Zhanar will come up with clever text or Karina... Definitely not Darina
Interview: Kamilya Kuspan
for Étage Mag
Date: April, 2016
m/m paris
Interview: Kamilya Kuspan for Étage Mag
Date: April, 2016
M/M PARIS IS AN ART AND DESIGN PARTNERSHIP OF MATHIAS AUGUSTYNIAK AND MICHAEL AMZALAG ESTABLISHED IN PARIS IN 1992. M/M ARE BEST KNOWN FOR THEIR ART DIRECTION AND COLLABORATIONS WITH BJORK FOR HER VIDEO «HIDDEN PLACE», THEIR RADICAL DESIGN FOR THE COVER OF MADONNA'S «AMERICAN LIFE» AND KANYE WEST'S «MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY» IN COLLABORATION WITH GEORGE CONDO. THEIR MAGAZINE COLLABORATIONS INCLUDE VOGUE PARIS, PURPLE FASHION, MAN ABOUT TOWN.

THEIR FIRST FASHION ASSIGNMENT WAS TO DESIGN THE WORLDWIDE LAUNCH OF YOHJI YAMAMOTO'S Y'S RANGE IN 1993. NEXT, THEY DESIGNED CAMPAIGNS FOR JIL SANDER AND GRAPHICS FOR MARTINE SITBON. IN 1995 THEY MET PHOTOGRAPHERS INEZ VAN LAMSWEERDE AND VINOODH MATADIN, AND BEGAN A LONG COLLABORATION STARTING WITH A CAMPAIGN FOR THIERRY MUGLER IN 1995. THEY CREATED ICONIC WORKS FOR YOHJI YAMAMOTO, BALENCIAGA, GIVENCHY, CALVIN KLEIN, AND MORE ART-ORIENTED WORKS SUCH AS THE ALPHABET (2001), AND THE ALPHAMEN (2003), AND OTHERS. ÉTAGE TALKED TO THE MAGNI CENT DUO ABOUT THEIR UNIQUE VISION, COLLABORATIONS AND THE PURPOSE OF ART.
THE GIVENCHY FILES

the definitive archive of invitations and graphic works inspired by the collections of riccardo tisci
2007 — 2012

— Givenchy Files is one of your latest books. How is it working with Riccardo Tisci?

— Riccardo came to our studio to buy alphabet letters from the series we did with Inez and Vinoodh, and later when he was appointed at Givenchy, he commissioned us to be a part of his adventure. At first, it was a very simple assignment – a layout for advertising, and he was using Inez and Vinoodh as photographers. Gradually he involved us in making invitations for the shows. He was not doing menswear, only couture and pret-à-porter, so for the haute couture we found a formula for the invitations – big posters, a very free interpretation of his shows, and for pret-à-porter we would find a new format each season. One time they were stickers, another time – pieces of cardboard, or stamps, or images printed on very delicate paper.

His approach was different from what we had experienced before, meaning that instead of giving a lot of creative input on the advertising, it was taken more as a kind of a classic communication format, the invitations were a form of free self expression. It was our personal vision of Riccardo Tisci's very personal vision for Givenchy. So we installed a very straight-forward conversation between two personal views on the same subject. I think that was one of the successes of the Givenchy project.

— So, working with Riccardo Tisci was a pleasure?

— I think we have established a very organic relationship with Riccardo. I think when Riccardo took over the House, it took him a while to adjust his vision to the House's. He grew up with the House to finally reach a voice that is unique: it's still Givenchy, but it's really Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. And I think that instead of applying a ready formula, he invented it.
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Graphicology: M/M (Paris) Presents: The Givenchy Files


M/M (PARIS) HAS JUST RELEASED THE LATEST BOOK (1,500 COPIES IN TOTAL AND NUMBERED) FROM THE "M/M (PARIS) PRESENTS" SERIES AND IT IS ALL ABOUT THE GIVENCHY INVITES. EVER SINCE 2007, M/M (PARIS) HAS BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR CREATING INVITATIONS FOR THE WOMENSWEAR, MENSWEAR AND HAUTE COUTURE RUNWAY SHOWS.
"Art has a possibility not exactly to change the world, but to be a platform of expression; it gives an opportunity to alter people's perception"
— George Condo imagery for Kanye West is iconic in so many ways, and you turned that into an act of post-post modernism by making those scarves. How did the idea come to you? Was there an intention to make an art statement through this project?

— The initial idea came from Kanye West. Not the scarves, but to commission an iconic contemporary artist to work on his record cover; but what he basically did for 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' was that he bought six paintings of George Condo. And I think it had never happened before. You could have had an artist as famous as Andy Warhol to make the art for the record cover, like with Velvet Underground. But in case of Kanye West, it was the singer buying pieces of art and having rights to use them. That was a change in paradigm.

