Pussykrew is a new media duo consisting of the multi-disciplinary digital artists Tikul and mi$ gogo. Originally from Poland, the two met while studying in Dublin and since then they have blazed a trail across the world creating groundbreaking, mind-melting work. Each piece overwhelms the eyes with intense, addictive richness and hyperreal detail.
Despite the gleaming perfection of their art there is something truly anarchic about Pussykrew’s opulent visions, which is no surprise given the artists’ sci-fi influences and the self-taught, DIY ethos they developed growing up in Poland. Sometimes things aren’t always what they appear to be: a rich seam of dystopian darkness might be lurking just beneath the liquid, glossy, golden surfaces. Their distinctive aesthetic has been in constant demand since winning the “Artist of the Year” award at London’s 3D Print Show in 2014, and while they have already achieved a great deal, it feels like Pussykrew are only gaining momentum.
Following a recent, productive stay in Shanghai, they now find themselves in Los Angeles. I caught up with them to talk about their formative years in rural Poland, the privilege and luxury of technology, and their sci-fi inspirations.
All images courtesy of Pussykrew
Christian Petersen: When did you meet and why did you start working together?
Tikul: It was over a decade ago. It seems so surreal but we are still here combining our creative forces. We met for the first time at the breakcore party in Dublin and then again at a short film festival where we got introduced through our mutual friend. We became friends and soul mates and then lovers and collaborators. We always had a great connection and shared many inspirations. Our very first conversation included discussing photo shoots from the polish magazine FLUID and Natacha Merritt’s Digital Diaries, but it was not that obvious that we were going to collaborate. We never actually planned to work together, it just happened spontaneously when we were working on a short film in Dublin and gradually we dived into more serious collaborative experiences and the number of projects we were doing started to increase. We’ve been working together and traveling the world ever since under the Pussykrew alias and it feels like our fruitful collaboration is still driving us.
CP: How did you become interested in using computers to make art?
Tikul: We both “converted” from analogue to digital. We experienced the shift and the rise of so-called “new media.” When I was young I was mainly into drawing and painting, I never had a proper computer or any access to digital tools until I left my home and started to become independent in my early twenties. During my BA studies in Poland (I was studying fashion design and fine arts) I started to get interested in digital media when it was fairly “new” and started following sound and visual artists that were using digitally oriented tools. I realized that I was interested in many aspects of art and creative practice outside of the fashion design bubble. At that time I didn’t have a chance to create any serious projects as I didn’t really have an environment that would encourage me and offer any extensive possibilities. After graduating, when I moved to Dublin, I did a short “new media” course but it was more oriented towards graphic and web design. I could grasp it more seriously when we both moved to Newcastle to study digital media at Newcastle University in 2009. I got introduced to a whole spectrum of inspiring tools like physical computing, visual programming, and many other areas of digital media that later affected my work in Pussykrew. We never took a 3D/CGI course though—we are both self-taught. I have this super curious nature that makes me want to try everything that I can reach out to. I like to evolve and constantly try out new stuff; most of the time I feel like I’m really limited by the existing material conditions.
mi$ gogo: When I was, like, six or seven I got my first computer which was Amiga 500 with a 1MB RAM extension. I was mainly playing Giana Sisters but had one program for animation. At that time I had problems understanding the principle of keyframes so I got discouraged. I grew up in a small village and there wasn’t really an infrastructure or anybody who could help in developing my interests. Also all the software was in English, which was another obstacle for somebody who was just starting primary school. At that time many of my friends, or their parents, were getting PCs. So if somebody got a more powerful machine we would hang out at their place playing Prince of Persia or eventually Duke Nukem. Since I was small I wanted escape from the valley I was living in. I was reading a lot of gaming magazines, watching movies, and listening to techno (through watching Demoscene productions) when I was pretty small. I think it was all a bizarre mixture at that time. I remember reading about Ghost in the Shell when I was ten and seeing it later in somebody’s house who had got a copy on VHS.
