There have been few books with as much hype as the Björk: Archives. Designed by M/M (Paris), the publication is formed of a big, black box with brightly-coloured paper pamphlet inserts, detailing Björk’s varied and brilliant career with stunning photography. The booklets were designed to look like sheet music, aiming to convey the Björk that’s a composer, rather than the eccentric swan-wearer perhaps most often depicted.
It’s certainly not an aesthetic we’d expected for an artist so usually accompanied with all-singing, all-dancing visuals; often created in collaboration with M/M, which has worked with Björk since 1999. It was a match made in heaven: Björk’s chameleon-like donning of different masks, her abstract way of looking at the world and her incredible aesthetic eye were the perfect fit for an agency renowned “for their use of signs and images,” as Klaus Bisenbach puts it in his introductory essay in the Archives.
He goes on: “Their first collaboration was on her compilation of videos, Volumen, composed of a cover for pictures, black and white characters, good and evil, creating characters that were in between album characters. According to M/M, the conversation was like ‘reading tarot cards together’ while creating a set of their signature multifaceted signifiers.”
M/M (Paris) went on to work on projects including Björk’s first artist book in 2001, live visuals, and numerous videos, including that for Hidden Place, in which they collaborate with Dutch fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.
The results of the collaboration, it goes without saying, are impressive. But Michael’s not keen to blow his own trumpet, or offer much insight into the workings of this exceptionally cool trio. He describes the Björk: Archives as “a product of compromise and negotiation.” He says: “The one thing I am actually proud of is that it actually exists. I’m proud we managed to make something tangible that exists and has an identity.”
According to Michael, much bewilderment has arisen from the book’s title (the publication isn’t an archive in the sense we might imagine), which was changed for an international market. “It’s creating confusion,” he says. “People are still trying to understand it and it’s pissing people off.”
“This is not a coffee table book.”Michael Amzalag, M/M (Paris)
The book is being released to coincide with an exhibition celebrating Björk’s work at New York’s MoMA, and its aim is to show Björk as a composer, rather than simply a visual spectacle, or even just a “pop star.” As such, each booklet within the box shows music notation, and uses a different bright colour because sheet music “has no colour – it’s black and white,” Michael explains.
He says: “We wanted to articulate the execution of the MoMA exhibition, and not be tempted to just produce a lavish publication that only shows the visual aspect of [Björk’s] work. That’s why we decided to not just use a portrait, and focus on the composer that she is at her core.
“Lots of people are going to be upset about the show, people are rolling their eyes and saying ‘why is a pop star in the museum?’ But the definition of art is more than just someone that’s created a work of art. [Björk] has created all these characters, so we wanted to present that in the book by looking at different aspects of her work.
“This is not a coffee table book.”
Björk: Archives, with contributions from Klaus Biesenbach, Alex Ross, Nicola Dibben, Timothy Morton and Sjón, is published by Thames & Hudson at £40.
About the Author
Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.