Amsterdam-based graphic design duo Pinar&Viola turn early-Web kitsch into of-the-moment “digital folk art.”
By Caitlin Smith
Remember the first time you logged onto the Web? These days, a significant number of artists are waxing nostalgic about their early days online by incorporating gaudy, old-school graphics from the late '90s in their designs. (Recent examples include green-screen masterpieces like Rihanna’s recent SNL performance of “Diamonds” and Azealia Banks’ “Atlantis” video, both of which are, essentially, circa-1997 screensavers come to life). Amsterdam-based graphic design team Pinar&Viola (Pinar Demirdag and Viola Renate) call this tongue-in-cheek aesthetic “digital folk art.” For their most recent collection, Scandal Aqua, the two screen-printed shots of a fictitious politician against a rich collage of über-girly imagery (hearts, yin-yangs, rainbows) onto beach towels. Pinar&Viola, who count Adidas and Diplo as clients, recently chatted with us about their fascination with the days of dial-up, the link between politicians and kitties, and how they’re like their grandmothers.
WHEN DID YOU TWO DECIDE TO COMBINE FORCES?
PINAR: We met at [Amsterdam’s] Sandberg Institute. We were enrolled in an intense two-year course on design and criticism. The first year we were too busy with ourselves, though. Sandberg is known to mess up the minds of students the first year—to make them lost in order to find a better purpose in their design work. It’s an intense course where the tutors push the students to become aware of their standing points as an artist and designer.
VIOLA: After our first year, we did a spontaneous collaboration and realized that we make a great team. That’s where our love story started.
HOW WOULD EACH OF YOU INDIVIDUALLY DESCRIBE YOUR AESTHETIC, AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM THE OTHER’S?
V: Before our collaboration, we both had a strong personal signature, which was distinctively different than each other. However, our work as Pinar&Viola is neither the sum nor the midway of our formal individual work. We’re both obsessed with paradoxes, ironies, resistances, and appropriations. After four years of excessive collaboration, our eyes see the same, we react the same, and we want the same. Now, in order to be time efficient, we sometimes design separately. But even then, we design like Pinar&Viola.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF THE INTERNET?
P: I was 12. After the Internet arrived at my house in Istanbul, when the computer was not in use, my father would secure the PC with a plastic cover and a lace doily as an extra protection layer. I was never allowed to touch the computer. I only got permission after systematically crying and making a scene for the first few months we had it. My father introduced me to the world of ICQ [instant messaging]. My screen name was Avocado.
V: My father is a computer freak. He made sure that our house was one of the first to get Internet in Holland. I remember him guiding me around on the mysterious World Wide Web. It was clear to me that something very special was happening on my screen. The first thing I entered in the search engine was alien, and the second was my own name. That was my first online narcissistic move.
WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PROCESS LIKE?
V: First, we start our research by reading, sketching, writing, scrolling through the Internet, and making very specific image collections. This visual inspiration is separated into different sections. We’ll make folders with images that have the colour scheme that we’re looking for. It’s like a mood board, but spread throughout multiple folders, which contain hundreds of images.
P: Once we’re settled with all the preparations, we start itching to create. We both work on separate files, then we meet and discuss what we’ve done. At a certain point, all sketches merge together. This process goes on and on, until we reach a result that gives us a certain attractive discomfort.
YOU’VE SAID THAT NONE OF THE GRAPHICS IN YOUR DESIGNS ARE USED RANDOMLY AND THAT THEY ALL RELATE TO A CENTRAL THEME. HOW DO HEARTS, GLITTER, AND KITTENS RELATE TO POLITICIANS, LIKE IN YOUR LATEST COLLECTION, SCANDAL AQUA?
Each of the towels has a different theme, which is expressed in different affairs blurring the line between politics and sexual encounters—foreign affairs, domestic affairs, sustainable affairs, urban affairs, and foreign affairs. The strength of our work lies in creating critical setups where two contradictory visual languages come together. Our hyper-detailed, folk-inspired graphics create a charismatic paradox with our digitally hand-crafted, overly ornate surfaces.
HOW EXACTLY WOULD YOU DEFINE “CONTEMPORARY DIGITAL FOLK ART”?
When we say “folk art,” we’re referring to amateur creations that add love and joy to our everyday lives. As ecstatic surface designers, aiming to encapsulate the contemporary culture in our work, we create a surface where the folk art of our generation is used as a means to create conceptual ornamentation. Like our grandmothers, we still believe that folk art brings joy to our lives, however we aim to use decoration in order to make critical visual narratives with a charismatic edge. We look at the window of our browser more than we look out our windows at home. The amateur creations of our generation happen on the Internet. Pre-social media, it was expressed with glitter, “Welcome to My Homepage ” buttons, “Thanks for the Add” GIFs. Later on—and still—it’s expressed with LOL cats, and now with Instagram filters. As Pinar&Viola, we’re compelled by both alternative and mainstream designs, making sure they distance themselves enough from the folk. We created a new visual language, whose beauty comes from its paradoxical nature, creating decadent surfaces, embracing form and content, folk and elite, kitsch and rich, conceptual and craftsman, haute couture and ready-to-wear.
Download Pinar&Viola’s new webcam app, The Panda Show (originally made as a “gift” for creative director and panda enthusiast Nicola Formichetti), which enables you to take self-portraits “wearing” a digital panda mask. DOWNLOAD HERE