“...technology always had that feeling of liberation and a possible better future. A future somewhere else other than my hometown.”
All in all I wasn’t lucky with computers. I got my first PC when I was 12 but it broke down pretty quickly; I got my first laptop when I was 19. At high school I was mainly using other people’s computers or just using internet cafes. I edited my first videos on two VHS decks with an Amiga 500 connected to an analogue mixer. I remember once I edited video on my dad’s laptop but it didn’t have CD burner so I had to do a cam version of my edit and record it to VHS tape and send that to festivals. I got my first digital camera when I was close to 18 but nobody had a computer with firewire so it was only possible to digitize everything via USB and edit on friends’ computers.
I think shortly before I moved out from my parents’ house my younger brother got his first PC which helped a lot because it actually had a firewire card and I could install a cracked version of Adobe Premiere 6.5. Then me and my friend made our first music video, which is still somewhere online. Basically, technology always had that feeling of liberation and a possible better future. A future somewhere else other than my hometown, which was pretty grim for somebody who couldn’t really fit in. When I was going to high school there was a huge wave of skinheads flooding the city due to football team advancements in the league so it was easy to be harassed. The only window to the world was really the internet cafes.
CP: When and why did you first start experimenting with 3D?
Tikul: When we were at university we’d been shooting a lot of live action on video as we had access to some good equipment. At that time we did some work that combined 3D and live action for a small video installation. We’d also been experimenting with interactive 3D graphics and visual programming for live visual performances. We were both always fascinated by serious video art, framing skills, tight editing, and cinematic artistry—making each video still look epic, whether 3D or live action film.
We started our 3D adventure properly when we moved to Berlin. We produced CGI visuals at the Berlin Music Week in 2012 and then a video mapping installation at Platoon Kunsthalle. This switch was mostly caused by the boredom of using cameras and getting inspired by 3D tools. We felt quite limited doing DIY live action pieces. 3D gave us more possibilities in terms of constructing the scenes and the aesthetic, but we wanted to keep our passion for conceptual art and cinematic film work in the CGI environment. In a way, we wanted to combine these aspects. I think at that time more people started to play around with 3D; it simply became more accessible.
mi$ gogo: There were a couple factors—we got desktop computers which could render slowly but still faster than our laptops; we didn’t have easy access to resources like camera gear nor studios and we were always experimenting with graphics for live performances. To be honest, it was much easier for us to produce 3D content than anything else at that time so we dived into it.
CP: How did growing up in Poland influence your creative philosophy and aesthetics?
Tikul: I never really started to properly create in Poland. I was not really connected to any digital media scene and I don’t really think a serious new media scene existed there at that time, it was more dispersed through different creative communities. I existed more within several communities of friends that were making visual art and music and were super into art house cinema and independent film. When I was studying in Dublin there was a nice community of people, from several media departments, that dealt with digital media and other disciplines. I remember experiencing my first digital media exhibitions there. Right now the digital landscape in Poland is much more interesting and offers more possibilities. More people are exploring digital tools but the character of it is a bit different than the scene in the US for example.
I think growing up in Poland was okay, but it never gave me extensive creative perspectives at that time. We are both from small towns. We were raised in an environment that could not offer us a lot and was a bit harsh. We both felt limited in terms of creative possibilities. That’s why we probably both decided to travel to explore some other places and follow the creative path and build the possibilities that we were missing.
“We were raised with a DIY ethos. Sometimes people get more creative when they face limitations.”
I am glad I was born in Eastern Europe though. It has that specific edge, roughness, depth, and some kind of melancholy and omnipresent decadence that comes from a complex history. Amongst creative communities in Poland there has always been an intense emphasis on intellectual values, knowledge, individuality, serious critical contemporary art, art history, and philosophy, which I don’t follow completely but I consider it a very good base for creative work. It was a bit like the opposite of the very “western” type of vibe. We were raised with a DIY ethos. Sometimes people get more creative when they face limitations. I think all these experiences are visible in our works, even subconsciously.
