Monday, 5:29am
22 October 2012

That (postmodern) design smell?

Graphic design Wunderkinder M/M (Paris) have worked with just about everyone in just about every medium: so why not carpets … or scent?

M/M (Paris), aka Michaël Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, might represent that most elusive of all cultural phenomena – a genuine hybrid, criss-crossing cultural genres, economic models and geographic nodes. If the tag ‘postmodern’ didn’t sound so outmoded, it could easily apply, writes Liz Farrelly.

Amzalag and Augustyniak are celebrating twenty years of doing their own thing with a book. Published by Thames and Hudson in English and French editions, and in a larger-than-life format, M to M of M/M (Paris) is not to be taken (anywhere) lightly. Written by Emily King and designed by Graphic Thought Facility – both long-time friends and collaborators – the book sets a new benchmark for graphic design publishing.

Right: Cover of M to M of M&M (Paris) by Emily King. Design: Graphic Thought Facility.
Top: Image from Yohji Yamamoto Spring / Summer 2000 catalogue. Photograph: Craig McDean. Styling: Alex White. Model: Erika Wall. Art direction: M/M (Paris).

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It helps, of course, that M/M (Paris) have produced masses of stunningly inventive work, for artists (with Pierre Huyghe, Sarah Morris), fashion designers (Balenciaga, Yohji Yamamoto, Vogue Paris), museums (Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo) and musicians (Björk and more Björk). That helps to explain their superstar status within and beyond the graphic design enclave. Fans of Björk, for instance, have embraced M/M (Paris), too; thousands follow the duo on Twitter and Facebook.

But no amount of popular adoration diminishes the breadth and depth of their achievements, or their continuing efforts to redefine the practice of graphic design.

Now on show in London is ‘The Carpetalogue’, at Gallery Libby Sellers. Inspired by a conversation with Emily King, Libby Sellers asked Michaël and Mathias to collaborate with the Indian collector Abhishek Poddar on a series of carpets handmade in Varanasi.

M/M (Paris). The Agent. Carpetalogue 1, 2012. Hand-knotted wool

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Nine months later, four carpet designs are on show, each in an edition of twelve (plus two artists’ proofs). The hand-knotted carpets are displayed in such a way as to reveal both back and front, highlighting the makers’ extraordinary skill. (The entire design process was carried out via emailed digital files.)

The carpets are held aloft on two giant trestles; the installation, designed by M/M (Paris) themselves, is an evolution of their room in ‘Off the Wall, Graphic Design Worlds’ at the Triennale Design Museum (Milan, 2011), which consisted of a table displaying a miniature model of the room filled with miniature versions of the work they might have produced. ‘It made perfect sense for the aesthetic of the “Carpetalogue” exhibition,’ Sellers explains, ‘as, like a lot of M/M’s work, it references past projects.’

M/M (Paris): ‘Carpetalogue, 1992-2012’ exhibition installed at Gallery Libby Sellers. Photography by Ed Reeve.

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If you want to take a bit of a past project home with you, check out the pop-up shop at the gallery, which is selling ‘A Hundred Bags Full of Surprises’, which comprises a book, a tote and a sealed, lucky-dip item from their archive. Perhaps another reason for M/M (Paris)’s popularity is their egalitarian approach to selling. Since the early days of the internet they’ve had an online shop and pioneered the merchandising of design prints and products, including various renditions of The Agent, a sort of pixellated, lightbox-character who is in effect their mascot.

M/M (Paris). Notebook. Carpetalogue 3, 2012. Hand-knotted wool

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Being French, of course, they also have a perfume, M/Mink by Byredo Parfums. Is it, as their book suggests, ‘unprecedented’ for a perfume to be born out of graphic design?

M/Mink perfume. ‘At first it truly smells like ink,’ claims the Byredo website.

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M/M (Paris) keep the surprises coming. So might we expect further collaborations with Sellers? Unlike many French designers, M/M (Paris) feel at home in London (Mathias graduated from the RCA, where his near contemporaries included GTF): so the art and design community on this side of the channel should continue to be challenged, and entertained.

M/M (Paris) Carpetalogue, 1992-2012
Gallery Libby Sellers
41-42 Berners Street, London W1
Exhibition runs until 15 December 2012.

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. Eye 83 is out now, and you can browse a visual sampler at Eye before You Buy.

 

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