Talking Art Over Espressos with the Duo Behind Beloved Design Studio M/M (Paris)

M/M (Paris) is responsible for advertising campaigns (with fashion houses like Yohji Yamamoto, Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Calvin Klein), album design (including Bjork’s Vespertine and Biophilia), and art direction that has changed the face of their industries over the last two decades. The studio has also collaborated with contemporary artists, including Philippe Parreno, Sarah Morris, Pierre Huyghe, and Inez & Vinoodh, among others—bringing their soulful graphic design to its foundation, fine art. Furthermore, over the past decade, M/M (Paris) has also taken their 2D language into 3D, working on interior design projects, objects, sculpture, and even a scent.

Beloved in the worlds of art, design, fashion, and music, it’s no surprise that M/M (Paris) has developed a cult following (check out these tattoos devoted to their designs). Over espressos near Basel’s Messeplatz, Artsy’s editorial director Marina Cashdan sat down with Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, the duo behind M/M (Paris), to discuss their work on view at Gallery Libby Sellers in Design Miami/ Basel, their Basel favorites, and their stance on the responsibility of the creative community.

Marina Cashdan: This has been a big year for you both, publishing your monograph M to M of M/M (Paris), celebrating 20 years working together, and many other exciting projects. Can you tell us about how this new series celebrates the anniversary of your collaboration together, or perhaps represents the evolution of your practice from 2D to 3D?

Mathias Augustyniak: We were commissioned to do some the carpets, so it was a very classic commission work. We were introduced to Libby [Sellers of Gallery Libby Sellers] by Emily King, who edited our [monograph]. And Libby said, ‘I know some people in India who make beautiful carpet work and it would be great if you could come up with an idea for a carpet’. At first we didn’t know; we didn’t want to just take some decorative part of our work and then just make a [copy of it] on a carpet. But after thinking about it for a while, we said ‘Ok, it would be great to come up with this idea that the carpets are summing up all our work in four different parts’. So, as word play, we call [this series] “Carpetalogue.”

MC: So the title is the marriage of “carpet” and “catalogue”?

MA: Yeah, in the end those four carpets and how they are the sum of the catalogue that was coming out at the same time.

MC: I saw the exhibition at Gallery Libby Sellers in London when the carpets were debuted, and they were presented as an installation comprising two teepee-like structures. And before that in Paris, they were also presented as an installation. But in the booth, they’re hanging on the wall, which feels more decorative.

Mathias: I think it’s very nice, because here it’s presented in a very classic and domestic way, suggesting that you could just really put it on the floor. But both in London and in Paris, we showed the fact that it could be presented as the whole piece—more like a museum piece or an installation. There are two ways to look at [the “Carpetalogue” series]: in a very functional way—so, it’s [gentle], decorative, full of humor; it has this kind function in life—and there is another angle where we could say that it’s a serious piece, a piece that has more depth. So there are two ways of presenting the carpets.

We also really wanted to have a sequence in time, so that the piece has some historical background, so it’s not just like now I have carpet and wall. It’s a carpet and wall that reminds you of different experiences before that happened. It’s also interesting to see how slowly our work is really unraveling from this three-dimensional scale.

MC: The “Carpetalogue” series sums up the evolution of your practice from graphic design to interiors to sculpture to working textiles and fashion.

Mathias: More and more there is this chain of objects that are linked to one another—a reaction chain. Our books, then the scarves, the big carpets, then a poster stand, etc.

Michael Amzalag: …and to everyday, and that’s what I like the most about this, is that it becomes an everyday thing. And that’s why the series was constructed in a really hard way around these two “cover” [designs], one with the eye and the one with the siren. [The siren carpet] is like a rough drawing, which had to be simplified to be rendered as a carpet; the background is different, as the photographic information had to be reduced in resolution to be able to be translated into the wool.

MC: And can you talk about the symbolism behind the eye?

Michael: I mean, the eye is a graphic design cliché, but at the same in eastern tradition, it’s the protection of the house and the family. We originally designed it right after the Fukushima disaster. All designers around the world connected through this website Designers for Fukushima, asking [designers to create] fundraiser posters. So we did the eye. Then, a couple of months later, we, were introduced to the guy from Fukushima [who created the website], he explained to us that everybody like moved away from Fukushima and there was no interest anymore into redeveloping what’s left. So he’s starting a publication with artists and creative people to maintain awareness. That’s how we developed it and that’s how it became one of the covers of the “Carpetalogue” carpets. It has this [truth] of the painting and the production.

MC: In terms of the production of the carpets, was this a totally new experience for you?

Mathias: I mean it was not that new in the sense that we’ve commissioned someone’s skills [for past projects]—adapting our work to the skills in front of us.

Michael: And we created smaller carpets as part of like pieces before.

MC: What have you seen at Design Miami/ Basel that has stood out to you?

Mathias: At Libby Sellers, we liked Anton Alvarez’s work; and at Caroline van Hoek, there was jewelry all made with found objects. I was very surprised by the Prouvé house—surprised in many senses…

Michael: It’s really complicated, knowing that this house has been designed originally for the poor.

Mathias: But I mean there are many ways of commenting on this: You could say ‘that’s terrible’ but then it should really force people to think what’s the role of art, or artful things within our society? Meaning that when something is well-thought, it has a lot of value. It shows that we can’t just produce things that have no thinking behind them. But I think what’s sad is that this value is not given back to what it was intentionally built for.

MC: This is an interesting question—as an artist or designer, will you or the work that’s left after you, be held to the same responsibility of its original intention or its context?

Mathias: I mean it sounds maybe pretentious or completely crazy but there was always this thing in our work where [eventually], when we’re not here to control it, our work will still make sense and will still be [outlined so that] people handle it in the right way. Everything that we do is independent but still has a vein so someone can easily create the relationship between objects; and they can really source the meaning of it. And that’s why we also keep repeating, discussing and have conversations with people, so that eventually we hope it still makes sense.

MC: The intention is always present.

Mathias: So like for these carpets, what’s important is that the original meaning of it still has a kind of an echo of all the world of things that we put together.

Portrait of Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag of M/M (Paris) by Inez & Vinoodh. Installation image by Claude Gasser.

See M/M (Paris)’s work on view at Gallery Libby Sellers, Design Miami/ Basel 2013 - Design Galleries, Booth G27, June 11th – 16th. Explore Design Miami/ Basel.

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