Mi$ gogo: From what I remember there was a community growing mainly from academia: teachers who were coming from a video art background and students, like me, who wanted new tools and new possibilities. It was a small scene but everyone knew each other. I think “interactive” was a big word back then. There was a Macromedia Director, Adobe GoLive, early Flash, Max/MSP/Jitter, Pure Data. Who remembers interactive QuickTime movies or QuickTime VR photo stitching?
CP: You were recently in Shanghai and you’re now in Los Angeles. How has traveling specifically influenced your work?
Tikul: It just happened that we changed our living environment quite often. Most of the time it happens quite spontaneously and it’s related to our projects, work, or studies. Moving around also generates a lot of challenges but we’ve learned to face them. We gained a lot of skills through the years, on how to organize the move, get rid of our belongings, and how to travel with one suitcase. (It’s funny when I think about my first move to Dublin, with basically one backpack and no funds—it still kinda happens.)
We are constantly shifting and trying to live our “physical lives” without boundaries, keep it as fluid as possible with no bonds to any particular place. I never wanted to settle and always dreamed of being a nomad, to be able to change my surroundings often. A permanent, stable lifestyle routine always scared me. Having a working studio and equipment to work on is cool—this is probably the only thing I need. We’ve lived in many different places around Europe, and recently in Asia. I don’t think any particular physical space affects our work, as we are mostly living online.
Shanghai is visually amazing. Some of the areas with the hi-rise-crazy architecture, feels like the city of the future. It’s a huge, extremely busy metropolis. We love this aesthetic. LA seems totally opposite: slow, relaxed, like an eternal summer spa full of nostalgia over the 60s, a weird vintage vibe, soothing landscapes, and lots of gloom in between these glossy hills and dark skid rows. Despite its light summery vibe, LA seems quite dark. The contrasts that we see on a daily basis are shocking. It is also full of great possibilities and has amazing networks of interesting people, visual artists, filmmakers, technologists. Accessibility to creative options (and to the internet) is more open.
“...many things are simply not accessible for many talented artists out there...Making art can be a luxury.”
Mi$ gogo: I think at this point we live totally online and our physical presence just determines how well organized we are in terms of logistics and project production. Other than that, for many years our main place of inspiration is the internet. If it were up to us we would just do everything over the web. However, in some instances other people need our IRL presence.
CP: Do you ever feel limited by the technology you use to create your art?
Tikul: Yes, all the time. Every time we try to create something we try to raise the level and produce a more complex work than the previous one. And working within the technology field is very much related to the amount of money and resources you have and access to the latest devices. I’m not saying that only resources define creative work but sadly, in this field, it is an important factor that helps to achieve creative freedom. We are aware of the possibilities out there and usually we are upset because we do not have access to the latest gadgets, and better software and hardware possibilities that would greatly improve our work. It’s a constant struggle, trying to figure out the balance between the quality of the outcome and available resources. We both usually feel disappointed with our own creations, yet in this case being critical towards each other is quite motivating. It can be used to drive you to make better work.
Probably most of our peers are not aware that our projects are made in quite extreme conditions. They are brought to life only through our determination, sacrifices, and hard work. That would not be possible in any other time and space. Like I said before, sometimes limitations make you more creative and inventive. We really value the experience, learning curves, and DIY skills over anything else.
I actually feel like using technology and having access to all these great shiny new tools is a huge privilege. Some people take it for granted; they seem to not understand that many things are simply not accessible for many talented artists out there, who don't really have a lot of backup and are being swamped by harsh realities and cannot even afford the equipment or education. Working with technology costs money and requires a certain framework. Making art can be a luxury.
CP: Are there specific things from the sci-fi genre that have have informed your work?
