Beyond The Knife: Martin Falck

© Martin Falck

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Martin Falck is surely most widely known for the playfully gauche artwork that graces The Knife’s boundary pushing 2013 album Shaking The Habitual.

The Swedish designer has a bit of a penchant for the kind of confrontational work that challenges the archaeic, inflexible approach he was taught at the notoriously hardcore Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. Crack caught up with him over Skype to talk boring design, national stereotypes and the wisdom of Oprah Winfrey.

First up, The Knife. How did you come to work with them?

I’m a huge fan of The Knife! I was working a lot with this idea of ‘Norm Critical Form’ and I’ve done a lot of collective projects that included feminist and queer ideas, so since this was what The Knife were addressing with their record, Olof and Karin asked me to do it. I had no idea they were going to ask me and I was super duper happy when they did.

Can you elaborate on the term ‘Norm Critical Form’?

In Swedish we call it “Norm-Kritisk”. It’s the idea that we try to find different ways of doing things in different constellations. Open processes, non-professionals working within a non-hierarchy etc. You sort of include everyone in it; themes of intersectionality, feminism, the whole works! I think this is a big thing now in Sweden.

There’s a preconception about Swedes being quite withdrawn as a nation. Do you think your work is a reaction against that stereotype?

I think graphic designers are in general. It’s quite a non-social profession, but I feel like it’s changing a bit now, which makes me really excited. Graphic design has developed a lot and gets more and more attention which allows more space to work. I really like the idea of sharing work with a lot of people, or making it loud and visible so people can really react to it.

How do you go about translating the ideas and themes of the music into something visual?

I start by listening to the music A LOT, and then I have this thing when I hear music. I see a lot of images, videoclips, colours, typefaces. I talk a lot to the artist and slowly build this reference library, a sort of ‘moodboard’ – but I really don’t like that word. Maybe building them their own world is better, like ‘here is your new world and this record will be your national anthem’.

I really like spontaneous and honest ideas. When things get too thought-out and complicated they become less interesting. Have you seen the Oprah talk show? She talks a lot about lightbulb moments. This one moment of clarity, or this one thing you want to say. In my mind I always see images moving: this square is moving in this direction, this font is dripping down into that corner. There’s a lot of energy in what you see.

Your work could be considered ‘anti’ or ‘against’ traditional notions of design. Why did you choose this as an approach? Is it because so much of that stuff is just pretty boring?

When I was studying I was trying to find my own approach towards graphic design; to really learn, or feel, or understand what I could do with it. When I started to do this ‘anti’ design I was just breaking all the rules to learn why they are there. I felt like a lot of them were just Stone Age rules that didn’t apply to our reality anymore. Now I have a much more relaxed approach to them, and I even sometimes use those old rules that I was constantly breaking.

But I really don’t like the idea that ‘we can only use this if it has a function’, because that means that visuals are secondary and the function is the norm. With music it’s just another language, one that’s much more based on colours and moods. I feel like music and graphic design have so much in common, music is more free though. It’s funny because everyone can make sounds and everyone could draw something, but it’s still the visual part that has all the elitism. It says a lot about how important aesthetics and visual expressions are in our culture that having good taste is the ultimate symbol of status.

Would you feel OK about being misunderstood in the present if it means that in the future people will say you were ahead of your time?

Yes, but I think it’s nice to have a balance. One foot in the now and one in the future… I felt very misunderstood in the beginning, like people really didn’t get what I was doing. But I got a lot of energy from that. Then seeing things change and other people doing what I did; that was great. I love the idea of the internet in that sense. No copyright rules exist anymore. Graphic design is like fashion; trends change every week. It’s almost as if there is this one big brain doing graphic design and posting it all on Tumblr.

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