to approach their brand identity and their products with the same artistic freedom.
When it comes to the collection you’ve made for Ikea, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
The same challenge in all our collections and assignments: inventing a new visual language. In this case, we had to come up with something very Ikea and very Pinar & Viola at the same time. So fun! We created a visual language that was inclusive and filled with joy because we had to please people from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, aged between seven and seventy.
The star of the collection was an alien under which we are all strangers, and it was accompanied by sweet friends; we created a forest of mythical creatures to which both children and adults from different cultures could relate, as well as embrace. If you are Ikea, you are the whole world’s friend, meaning that you can’t offend anyone neither talk about politics or religion. So had to be very careful when creating graphics that anyone could embrace, since our worlds are filled with symbols.
How’s the relationship you want to convey between the avatars you create – as in Mother Earth in Paris and Made You Come Here – and the viewers? What do they signify? For me, those are the most impressive of your work. Even though they feel awkward at first, they are so powerful and feel so intimate as if those beings are real and actually talk to us.
Thank you, this is so nice to hear. All our creations are the result of our never-ending search for visualizing the magic and the mysteries of our existence, yet in these two videos you mention, indeed, among all our works, this quest is the most present. The reason we create these avatars is animism, which is a recurring topic in our works. We are avid believers that objects do also have a soul.
That’s why we are personifying nature spirits or these invisible entities on garments, patterns and videos, in order to make people empathise and relate to things in a way they never thought they could relate to. Messages of how everything is interconnected and how we are part of a bigger organism rather than a suppressed individualistic system is always present in our work, sometimes more obviously, sometimes very subtly.
What excites you the most on the progression of technologies? Do you look forward to going beyond the screen and using technologies like 3D printing or virtual reality?
We do, of course. Always. We are not shying away from novelties, in contrast, we’re seeing them as new surfaces, mediums to convey our universal messages. We are learning, adapting and developing simultaneously. Actually, as part of our next collection, Alternative Prints, we are going to have a virtual reality project. When it comes to 3D printing, it has been on our to-do list for a while. I bet the right opportunity will come up very soon.
Which does interest you the most, the real world or the virtual one? Why?
We are most interested in our inner world. The world without names and without limits. That world we give shape in images and virtual experiences. Since the beginning of our collaboration, we have augmented that ‘invisible’ reality with visuals.
Do you think activist design is becoming a trend? Do you see it as something good or bad?
Yes, it did become a trend. There are several instances where this can be pinned, but the most obvious is the awkward Kendall’s Pepsi commercial. We don’t see it as something bad, at least the biggest part of it is good. Because there is so much bullshit out there that needs to change, it is good to use all these platforms to spread messages of justice. We witness people choosing love and compassion more and more. Making activism a trend is a proof that people are taking the power back in their hands. This is how a truly fundamental change can be created, from the grassroots, piano piano.
Last but not least, what are your plans for the future?
Get married and become a housewife in Los Angeles. Kidding. Well, not really. This has always been our plan B in the case of people stop getting what we do. Other than that, we are extensively working on our next collection, Alternative Prints, as we mentioned before. Plus, we’re having super cool collaborations coming out. Sorry for not being able to disclose with whom yet!
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