Spring 2013

Duo-tome

M to M of M/M (Paris)

By Emily King
Designed by Graphic Thought Facility
Thames and Hudson, £42 (French edition: Editions de la Martinière, €65)

In 2013, the overblown, completist pretensions of a career-defining monograph seem, well, a bit old-fashioned. Given that publishers are increasingly wary of expensive picture books that attract only a specialist (i.e. small) audience; and that super-fans are likely to be tenacious social networkers, able to access their idols’ work ‘for free’, it is a wonder any such tome sees the light of day.

On the other hand, publishers such as Taschen, Phaidon and a few ‘boutique’ houses (AMMO Books, Violette Editions) are backing the trend for big, brash, bells-and-whistles limited-edition volumes, which are ‘collected’ as investments and as taste-making statements on smarter coffee tables worldwide. Some are rehashes, others are tainted by the whiff of vanity publishing.

Such potential for misfires explains the recent paucity of headline-grabbing ‘publishing events’. Until now that is. Fanfared by two bustling launches, and a flurry of media activity, the tome that is M to M of M/M (Paris) landed on my doormat. 

M/M - Michaël Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak - are celebrating a twenty-year partnership (they met at college in Paris) in which they have worked with the great and good of art, fashion and pop, including Vogue Paris, Yohji Yamamoto and Björk. Unusually for graphic designers, their work features in the collections of art (as well as design) institutions, including the Centre Pompidou, Tate Modern and the Stedelijk Museum.

Such achievements, combined with a still edgy attitude, have earned M/M a huge following, which spills beyond the ghetto of graphic design and might explain Thames and Hudson’s willingness to back this project.

Though the book was a long time in the making, it pulses with an energetic immediacy. On first sight it is unwieldy, but big pages (350mm x 260mm) show off images, and the worst excesses of case-bound megaliths have been avoided. It may be 500-odd pages but it is a paperback (protected with a natty plastic sleeve), and though a flick-through can take the best part of a day, the uncoated stock, in a subtle creamy tint, will not induce snow-blindness.

That energy is the product of GTF’s art direction and Emily King’s editing. Realising that a stolid compilation cramming in two decades of work would be impossible and impenetrable, they have presented M/M using the alphabet to organise and delineate content. Large images and short captions turn the pages into a ‘gallery’; interviews with key collaborators and clients add context. The best insights come from the artist Pierre Huyghe, curator Nicolas Bourriaud, and the photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, who reveal tantalising details about elaborate fashion shoots.

The (somewhat forced) alphabetical order (which flits from project name to generalised label - e.g. ‘Typefaces’) allows for another twist. The book is bound so that it begins and ends on an ‘M’, the first one being an interview with Michaël Amzalag (whose portrait is on the front cover). The content then works through to ‘Zidane’, the conclusion and the credits on page 527, and starts again, via the prelims, from ‘About’, to end with ‘Mathias Augustyniak’ (and his portrait on the back cover). This device might sound a bit wonky, but it works: M/M is a two-headed entity after all. The layout mirrors their approach (and their friendship), which is built on collaboration, equality and mutual fit. And interviewing them seperately highlights their very different personalities.

Collaboration and crossing disciplines are the underlying themes here, and the best of M/M’s projects push the boundaries of both. Their work with van Lamsweerde and Matadin for Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga broke all the rules, presenting radically reworked images and intriguing narratives which recast the fashion label as fearlessly avant-garde. On another stage, and with a similarly significant impact, collaborations with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist have led to graphic identities (Biennale de Lyon) and art catalogues (Live Recorded Delay) that reconfigure formats and expectations. But if you would like to study these projects in depth, you will need to consult other sources.

Both designers do refer back to projects in their respective interviews, but these read like a pick and mix from Q&A’s rather than coherent conversations. Unsurprising, as these chats possibly went on for years, but a little dissatisfying, as critical statements are left dangling. The text does, however, display a distilled understanding between the editor and her interviewees. The reader is treated to some thoroughly uncompromising viewpoints and we get a good idea of M/M’s loves and hates, a sense of what’s important to Amzalag and Augustyniak, how they work, and why they do what they do. They celebrate the open-ended, the unfinished, the handmade - like the dangling threads on their Polaroid front and back cover portraits.

A book of this scope is undoubtedly an achievement, as are the careers it presents; earlier this year France’s ministry of culture appointed Amzalag and Augustyniak Chevaliers de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Even though it feels as if a line has been drawn under two decades of work, this book avoids ‘embalming’ M/M and in no way signals the end. Instead, it affirms their sense of freedom, to explore and evolve; and getting that across in a monograph may constitute the reinvention of yet another genre. M to M of M/M (Paris) looks, feels and reads more like a giant folder of tear-sheets and conversations, beautifully printed, perfectly bound and daringly fit for purpose.

The front cover of M to M of M/M (Paris) uses a double-exposure Polaroid of Michaël Amzalog, photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.
Top: posters for Théâtre de Lorient, 2009-11.

Uncoated_29

Liz Farrelly, editor, curator, lecturer and researcher at University of Brighton, London and Brighton

Read the full version in Eye no. 85 vol. 22 2013

EYE85_cover

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, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can see what Eye 85 looks like at Eye before You Buy on Vimeo.

Tracker Pixel for Entry