Known in particular for their collaborations with musicians, artists, fashion designers, and their work for magazines such as Les Inrockuptibles and Paris Vogue, the two designers have condensed their work into a Carpetalogue: a textured overview of their work together since 1992.
For Amzalag and Augustyniak, their design is directed by a philosophy of permeability. Amzalag explained, ‘We became convinced that with the tools of graphic design we’d be able to permeate the whole of the actual world and not just be confined to the art world or the fashion world – to be able to encapsulate ideas in the every day, and through conversation with other people.’
Arranged on a slant across two colourfully geometric easel-structures, reminding me of school protractors and compasses, the exhibition ‘reads’ from front to back. M/M were keen to stress that each hand-knotted silk carpet (the work of diligent fingers in Varanasi, India) acts as a ‘page’ in the ongoing ‘catalogue’ of their work – a contracted version of their recently published 528-page monograph, designed by Graphic Thought Facility.
You’re hit first by the image of the M/M ‘Agent’ – a double-headed vision exploding from the pixelated, technicolour ether. This is both an expression of high kitsch (the agent is complete with two little hearts and video-tape heads), and a nice analogy of M/M’s work process. Amzalag and Augustyniak see him as a sort of ambassador of their vision, a go-between in approaching their collaborators – whether that be Bjork, Yohji Yamamoto, Philippe Parreno… Here we see him spinning through the air, arms outstretched.
The two designers describe the process of their collaborations with characteristic mystique. Amzalag says, ‘Our collaborations are not about a kind of guestlist. The whole point of working with them hasn’t been about their fame, its about having conversations to create their portrait. Each time when someone came to us it felt natural, unmeditated. The choosing process has to stay like this.’
The other carpets feature various leitmotifs from the M/M oeuvre: a diving siren from one of M/M’s invitations for the Givenchy haute couture collections, a page ripped from M/M’s sketchbook, the Fumetsu (‘Forever Immortal’) graphic emblem, originally designed and donated to support the fundraising efforts after Japan’s tsunami in March 2011, and here seen lasering through a technicolour super-sky.
The two designers explained that their decision to work in textiles was simply an extension of M/M’s ubiquity. ‘We have no problem with a sign becoming a lamp or an image becoming a carpet – in the end we are ultimately describing the whole world.. The results are richer and more complex because of all the tension and interaction between these works and forms,’ explained Augustyniak.
Amzalag says, ‘We think of design as a conceptual practice – but that doesn’t mean we are neglecting the formal aspects. We make things more personal, more subjective than in the traditional practice of graphic design.’
The sheer scope of their work is expressed in their recent monograph. The book is stubbornly un-navigable without a bit of pre-training, and this makes it enormously fun to read. With their projects and collaborations arranged in alphabetical order from M to M, and page numbers inflating and contracting apparently at random, it imposes a wandering style of reading, stumbling across images that you realise informed other aspects of the duo’s work.
For instance, images of an exhibition at MMK Frankfurt in 2010 show an M/M day-lamp and display tables suggesting a future form for the ‘easels’ supporting the Carpetalogue; a bulbous tree-structure in Ireland, clambered upon by grinning children, is later seen in jewellery form, draped around the neck of Bjork, and then again as a style of font.
Augustyniak explained, ‘The structure of the book was incremented in our work, this idea that time and space should be considered together – there is no essential chronology in our territory. That’s something M/M invented, in a way. It became our way of layering images in time and space. Our design is not about containment, its about permeation. The book is the same. It has no sense of an ending.’
These carpets are a network of tightly knotted ideas. In the gallery, they are suspended in an ambivalent, slanting position, daring the onlooker to lay them down on the floor, but tending more towards wall-power. Are they really made to be walked upon, lived with? Starting at £15,000 each, you can give it a try.
Carpetalogue, 1992-2012 is at Gallery Libby Sellers until 14 December 2012 at Gallery Libby Sellers, 41-42 Berners Street, London, W1T