Every day feels like it's bringing us closer to the end of the world, or at least ushering us into a new reality we don't yet understand. The future we expected—extraordinary immune systems, flying cars—never showed up. And now that we're here, looking around disappointed, it's hard not to wonder what comes next. How will we conceptualize race and gender and our bodies? Will we still be here? What happens after capitalism? The most impactful art has always raised these kinds of questions—from sculptor Cyrus Kabiru to the work of multidisciplinary artist Wangechi Mutu—and, even when it doesn't have the answers, it uses aesthetics to guide the conversation.
Such is the nature of the work of Pussykrew, a nomadic Polish art duo that has laid down roots across Europe and has spent the past few months working out of a studio in Shanghai, where they are presenting an exhibition based on 3D scanning. I first discovered their work via a video they created for Iranian-Dutch artist Sevdaliza; in the video, her icy voice is matched with a shiny world of Pussykrew's imagining. It felt like the future, but a future I'd never considered before, in which life and bodies and nature take on new forms. In the past, the duo has worked with artists like Kelela and Hannah Diamond, creating everything from live visuals to conceptual videos to 3D-printed projects that more closely resemble traditional art.
We recently caught up with Pussykrew's Tikul and mi$ gogo to find out more about their world-building work, the symbolism of liquids, and the increasing irrelevance of distinguishing between IRL and URL.
Your work exists somewhere in the intersection of technology and art. What does this mean to you?
Tikul: We always exist in a liminal state; we shift in between different platforms, such as club environments, film festivals, galleries, and tech fairs. We never wanted to limit ourselves to one area of expression. At the same time, we’ve never tried to focus on using technology in our work. It seems completely natural for us—digital tools are a big part of what we are.
Access to technology liberates us, gives us the freedom to realize ideas. Without the democratization of digital tools, we wouldn't be where we are now. The shift that happened in the last decade between art, technology, engineering, and science is the best thing that we could experience. It all became fluid. All these areas are overlapping and it is amazing that we can be part of it.
mi$ gogo: At this point we don’t really differentiate between [technology and art]. Sometimes we are reminded by our friends that we are still in the minority but at the same time we are searching for places where this kind of approach feels normal and ordinary. Maybe it comes from the early fascination with Donna Haraway and her Cyborg Manifesto or Marshall McLuhan. This kind of thinking is really close to inventing one's own future, rather than staying in technoregressive nostalgia.
I sense strands of technoutopianism, or at least world-building, in your work. How accurate is that assessment?
Tikul: We accept technological evolution as a whole, with all the flaws and positive and negative consequences that come with it. In our work, we tend to create the world where we would like to live in, or some kind of representation of it, filtered through current global events and daily inspirations. These expressions exist somewhere between utopian and dystopian realms—they cannot be easily classified. Dystopia is no longer as terrifying as it used to be. We are obsessed with the future and technological progress and how it could possibly connect to advancing our bodies as we know them.
mi$ gogo: Not sure if we are on the side of technoutopianism. I would rather place ourselves in between. We don’t have enough information to be sure what will happen in the future. I wouldn’t say the rise of machines would solve all of the issues but I am intrigued. If people fail, maybe machines will learn from our mistakes.
I think there is a kind of world-building atmosphere in our work but this is a different world that we see now. It is an alternative world inhabited by a different kind of living beings. I think in the beginning of our collaboration, we were coming from more or less queer backgrounds because we were searching for the way out from the impasse that is still happening between genders, communities, societies. However, gradually we shifted towards technology and augmented bodies because at this point we don’t think humanity is the last stadium of our evolutions and we are not afraid to see into the future and search for some other kind of species.
“We don’t think humanity is the last stadium of our evolutions and we are not afraid to see into the future and search for some other kind of species.”
You were living in Europe but are now based in Shanghai and have worked internationally. How does geography inform your process and your thinking about your art?
Tikul: Most of the time we are isolated in our studio in a working mode, so it doesn't really matter where we are. I guess we can work from any place in the world. We are not really bound to any particular geographical spot. Following [the notion of] “my home is where my hard drive is,” the ideal state for us is free fluid movement across countries and continents.
