On the cover of FKA twigs’s new EP M3LLI55X (pronounced “Melissa”) is a photograph of the British pop singer with a hand pushing through her face. The artist behind it is Matthew Stone, whose performances have been seen at Performa and Art Basel, and whose work has recently been shown at The Hole in Manhattan. Stone, a self-described shaman, has utopian aspirations for society, and, for one of his shows at The Hole, wrote a four-word “mini-festo”: “Optimism as Cultural Rebellion.” Stone and I talked about the cover by telephone. The interview has been edited.
ARTnews: How did you first come into contact with FKA twigs? I know you did a photoshoot with her for i-D in 2012.
Matthew Stone: I think the first time we met was in a nightclub. I said to her, “I’d love to take photographs of you.” She politely smiled. I think she was very used to people saying that to her. Nothing really came of it. A mutual friend of ours, Carri Mundane, who runs the label CassettePlaya, connected us. Twigs was saying that she wanted to make a video. She was talking about the ideas that she had. Carri was like, “You have to speak to Matthew.” Suddenly, I then got an email from her saying, “Hey, I wanted you to work on this.” That was where the shoot that we did in 2012 came from. We became quite good friends before that happened. There’s a rumor online that we met on a bus, which I’m sure fits a kind of journalistic narrative, but it’s not completely true.
When this new EP came together, had you heard the music before you did the artwork?
No, actually, I hadn’t. I feel like, in a sense, there’s a mutual understanding that we’re creatively on the same page anyway. I didn’t feel like anything that she made wouldn’t fit. I think what’s amazing about working with twigs is I don’t feel like I’m a visual artist coming in, and I’m just giving the visual bit and she’s trusting me to do that. It really is a visual collaboration. She’s very much engaged in every part of that. To me, that’s what’s so interesting—that, in a sense, she’s approaching her career predominantly as a musician, but she’s seeing that as a way to be an artist in a bigger sense.
The nature of the collaboration that you’re talking about runs through a lot of the work that you do as well.
After I graduated—I studied painting at Camberwell, in London—I was involved in instigating a new art squatting scene in south London and was part of an art collective called !WOWOW! Basically, the period after I left college, rather than having this existential freakout about how to survive, my friends and I took unused commercial properties, and we organized a series of events, exhibitions, and after-parties. We had these huge buildings, so they were studios and residencies for people. This was 2004, 2005. We’d have this life, and that was our thing.
Everybody worked together on that. I feel like, for me, that way of working emerged or solidified then. From there, out of that period, in my individual work, I’ve been thinking about processing what happened in that time—collaboration, how hierarchies emerge and how they become necessary, how you stabilize them, how long these utopian plans last, how long you maintain something.
I think it’s interesting, too, that you’re saying so much about collaboration and the photos quite literally have people coming together. I wanted to ask about the digital editing. You’ve used it a lot in the past, such as your photographs of painted glass, which seem like paintings themselves. Tell me a little about the digital editing here. Were you experimenting, or did you know that you wanted it to look this way?
I’ve done a lot of photography in the past that’s aesthetically pretty close, with the bodies physically close to each other. There is this sense of abstraction of the bodies, where one person could become the next fairly easily. You can say, “Is that my arm?” And I’m like, “No.” Even the people in the images find it fairly difficult to identify themselves. So I feel like I’ve been exploring the idea with performative body language for a long time. And I think it does relate to collaboration to the point where you kind of lose total possession of something. Our bodies are the most solid physical example of what we know to be our own. There is something interesting in making imagery where, at least when you read it, you question if there is a moment where people go beyond the body as we know it. You lose sight of that of individuality that pervades so much of the way that we think about things.
In your work, when you merge bodies, is that supposed to create a utopian state?
I don’t know. I don’t have a fixed idea of utopia that I’m proposing, but I definitely am interested in contemporary ways of representing intimacy and the parts of human experience where we do emerge.
That’s perfect, then, because twigs’s music is all about intimacy.
We had an amazing conversation the other day. We started off talking about the body and healing. I can’t speak for her, but I feel there is a connection to the way we feel about things and the way we’re really interested in physicality and how that can be used to create emotional states. In one sense, you can think of the body as being emotionally manipulative. Both of us don’t really claim to be making objective imagery, at least not in a documentary sense. We both see bodies as raw material. You can see that in her self-directed videos and the shows that she stages, which are almost like two-hour contemporary dance pieces, or even contemporary art pieces.