Pinar Yolacan has been an art-world wunderkind since the age of 16, when in 1997 her art was featured in the Turkish edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. Now 24, Yolacan has maintained that knack for generating buzz, thanks to her offbeat installations and photography.
The Turkish-born artist studied sculpture and fashion in London and New York and made a splash last December at the New Art Dealers Alliance Fair in Miami. There, her work caught the eye of powerhouse Portland collector Marjorie Myers, who arranged to curate a Yolacan show at Gallery 500 highlighting her unsettling portrait series Perishables. Yolacan recently spoke to WW by telephone from her studio in Brooklyn.
WW: Was it your background in fashion that inspired you to design these garments made out of raw meat?
Pinar Yolacan: I've always been interested in working with perishable organic materials. That's how I originally got into photography. I did sculptural installations using vegetables, and because they were perishable, I had to photograph them in order to document them.
Somebody told me you put out ads for your models on Craigslist.
It said, "Looking for WASP females, age 70-plus, to wear garments partially made of animal skin." I also ran ads in some newspapers and approached women on the street. After I cast the models, about 25 in all, I designed the garments. I'd go all over town to find the meat: Chinatown, Hispanic markets. I worked with the materials, played around with them, and did a lot of research on clothing styles, reading books and going to thrift stores. The style I was aiming for was Victorian, these drapes and puffy sleeves and ruffles. I sewed the garments together with fishing line, although with the pigskin, it was so thick and greasy, I had to just staple it with a huge stapler.
Did it gross you out at all, working with all that stuff?
No. I mean, it's not pleasant, obviously—the meat would start smelling, rotting, after I worked with it for about an hour—but it was part of my process. To me, skin and stomach and intestines are not really disgusting things. We eat this stuff, we have it inside ourselves. But I was concerned about how the models would react to it. Most of them were all right, but there were women who cursed me: "What the fuck is this?" The garments were very heavy and cold on the mornings of the photo shoots, because I had kept them in my cooler overnight. There was almost a sexual tension when this cold, damp animal skin touched the models' own skin. Tripe stays very cold on the body, although chicken skin warms up immediately, and cow stomachs get really hot.
Why was it important for you to work with women instead of men? And older women rather than younger ones?
Age is authority, and I wanted to present these women as imperial and iconic. There's nothing iconic about a 25-year-old. I also liked how the meat imitated the women's wrinkles. Afterwards, it occurred to me that the skins were imitating female genitalia, too. I had started this body of work in London, where they have the Queen and are much more comfortable with this idea of the imperial female. I'm not making some big feminist statement here, but when you think about the archetypal male in a position of authority, especially in the U.S., they're all aged men.
So have people reacted to this body of work differently in England than they have here?
I think so. A lot of the models I used here thought the project was about aging, that I was accentuating how ugly they'd become or something. In Europe people tend to view the models as regal. You know, in England, you look at the fruits and vegetables in the market, and they're more oddly shaped. Over here, the produce—and everything else—has to look big and beautiful and perfect. I watched that show, The Swan, a few times. They go in and pick these housewives and treat them as objects: Her tits are too small, her nose is too big…and they fix them with plastic surgery. I always thought they looked just fine at the beginning of the show and ugly at the end.
Perishables Gallery 500, 420 SW Washington St., Suite 500, 223-3951. March 2-31.