Every new place is giving us a lot of inspiration and we try to give back as much as we can. Wherever we are, we always get involved in local projects and activities. Asia is definitely more fascinating. We are inspired by the vibe and aesthetics of the big cities—fast pace and hi-tech architecture is something that keeps us going. Currently, we would rather find ourselves in metropolises such as Shanghai, Tokyo, or New York. Europe sometimes feels much slower and less “future” than Asia or the U.S. We are not really turned on by nostalgia.
mi$ gogo: I think we are really searching for places that would remind us of the future that never really happened. Maybe this is our nostalgia: lost future of the past. Shanghai might be too colorful at times but when it is foggy and rainy. I think it is the only place I have been so far that really is close to Blade Runner. The elevated road that runs through it and kilometers of skyscrapers are rarely to be found anywhere else.
We find new territories or subjects that we would like to research. Currently, we are longing for the future. It is mainly because of the current geopolitical situation which sometimes feels like armageddon being watched on a mobile phone screen. I think it can be also found in our older work B|W|R, where we wanted to create an image of demiurges who are watching the world burn.
How does the fluidity that comes across in your work, both literally and conceptually, represent your sociopolitical positions?
Tikul: Yes, we are fascinated by aesthetic qualities of fluid substances, as well as their symbolic possibilities. We tend to explore liquid states in relation to identity, technology, body, gender but also in connection with present international affairs and our complex omnipresent corporeality. These substances can have an erotic character, can represent a transformation into the new digital flesh. Some may perceive it as uncanny, dark, or toxic yet [they are] fascinating symbols of our inescapable superficial existence. These fluid substances are not synthetic nor organic—they’re both.
mi$ gogo: I think we would like the world to feel less binary and more fluid. Fascination with fluids started as an obsession with oil, a symbol of commodity that runs our world. Starting with the financial crisis where the prices of oil reached an all-time high and also the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe happened, which our work Deep Horizon was more or less direct answer to it.
I think fluids, which very often can be seen as sexual, also represent some kind of possession. Dark infiltrating substances that can alter one's existence. It is our take on horror sci-fi genres where the transition always happens by ingesting alien bodies. Again, I think we are really curious about how our bodies will change due to technological advancement—nanobiotechnologies, etc.
By virtue of its form, a lot of your work only exists digitally. Do you perceive that as a hindrance or an advantage?
Tikul: We wouldn’t differentiate IRL and URL. What we do often in our work is trying to blur the borders between “physical” and "digital." I think what we used to call “reality” and “digital” or “virtual reality” is now shifted. Both worlds are intertwined and it doesn’t make much sense to try to separate these two anymore. Existing daily and presenting the work in so-called “digital" environment is something natural for us and we do not see it as odd in any way.
mi$ gogo: I would only say that moving into the physical world brought some other logistical factors to our practice. For sure, being digital in connection to our lifestyle is easier and a little bit more convenient. However, like Tikul said, we don’t really differentiate between IRL and URL. I think we moved into 3D printing just to see if we can easily and seamlessly cross the border between the two worlds.
I think for somebody who has been working with physical mediums for most of the time or comes from a design perspective, our reasoning might not be fully understandable because at the end of the day our objects don’t have any functions other than “art” and can also be made using traditional techniques. I think even sometimes it can be assumed we are just hiding our lack of sculpting skills. But there’s nothing to hide—we are definitely not sculptors and we don't really see any reason why we should use more traditional tools to produce physical work. Using a 3D printer was for us something natural. I think we just wanted to test if our works can exist with the same impact in a physical space.
Ultimately, what, if anything, do you hope to communicate through your art?
Tikul: We try to communicate the fact that realizing ideas and expressing yourself is possible in any kind of circumstances. We want to inspire and motivate people to become more creatively active. Maybe this sounds a bit pathetic, but we see our actions and things we do in a wider perspective, as a part of some bigger movement. We like when things resonate and cause other things to happen.
From the conceptual side we usually touch similar topics in our work, related to body, technology, and transformation. Most of our works are really eye candy; we like to aestheticize every single element of it. A lot of it has to do with a complex idea of a destruction, apocalypse or post-apocalypse, or personal armageddon that can be seen as something intense and beautiful. On the other hand, there’s this utopian universe where man, nature, and machine are united.
mi$ gogo: I think what we try to do is to subjugate decay. It is just one of the ways to cope with problems that one cannot really find solutions for. We aestheticize destruction in search of a temporary state that would allow us to overcome the feeling of loss.