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 in 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
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
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
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
Originally published on