Books of 2012 — The M to M of M/M Paris

Published:  December 14, 2012
Heath Killen
Books of 2012 — The M to M of M/M Paris

The M to M of M/M (Paris)
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Editor: Emily King
Foreword: Hans Ulrich Obrist
Design: Graphic Thought Facility
35.00 x 26.00 cm
Paperback with Jacket
Illustrated in colour throughout

This week I’ve been sharing my five favourite books from 2012, which so far have included Concrete – an ode to scale and form, Pretty Ugly – an exploration of radical new visual communication, Fuse 1-20 – an anthology of conceptual typography, and A Bunch of Fives – which is among other things, the designer’s design book. Today I’m wrapping things up with The M to M of M/M (Paris), a book that dismantles the conventions of the design monograph, and reassembles it as something fresh, new, and completely enchanting.

The two ‘M’s of M/M (Paris) are Michaël Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak – and this publication collects 20 years of their work, which is some of the most distinctive and imaginative from the world of graphic design. Mathias Augustyniak declares at one point that “to survive and be competitive with machines, a contemporary graphic designer needs to be an author, a thinker, a poet, a journalist, and a philosopher”. This book is made by people who think that way, for people who think that way.

The book is big too. Big and tall. It’s quite a surprise actually. Hold it in one hand, and the other side cascades downward under its own weight. Covered in a clear plastic dust jacket, it reminds me of something that I just can’t put my finger on. It may be in fact an amalgamation of many things: a newspaper, a phonebook, a high-end glossy fashion magazine. There’s something about this book that in my mind feels like obscure relic discovered in a municipal library, but one that exists in a parallel world. The studio has always been plugged into something else, other worlds, other possibilities, and this book provides a guide of sorts to those conduits and connections.

I hesitate to use the term “game-changer” but this book does feel like an evolution, if not a complete reinvention of the monograph. It aims to be more than just a collection of case studies, and instead adopts a concept that actually investigates as well as showcases two decades worth of practice. The book’s structure is just as unique as the work. In the same way a dictionary is A-Z, this book is M-M. Technically, the “start” appears in the middle, and it finishes back there again. To clarify, the opening page begins with M (a profile interview on Michaël Amzalag), and following in a linear fashion from that point, at the book’s centre you hit Z, then A, and the book closes again with M (a profile interview with Mathias Augustyniak). Between those two points, all content is alphabetically organised. You need not begin at the start though, or the middle, or anywhere that seems logical. Editor Emily King suggests beginning at the conclusion. Me? I opened to a random page, which happened to be a spread on Bjork’s Volta, and began traveling back and forth from there.

If the book sounds conceptual and comprehensive, that’s because it is. With work that spans across multiple disciplines and industries, including music, fashion, interiors, sculpture, and now perfume (all scaffolded by the studio’s peerless ideology) there is much to uncover. Beyond the sheer volume of work and its unique presentation, gems are to be found in interviews with key collaborators, such as Bjork, Pierre Huyghe, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Philippe Parreno and Nicolas Bourriaud, who offer candid insights into the studio’s world. The idea of drawing in perspectives from that larger creative pool is, at least to my knowledge, unparalleled for a book of this kind. It’s not a gimmick though. These long-term collaborations provide the very foundations of M/M (Paris) and as such are vitally important to look at in any serious examination of their work.

Over ten years in the making, it is clear this book is a labour of love. With her academic background, Emily King is able to dig deep and provide context for the work. She manages to explore some of the cultural and political history around the studio’s development, which is often fascinating, and there is much to be gained from the responses to her thoughtful lines of questioning. Graphic Thought Facility do a superb job on the design too, allowing the work of M/M (Paris) to sing. Images are large (in some cases, as with CDs, actual size) which affords the reader the ability to examine the fine detail in many projects. Cleverly they have avoided trying to emulate any of the studio’s style, and that restraint pays off.

This book is a pleasure. A delight. Of course it helps that the work itself is so great, but the book is much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a journey that examines the mechanics of creative partnerships, a significant disruption of the status quo, and the private universe from which so many rich ideas have been mined. It is a journey worth taking, many times over.

Michael Amzalag

The Agent


Bjork - Volta


Mathias Augustyniak

Images: Graphic Thought Facility

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