And for us to work on it was a kind of a tricky situation, because when you have a piece just to put a typo on, the painting is not really refined. So our solution was: instead of putting the classic typeface in the middle of the art piece, we framed it with calligraphy that would both represent the world depicted in the album, and show the name of the album and the artist, Kanye West. The record cover of «My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy» was not exactly the way we wanted it, so we suggested to Kanye that because CD's are about to disappear as a format, and music needs representation, the best way to show this album was neither a vinyl, which would be too nostalgic, nor a CD, but a scarf. Basically, it was our answer to the peculiar problem of designing a record cover for an album of the artist, who buys paintings to represent his music. And if in the XXI century the format of music is completely dematerialized, the image is still extremely important to make a difference.

— Could you say it's all about post-modernism?

— Several years ago Nicolas Bourriaud did an exhibition called 'Altermodern', and I think the term 'altermodern' is more appropriate to our approach: it is modernism adjusted to the contemporary paradigm. Modernism failed, that's why there was post-modernism, but it failed, too; and failure is something like asking a question and having to reformulate it. And I think the reformulation of altermodern is more interesting, meaning that we can maybe adapt the program of modernism to more idiosyncratic cultures.
— Can we move on to another big project you did – Madonna's probably most political visual for «American Life». Was there an intention to scandalize? Do you think art can influence politics?

— Art has a possibility not exactly to change the world, but to be a platform of expression; it gives an opportunity to alter people's perception. I don't think an artist is a politician, though some people intend to do some kind of political art. But with artists like Hans Haacke, I don't think it really reaches the audience he is addressing.

I like that you noticed that about Madonna's record cover because, you know, when people ask us what we think about her album covers, I always reply, not as a provocation, that the one we did was the best one, as far as you can go with such a persona. It was completely opposite working with Bjork, where we could access the density of the human being, whereas Madonna is a symbol. She is more like a vehicle than an inspiration source. At that time she wanted to deal with a kind of reconfiguration regarding American society, she wanted to be critical. But right in the middle of making it very clear and out, she sort of retracted. Which is the reason why, I think, this album never went completely through, and it's a really good album of hers. And just to finish this, I think it's very important, when you address something, that your message is as clear as possible.

— You have worked with all possible media, but seem to prefer books. What do you see in that medium?

— We've been working on books since the beginning. For me there are two very efficient ways of archiving reality: movies and books. Books are preeminent for us, they are efficient. Movies are good for another way of archiving. So, if I combine the two, I succeed to pass the memory to the following generations.
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— In your opinion, between stills and video, what is the most expressive way to reach the audience?

— They both have intensity. I consider both books and film as spaces, and their relationship with time is very different, but both formats incapsulate time and space. Sometimes I need only books to archive an event properly, sometimes I will only use video. For example, once we worked on an opera, and we knew it would disappear one day, so we decided to shoot a movie inspired by it. Not just a documentary, but a film inspired by opera. It was 'Antigone' by Tomasso Traetta, one of the first baroque operas made around second half of the XXVII century. Philippe Parreno added to the project, and there was an art exhibition we worked on together – a modern opera, which we archived with a book. So in the first case we had a classical opera turned into a film to be archived, and in case of Parreno's 'Il Tempo del Postino', which was a contemporary mode of presentation, a more efficient way to archive that experience was a book, even if it seems that film would be more relevant. For us it is about what is more appropriate to the nature of the piece.

Fragment from «The Alphabet», 2001
Series of 27 1-colour silkscreen posters, 120 x 176 cm, unnumbered edition. After photography by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Originally produced in the context of V magazine in collaboration with Inezvan Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, The Alphabet uses photographs of 26 models as the basis for a complete set of letters. Each woman's image is reworked into the initial of her own name. This is the first in an ongoing series of such alphabets.
— At the dawn of M/M Paris you revolutionized the art of the atrical poster. Could you tell us about that?

— It happened really early in our career. We met stage director Eric Vigner, who was appointed to run a theatre in Lorient, a small harbour town in Brittany. He's allowed us to try a new way of talking about theater. So today we have this series of posters, about 80 of them, that follow both the style of the theatre and our idiosyncratic vision.

Why are they revolutionary? Because we completely changed the code of the theatre poster, where instead of just being an illustration of a play, each poster is our own interpretation of the play. And we are currently working on the book, which will have the complete series of these posters.

— Now could you tell us about your long-lasting collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto? How in your experience the Eastern notion of beauty is different from the Western? Was it hard to bring them together for Yamamoto?

— I think, ironically, there is this kind of a secret relationship between France and Japan. If you look at the history of art, Japan has influenced European tastes ever since we started sailing there. Even in they have nothing to do with each other, there is this kind of...

— Romance!

— Yes (Laughs), a secret romance. Well, it's a funny thing. Russians think that they have a very special romance with France, too, and recently I discovered that Georgians think that about themselves too! (Laughs) Anyway, back to Japan, there was always this love-hate relationship.

