Digital artists Pinar Demirdag and Viola Renate like to play a game called who can come up with the weirdest idea? As Pinar & Viola, the Paris-based duo have created an online smoking room for virtual cigarette breaks, printed porcelain plates with portraits of a fictional polyamorous family, and sold bath towels featuring politicians disgraced in public sex scandals.
The designers’ computers play host to an image archive that could fill a museum. They’ve been building this collection of surprising visuals and innovative image-making techniques since 2009.
Each folder is a time capsule for a particular year, and they refer to this almanac of visual culture to predict what the future might look like (literally). “We forecast trends and visualise them in the form of artworks,” the duo explains.
The pair’s imagery combines digital painting, photography, netspeak and symbolism to create textile-inspired patterned collages. They present these as visual collections every year, like a fashion designer would release a new clothing range.
To create their digital renders, Pinar&Viola use Photoshop brushes and filters which they make themselves to avoid any of the generic options the program offers.
They also use obscure, amateur apps and web-based programs to create special touches and distortions. But their image-making process is secondary to the ideas that underpin it – “Strong conceptual content makes an image timeless,” they explain.
Pinar&Viola question the very notion of “good” and “bad” taste. They want to wake us up to the fact that through advertising and fashion imagery, brands dictate what we find desirable and dull our own capacity for choice.
“If you manage to decide what is good taste for you, by using your common sense and freedom of expression, you often are considered a rebel,” they say. “Bad taste is to be a slave to the system.” It’s no coincidence the duo use kitsch and camp aesthetics in defiance.
At a time where trends are reproduced at impossible speeds across the internet, Pinar&Viola have some advice for staying ahead of the curve – stay curious, and seek alternative sources of information. But most important is to know what defines the way you see the world, and work to counter that.
“We made it a sport and an art-form to overcome our prejudices, face our darknesses, and become better versions of ourselves. By getting rid of the mental clog, we create more space for our antennas to receive what’s next, and always stay relevant and sensitive to the contemporary.”
The last, and vital, ingredient to a Pinar&Viola image is something they call the “x-effect” – the hard-to-define but easy-to-recognize element that makes an image magnetic.
They liken the recipe for a successful image to a spell. Without the x-effect, all you have is herbs, essential oils and rose petals. It’s pleasant enough, but lacks the secret ingredient to make the magic happen.
“In each successful image, there must be this touch of discomfort,” they say. “You must not be able to place it in a glance. The same way its creator gave effort to make it, the viewer must devote attention to grasp it.”
Pinar & Viola’s 2017 visual collection was called Healing Prints which meditated on ecology and peace. “We studied different healing techniques and created positive appealing images to make people want to heal themselves, thus healing the other and eventually healing the messy situation on our planet.”
In one video, Mother Earth is imagined as an animated flower sharing her universal wisdom with the viewer: “If you feel you don’t fit in this world it is because you are here to help create a new one.”
The video was exhibited in Paris during the COP21 climate talks. It was also played on MTV as segments between programs. “We both love this juxtaposition,” Pinar&Viola say. “While the piece was being intellectually and artistically appreciated by Parisians, Mother Earth appears in between the music videos of Miley Cyrus and Drake asking, who are you when nobody is watching?”
The Healing Prints were further translated into a small fashion line carrying messages like "Mass Awareness" and "What you allow is what will continue." The duo uses fashion as a way to create conversations in everyday scenarios. “A garment covered in an unusual charismatic print becomes a topic of discussion,” they explain. “What billboards are for advertising, fashion is for us.”
Acknowledging that images have power to sell and to manipulate, Pinar&Viola aim – in all they do – to harness this power for good, and to promote new ways of being more healthy, constructive, inclusive and peaceful.
Their next collection Alternative Prints celebrates the alternative systems, people and communities working to make the world a better place.
“Our aim is to call for an awakening to the immediacy of a need for a drastic change in our unhealthy, unsustainable, exploitative consumerist patterns which are out of balance with the natural systems of the planet.”
Words by Alix-Rose Cowie