Tikul: We both grew up in the 90s, films and music from that period had a great influence on our future work: the early days of cyberpunk, rave culture, techno, hardcore punk, internet exchange, brutalist and hi-tech architecture. Movies such as Blade Runner, Strange Days, Videodrome, Tetsuo, B-movies, and a big bunch of Japanese and French art house cinema. Also, experimental fashion, music videos, pop-culture, and technology. All these elements mixed together definitely shaped our sensitivity and are probably still subconsciously appearing in our work. This is also what connected us and made our collaboration stronger.
I think we are both really fascinated with the future and curious of it, especially the technological aspect. We also have this acceptance of wherever it will take us, which most people don’t have.
Mi$ gogo: I think sci-fi informed my life. There is nothing else I was drawn to that much, so I think it is quite natural that it is visible in our artwork. Starting with early, gory Cronenberg films, Robocop, and Terminator. Alien was one of the first sci-fi movies I ever saw—I was maybe five. I remember my parents were always hiding VHS tapes of movies I shouldn’t watch but the next day when they were at work I was always finding them and watching them alone. They were often dubbed in German or ripped from foreign channels via satellite dish. I was reading gaming magazines where there were pages dedicated to anime and cyberpunk. I remember during the first wave of VR, in the town where my grandparents lived, there was a place where you could put on a helmet and play Wolfenstein or Duke Nukem and it totally looked like it was from Lawnmower Man. I think I was quite scared because I really thought I would be sucked inside or that I would feel the pain because of the in-game injuries.
Also as a kid I was blown away by the ReBoot TV series, which was so futuristic in 1995. It’s just funny that all of these experiences form an image of the future from the past. Without the internet it would not have been possible for me to be exposed to all of this. Watching a progress bar of loading websites with 10kb/s and reading about Oval’s experiments with glitching CDs, insect music done by Autechre, or Pan Sonic building their own instruments. For me it was always part of the future world and I was just curious about what might be ahead of us.
CP: How do you think your work has evolved?
Tikul: I feel that although our reach, tools, and possibilities shift and change, our projects evolve and become more complex and richer. But our worldview, approach, and the concepts behind our work stay similar. I’m not sure if this is visible for everyone else who is watching our work. People sometimes get confused by the broad spectrum of it, but for me it is quite clear. I can see our practice as a bigger, interconnected network and a mesh of occurrences focused around similar themes. Themes like gender fluidity, synthetic-organic mutated bodily landscapes, destruction/deconstruction, post-apocalyptic doom, aestheticized sci-fi tech utopias, sensuality, sexuality, liquid substances, and concrete nature.
CP: Why do you think there is a rapidly growing intersection between new media art and feminism?
Tikul: Along with the democratization of technologies we see more communities embracing digital arts and another wave of cyberfeminism. The internet and digital tools can be seen as a utopian environment that gives you freedom from social constructs such as gender. Technology can be used as a vehicle for the dissolution of sex and gender as well as a means to link the body with machines.
Many women (including myself) see the internet as a liberating, vital space for sharing online resources, learning new media tools, and then using the technology to gain power in contemporary society. I believe empowerment for women can also be achieved through the knowledge of new-media technologies, at the same time creating more opportunities within that community.
It’s a bit disappointing that the space in media (as well as new media) is mostly occupied by western, white, upper and middleclass artists. Feminism cannot be defined by one perspective. There is certain lack of understanding of what issues other women have to face on a daily basis. Hopefully this dialogue can also include more discussion about the existing systems of discrimination and computing technologies, so that other marginalized groups can become part of it. By being more technologically proficient, we are able to engage with the existing institutions and challenge these systems.
I wish there were more role models from the tech-art scene in the mainstream media. There should be more open and accessible inter-media spaces that would encourage ladies from any community to explore technology and its creative possibilities.
We run an online magazine, so of course, we're interested in what's happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he'll be selecting a Web Artist of the Week.
(All images: Courtesy of Pussykrew)