And I think this is what happened with Yamamoto, too. I think Yohji has always understood that his style was extremely Japanese, but always investigated cultural aspects of French fashion. And he reads the symbolism of French fashion and translates it very sensually through his creations. For me, that's the biggest difference between him and Comme des Garçons. Rei Kawakubo has more of a conceptual approach, and Yohji is a great reader. And I think he knew a long time before we started working, that he needed European people to translate his idea of beauty. Because for me, a Japanese woman wearing his clothes doesn't really exhale the curiosity of his work. I am not against the Japanese, I am just saying that it really works when you have an archetypically blond woman wearing his clothes; the contrast speaks.

Working with him was very enjoyable, it was a way to go through all the mechanisms of fashion image making. It was as if we went through palette of expressions, through all the spectrum of how to make a fashion image. And it was very good for us, because we had a chance to work with the photographers from different backgrounds and generations, big fashion models, to have a very open creative experience. So, it was basically working with incredible clothes that were covering a wide range of the history of fashion. For six years we were able to issue books promoting a collection every six months. And the collections weren't just about selling the product...

— It was a poetic approach...

— Yes, he was not just promoting, say, a new bag, he was promoting a vision; and this vision was very post-modern in a sense that he was crushing together the spectrum of time. To conclude, we learned a lot, and he also learned a lot. Even if we exchanged only five words during these six years, it was very fulfilling for both sides.
"As an artist you believe that you are able to change the world in
a way that it could
be more
in tune with the humans that are inhabiting it"
"As an artist you believe that you are able to change the world in a way that it could be more in tune with the humans that are inhabiting it"
— A big body of modern art deals with finding identity. Is it a relevant question for you?

— Yes, this why we are called M/M, these are our initials. We could have been called MA/MA because we have symmetrical initials for last names, too. And I think working in the public sphere makes it important to define your identity. And who you are is not just what you do. To understand the message, people have to understand you. If I am no one, I will never make myself understood. I need to point out to the source of the message. And it's not about exposing my private life. It's about making the message consistent.

— How can you manage to draw this fine line between commercial work and art?

— By trying to redefine it every day. The assumption with us is that art is an object of commerce. When we started, we could never foresee that there would be so many art fairs. There are more art fairs than fashion weeks now. There is an art fair every months and soon it will be every week. So, it's a marketplace. First, you have to define art as an object or an idea. Then, it's easy to put the price on the object, but it's almost impossible to do so with an idea. It's a question of copyright. So somehow art has no value, if we are thinking in terms of art as a procedure. Art is: is what I do still coherent? Is it still held by more than one person? Does it provoke a discussion? And if not, you go further away from the essence of art. Anyway, this is complicated, and we haven't found a solution yet. Maybe we were more about how to ask the right questions, and now the idea is more how to find the way of answering them.

— Do you consider yourselves art rebels?

— No, I think our approach is more, – it may sound immodest, – philosophical; it's important to us to formulate the right questions. Only then something coherent can be built. When people come to us, often they don't have properly formulated question. Maybe this is why we seem revolutionary, or as you said like rebels, in a sense that the clients are convinced that they have the right questions, but the first step for us is to convince them that they are wrong. It's proper to ask questions, so we take an approach to reformulate them.

— Do you think the artist should have a mission? And do you have a mission?

– Mission is a big word, it's more like a belief. As an artist you believe that you are able to change the world in a way that it could be more in tune with the humans that are inhabiting it.

— So your ambition is to make this world a better place?

— We could never dream of that! It's more about making the world in sync with our ideas and beliefs instead of saying that we can change the whole world. (Laughs) Let's say, it's more how we can change the world at our scale according to our visions.
Album cover: American Life special edition, Madonna 2003
— And being artists, who are the artists you adore?

— It's complicated, because we are a part of this world. Instead of a person, we prefer to talk about exhibitions or records, movies or posts, inspiring pieces of poetry, – micro events instead of people's careers. Besides, if you are inspired by someone's complete career, you don't see your own anymore. So I think what's good is that we've been kind of working with people we admire. It just happens that our trajectories meet. For instance, even if we never met with Stanley Kubrick, we had two chances to archive his works – one was on the film he's never made – 'Napoleon', and another on '2001: A Space Odyssey'. So we had a chance to work on the books which, in those two cases, were not just another pieces of documentation about his work, but provocative conversations. He might have immensely disliked them because of the way we approached them.

— Last question, could you talk about how you use alphabet in your works as symbol and sign versus its utilitarian purpose?

— Alphabet is a very important part of our practice. If we take the idea that we have engineered a world at our scale, we need a language, so people within this world can communicate to have a full vision of it. This is why we created so many alphabets that are almost depicting different tones of voice or different feelings. It's a palette of feelings. And talking about symbols and utility, a very important typographer Pierre di Sciullo said that all typography is not based on the rules of legibility, but is extremely legible. This is how we interact, it's more about reading something as an evidence. The sound is already in the shape of it. Poetry was always there to talk about that: where you put words, and the way they associate and shift the meanings.
Interview: Kamilya Kuspan for Étage Mag
Date: April, 2016