The Centre Dramatique de Bretagne in Lorient a small local theater which ordered a new design program in 1996, was a significantly sharper collaborator. Before M/M got to work with the usual printed matter stationery, invitation cards, and posters the theater building was rendered more inviting with large, festive streamers across the façade. When the building the most tangible visual symbol for the city’s inhabitants was redesigned, each new play was 'staged' over the whole city before it had even had its premiere.
The now well-known series of the gigantic theater posters for CDDB in Lorient is just as 'entertaining' as Hamilton’s classic pop collage, 'Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing,' from 1956, or Guy Debord’s 'The Society of the Spectacle': A kind of macabre photo journal from a consumer society run amok, where culture is being reduced to a commodity.
On the poster for 'Wolfgang Mozart’s Suite & Fugue', a fairly beat-up stereo system was prominently featured, which had on it the clearly displayed logos: 'Denon' and 'Yamaha.' Arthur Nauzyciel’s piece, 'Le Voyage de Seth,' is illustrated with a snapshot from a giant flea market which peddles authentic oriental 'flying' carpets. The poster for Stig Dagerman’s 'Our Need for Consolation' is endowed with a distressed young man (yours truly) photographed in front of the cluttered storefront of the kitschy souvenir shop outside the Hotel Sheraton in Stockholm.
Despite the fact that M/M have designed an idiosyncratic, challenging typeface for every new theater production, they are in no way 'fontfreaks': they rather create a new font when it is actually needed. For example, Pasqua a whole new alphabet made from firearms which they dedicated to a former minister of police: Charles Pasqua. Or their Alphabet of Beauty with letters constructed from cut-up models from various sorts of fashion reportage a bizarre supermodel parade in V-Magazine last spring.
These days M/M are the darlings of the fashion world, and can thus massacre whomever they want a position achieved via innovative campaigns with many important fashion houses. Long before the widespread design boom with Wallpaper in the lead Jil Sander’s neo-minimalist garments were presented with modernist furniture by the French designer Jean Prouvé. A tactic which elevated the profile of the clothing by supplying it with a historical and aesthetic reference point, while at the same time 'unmasking' precisely that which makes fashionable clothing so coveted: its context.
M/M’s orientation to the fashion world is refreshingly contradictory. The graphic designers are not satisfied simply with producing 'surplus value' for the customer, but also try to show how the system the production of belief (Pierre Bourdieu) which surrounds a fashion designer’s trademark functions. Instead of simply constructing cool, trendy campaigns, they deconstruct the world of fashion (the field), where various actors photographers, photo models, stylists, graphic designers and fashion editors collectively 'produce' valuable fashion.
Yet for one to be able to call the system into question (without being questioned oneself), one must be able to control large parts of the field. When M/M began working with Yohji Yamamoto’s catalogs they didn’t have much control, but rather simply had to see that everything came together smoothly. In 1996, for example, they created a concept The Artist And His Muse where the star photographer Paolo Roversi got to depict his favorite model, Guinevere van Seenus, in various environments from art history. This was a weaker variant of Jil Sander's Prouvé catalog where the duo compensated the customer with extravagant flourishes in form.
After the success with 'The Artist And His Muse' which has a Polaroid picture on the cover the Yamamoto catalogs always contain small well-calculated surprises: imaginative bindings, laden with meaning, various types of paper and special print which spell-bind the reader and make the catalogs coveted collector’s items. The big conceptual break-through came a few years later however, when M/M started working with Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin two photographers who share the designers’ ambivalent orientation towards the fashion world.
Together, this dynamic duo of duos began creating a kind of deconstructive account which showed how fashion pictures are constructed from collective dreams and fantasies, where the models play the leading role. In the 1998 catalog, they simply reduced one of the world’s highest paid models, Maggie Rizer, to a doll who lived in a little box. By exaggerating Rizer’s role a stereotype of the sweet, innocuous woman they called the system into question. It is quite simply impossible for the consumers to identify with the famous icon and her fictitious life. No one is so stupid as to dream of a life in a little box from Toys’R’Us.
M/M have shown that good graphic design both can and should address the same social and political issues as does the best contemporary art, even if the clients are multinational corporations! But despite the fact that the duo now exhibits at galleries and art shows, they have no ambitions of becoming artists. Instead of simply gathering dust at a museum of modern art, they want to continue to work as graphic designers in commercial networks a context where one can communicate with a significantly larger public than in the elitist world of art.
M/M form as well as interrogate their age our late-capitalist society, where schizophrenia has become a kind of normal condition in at least the same superb way that the most prominent artists put the age do. Their portrait of Björk on the back side of Wardrobe is precisely as ambiguous as Richard Hamilton’s sick self-portrait (Oil on Cibachrome on Canvas) from 1990. Only a lunatic would paint green tears on a photograph of Björk with oil colors and then mount the whole shebang on canvas.
The psychopathological doodlings which spread out and cover Björk on both the concert placards and the CD cover, remind one of the symbolist Gustave Moreau’s manic ornamentation. The grotesque idea of decapitating the supermodel Christy Turlington whose head hangs in the air right above her in Balenciaga’s ads is clearly derived from Moreau’s 'Apparition' from 1876, where Salome recoils from John The Baptist’s floating head. A grisly painting from a chaotic epoch where the consumer society just as during the IT boom and the new economy was in one of its most aggressive phases.
But worst of all is no doubt the 'evil eye' the eternal companion of the psychotic paranoiac which runs down Björk’s cheek in the video for 'Hidden Place' and clings to the face of the Spring Balenciaga model. In today’s incalculable, immeasurable control society, a persecution complex should, in other words, be viewed not as a pathology but as a civic duty.