Mathias Augustyniak reflects on the duo’s creative journey with the Icelandic superstar
“I think in the contemporary world, if you don’t manage your image then you disappear,” muses Mathias Augustyniak, one half of art and design duo who, alongside Michael Amzalag, heads up M/M Paris. Applauded for their work with J.W. Anderson, Yohji Yamamoto and, most notably, Björk, Augustyniak is rehashing the pair’s 15-year long creative journey with the Icelandic singer and artist. Since meeting in the late 90s, their artistic DNA has become intrinsically interwoven. From visualising the 1999 longform music video DVD Volumen, the 'Björk' font and that swan for 2001's Vespertine, the sci-fi Mother Earth-like creature adorning the album cover of Biophilia in 2011 and, most recently, artwork for the heartwrenching album Vulnicura – as well as everything in between. “There are many times that she could have just easily made a hit and then survived on that. She’s like the great artists who even though they’ve won everything, they want to play again,” he told us over the phone. The singer's retrospective – detailing over 20 years of her archive – launched last weekend at MoMA, spawning Björk: Archives, a new publication designed by M/M Paris, comprising of six parts with contributions from Klaus Biesenbach, Alex Ross, Nicola Dibben, Timothy Morton and Sjón. Below, we speak to the designer about how it all began, and how they’ve ended up where they are today.
ON THEIR BEGINNINGS...
“Maybe we were lucky that we met at that time when basically she changed character, or she went into another part of herself. She was integrating the womanly side to her more – she was not just a techno girl.
When she first called, we were extremely intimidated, but I think her strength is that when she feels she can collaborate with a person, she has the ability to make this person feel comfortable, and true to his or herself, and that it brings out the best in them.”
ON WHAT SHE’S LIKE TO COLLABORATE WITH...
“She’s always had this way of working when she collaborates with someone. Even on her last album, she asked very young producers (to work with her, The Haxan Cloak and Arca) who were kids when they first heard her songs. She gave them the opportunity to express what they felt was right for her. For us, she’s as much a client as a collaborator. She brings the question, but also solves the problem with you. It is a very collaborative process – it’s a conversational process.”
ON VESPERTINE AND RE-BIRTH...
”At that time, she was embracing the idea of being a woman. A woman as strong as a man but with the weapon of a woman. We wanted to portray a very touchable person. The cover showed her in black and white in the sun (with the swan around her neck), photographed by Inez and Vinoodh. It’s (the album is) dealing with the idea of something being extremely personal and how you put that into a context where billions of people see it. It was this moment where she said: ‘My name is Björk and I’m saying something personal and I’m able to address this to a bigger audience.’ It was daring at the time because there was no social media, it was pre-internet. She could be extremely intimate, but at the same time she built an armour between her and the public with all this imagery.
For the video ‘Hidden Place’ the purpose was to get as close as possible to a very famous person and be close enough to kiss this person. Instead of crying real tears she was crying tears that were produced by special effects. She was crying special effects! But these were true special effects, not digital special effects. It was all about her becoming real and speaking out on what was artificial, which was her discography before Vespertine.”
ON CREATING THE UNIVERSE OF BIOPHILLIA...
“I think each album of Björk is like a presentation of a musical world played by a character she has invented. The most obvious one was Biophilia where it went so far that she invented a complete world run by a sort of mad music teacher, performed by her wearing a red wig. It was truly building a new world. The strength of the art world is that they have the ability to imagine a new world that you think doesn’t exist, but in the end it truly impacts the real world.
I look at Biophilia and I’m kind of frightened. It’s like vertigo... or a black hole! There is no musician we could have gone so far with. Each time, because it’s so creatively demanding, you ask, ‘how am I going to come up with something as daring?’ It needs to be revolutionary. The answer is because she always challenges herself.”
ON BEATING HER TO THE GRAMMY...
“This is the irony of the whole collaboration! I truly believe she should have won many Grammys for her music, but the irony is that we won a Grammy (for Best Recording Package) before she won one. Of course, she was really happy but if the Grammys were really fair then she should have won too. She has really achieved what no one else really achieved, which is matching the imagery of the music with the music itself.”
ON CREATING VULNICURA AND TOUGH TIMES…
“On Biophilia she felt calm, happy and had an optimistic way of seeing the world. It felt like working with a great conductor. On Vulnicura it was a completely different position because it was more personal. She was wounded and she needed to heal herself, but she had to again try and invent a character that could represent this heart breaking moment. To be an artist is to try and transform these sad experiences into something universal.
It has been difficult but we were able to deal with it because we’ve known her for a long time. It’s through having experience and being trusting of each other that we were able to help her. Maybe it would have been a disaster if we had met her now. I think we managed to get through it because we’ve been through so much with her. I think we managed to reinvent ourselves even in such a complex situation.”
ON THE MoMA SHOW...
“She is a curator of her own archive. She knows how to reactivate that archive so that she doesn’t sleep on a dead body of work. The main subject of the exhibition is not so much her but more what she produced. She produced music; she’s a true musician. The core of her artistic production is music and the core of music is music notation. This is why eventually on the cover [of the book] it’s a music partition. That’s a strong image to remember the artist as, just like John Cage, where the material of his art was music.
Behind the music partition, she displayed a set of seven characters and the seven characters were invented by Björk to promote the core of an artistic production that is music and music as a language. Each character was speaking the language of music she invented. It has been very complicated to articulate all these crucial points. You are dealing with a multi-dimensional image, but our collaboration has been successful because there is a true respect of the artistic integrity on both sides. We’re great friends and we were able to support her as friends, as well as being able to support her artistically.”
Björk: Archives with contributions from Klaus Biesenbach, Alex Ross, Nicola Dibben, Timothy Morton and Sjón, published by Thames & Hudson and designed by M/M (Paris) is out now. Click here for more
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ource: Dazed Digital