Q+A: Deniz Sağdıç, Artist
Deniz Sağdıç, a Turkish contemporary artist whose love for denim may just rival our own, sat down with us to chat personal aesthetic, first denim memories, and her latest project—which is prominently featured in our 15 Mercer, SoHo atelier.
Q: Tell us a bit about who you are and where you’re from.
DS: I was born in Mersin, a city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. I studied in the fine arts academy in Mersin and graduated with a degree. I moved to Istanbul, the art capital of Turkey to make it as an artist with just a backpack and very little money in my pocket. I’ve been a struggling artist for some time, working different jobs as a photographer, designer, and as part of a gallery’s production team. In 2006 I started my own studio and focused only on making art. Ever since it’s been a great ride.
Q: Sounds like it! Can you share your first memory with denim?
DS: The first story that made me realize how much I am in love with denim was when I was 13. I was obsessed with a pair of jeans that were a bit too expensive for my budget. I remember collecting my neighbor’s old jeans and making bags out of them so I could sell them and buy the jeans that I was dreaming of. Eventually, I bought them. I was so in love with my new jeans that I wore them until they were completely torn apart. At the time, ripped jeans weren’t a thing yet in Turkey but I remember trying to style them by adding some damages to them so that I could wear them longer.
Q: And how did that lead you to the Denim Skin Project? What was its catalyst? And what has the project become?
DS: About four years ago, I made a project called Ready Re-Made, with the intention of exploring items that have lost their relevance in the present day, such as old and outdated furniture, abandoned currencies, and cassettes of the 90s. I wanted to find ways to reconnect them to my audience—the people of the 2000’s. After Ready Re-Made, I was still in search of new materials to upcycle into art when I crossed paths with my now art director Selçuk Sepici. He had been working in the denim industry for 5 years and quit the industry to work with artists. Together we realized that denim is the perfect match for the next step of the project. The most fascinating thing about denim is that as a fabric, it already achieves what I have been trying to do with all the other materials during The Ready Re-Made era. Denim can constantly stay in sync with the present day and reinvent itself through time. While it has the ultimate feeling of nostalgia attached to it and an ongoing sense of belonging to what is pop; it continuously manages to play a leading role in the positive break-through moments in every single era. I think denim is the past, the present, and the future. So, eventually my journey with denim evolved into a separate project.
Q: When describing your project, you mention “denim represents values that are more ‘human’ than the human skin.” Can you please elaborate on what that means to you?
DS: Denim is a very strong symbol. By using denim in my pieces, I’m not only telling an artistic recycling story through a material; but it gives me the opportunity to include its very strong identity onto my pieces, as well as the values that denim has been representing throughout the decades. When Selçuk and I were talking about the statement we would like to make with The Denim Project, we realized that the best way to highlight it would be through a comparison with the human skin. We all are born with skin. It is one of the most human things we have. Nevertheless, in the world today, our very own skin is a tool for discrimination. On the other hand, denim, being a human-made material has been bringing people together for a very long time. People from different walks of life with different backgrounds all wear denim. In a way, it makes all the differences disappear and eliminates discrimination. Therefore, in today's world, denim represents values that are more “human” than the human skin itself.
Q: How would you compare the craftsmanship you use to create your pieces to that of making a pair of jeans?
DS: I basically reverse the manufacturing process of making a pair of jeans. After we collect the jeans, I detach all the parts of each denim before I start putting them back together on my pieces. I use around 180 jeans to complete one piece. I like using the same parts of garments on the same piece. I also use distressing, stitching and bleaching.
Q: When and where were you first introduced to 3x1?
DS: I came across 3x1 when I was doing research on the internet. I was immediately interested in the story of the brand. I hadn’t had the chance to visit the 3x1 atelier since I don’t live in New York City, but one of the first things I did when I traveled to NYC was go to the atelier.
Q: We’re so happy to hear that. Do you see your personal aesthetic and creative ethos aligned with 3x1’s? If so, can you speak more to that?
DS: I realized when I was at the store that the creative process of 3x1 is very very similar to mine when I am getting my hands on a new denim art piece. I also enjoyed how the atelier makes the process of turning the fabric into a garment more visible for everyone. I do workshops around the world to show people how denim turns into artwork and I think there is a certain magic in denim fabric turning into another form.
Q: Who are the people featured in your artwork? How do you select your subjects? Please tell us a bit about that process. Can you also elaborate on both of the pieces featured in the store?
DS: They are usually random people. They are nobody and simply everybody. The portraits represent feelings that everyone goes through on a daily basis through the expressions on their faces. Human contact starts with eyes and all my denim portraits are designed to make eye contact with the audience. The pieces featured in the store are mostly made with selvedge parts of the jeans. The people on the pieces don’t represent anything they are just like you and me, going through different feelings and the portraits featured in the store are like screenshots of their very-human emotional roller coasters.
Q: What is your favorite decade of denim? Is that ever represented in your work? If so, how?
DS: I think I would have to say all the transition points in denim history… I like the 50s when the denim was just starting to become a rebellious fashion item. I like the 60s when women started wearing denim and how it was an important part of the free love movement. I love how it became “designer” later in the 80s and grunge in the 90s and I like where it is headed right now. I am just in love with how it is constantly changing even though it always promotes the same beautiful things like equality. I always felt like I inherited all of denim's amazing history—and I've use that to tell my version of a similar story.
Q: Can you describe your personal style?
DS: I have been making portraits for over a decade now. I think the best way to convey people is by making portraits. The first story that needs to be told is the story of humans, later comes everything else. Additionally, I like using liquid forms to make a reference to the fluidity. I believe the portraits and the liquid forms have been at the core of my personal style since the beginning.
Q: 3x1 is based around the concept of “Made Here.” What does that mean to you?
DS: I think it is very exciting. When I was in the store I felt like I was in an artist studio because each jean made at 3x1 is unique, just like a form of art. As you can understand by now, buying a new pair of jeans is like marriage to me, so I agree with 3x1’s idea about how it should be a unique experience.