Lynn Fox thinks nothing of boundaries. Has no respect for what is real or unreal; male or female; possible or impossible. The prospect of making contact is both exhilarating and terrifying.
‘I’m looking for Lynn Fox.’
A pause; an intake of breath. Clutching the receiver tightly to my ear I strain to make out the soft voice three hundred miles away, just a faint digital signal here in Birmingham. A distant gatekeeper, no doubt clad in black trenchcoat and shades, poker-faced as she stands between me and my enigmatic quarry. I should have found a back-door. I should have taken the blue pill. The silence thickens as I stare into the gaping void before me. Too late.
‘You’re welcome,’ the dulcet Parisian tones purred down the line, before routing me into the mainframe. Let’s see how deep this fox-hole goes.
Lynn Fox is not easy to track down. With several identities she can slip in and out of the virtual world with ease, kneading gender like putty and twisting the familiar into something alien and mysterious. A voice materialises over the line, I can make out three in total. One seems to have a slight Germanic lilt; another is slightly fainter; but they harmonise to form a whole: so this is Lynn Fox, creative nexus from whom some of the world’s most hauntingly beautiful visuals have spawned.
‘We’re a three-headed beast,’ one voice declares. ‘We’re slightly unused to this way of working, so it helps to have the other two brains there to keep you on track.’ A psychic alien trinity, perhaps? The present-day creative equivalents of the Minority Report ‘pre-cogs’. ‘We’re on completely equal terms, and always find a compromise.’
Permeating Lynn Fox’s work is a blurred distinction between human and alien, male and female. A video for Bjork’s Nature is Ancient depicts two translucent, amoeba-like creatures floating in an environment equally reminiscent of the depths of the ocean, a distant galaxy, or the microscopic workings of the human body. The two join in sexual union and it ends with a fragile human foetus, shrouded in a swirling nebula.
Released in 2003, the techniques used to create these few minutes of eye-candy were groundbreaking. Soho-based animators Glassworks, regularly interfacing with Lynn Fox on more advanced computer-generated projects, developed bespoke software to create the millions of soft particles that formed the characters’ membranes. These cutting-edge models were combined with live-action shots of an illuminated water tank, filled with dust and particles, to complete the effect. ‘Computer work is great: you can take on projects without a huge budget, and still make something outstandingly visual,’ the voices agree.
They seem fascinated with distorting organic forms into something mesmerising; sometimes horrifying. The naked protagonist of Pluto is torturously mutated to the tune of electronically warped screaming, arms plunging out of his head as he leaps around a black backdrop that offers no clues. And Desired Constellation sees ghostly, whale-like beasts swimming through another mystical cosmic-aquatic world, which on closer inspection resemble deformed hands, clenching and unclenching like a squid’s tentacles.
‘We don’t give everything to the viewer; it’s never entirely resolved, so there’s always room for imagination. But we have no particular drive for naturalistic forms; the organic nature of our work is incidental,’ they insist.
The ultimate enigma is, of course, ‘Lynn Fox’ herself, an androgynous blend of trained architects Bastian Glassner, Chris McKenzie and Patrick Chen. ‘We wanted to get away from the generic; there are a lot of industrial-style names out there. We wanted more personality. This doesn’t typecast us,’ they suggest. Chatting to a speakerphone in a post-production suite in Paris, where they’re shooting a new Audi commercial, their voices filter back to me en-mass.
‘Stylistically we’re similar to our name: not defined by a word. We tend to treat things in a similar way, but it’s good to keep your mind open.’ The design trinity formed during their postgraduate years at the Barbican in London, and their skills seem to transfer pretty well into video production. ‘Architecture is a method of working: you take ideas apart, fuck around with them and re-assemble them into something new. To some extent we’re ignorant: we don’t try to be arty – we’re not nerdy, following trends – but as an architect you need an inherent interest in fine artistic details. It’s a broad education.’
Attention to detail is putting it modestly. Their videos are endlessly symbolic; a rich visual feast that laughs in the face of their churned out, straight-from-the-mould MTV counterparts. ‘Some of it is not at all based on reality; other things are completely real; others blend the two together,’ they explain. Unravel, for instance, sees a flurry of delicate white threads pouring from Bjork’s back as she performs, as if her very soul is unravelling before your eyes and weaving into an organic, undulating form outside of her body.
‘A good music video should stand alone; you should be able to watch it as a piece in its own right, not just as a record promotion for the artist and their music,’ is the Lynn Fox take on their profession. ‘It’s kind of weird, because when we work on a music video it’s because we find it interesting; we don’t really think about what it does for the artist.’
Given that the vast majority of their work has been with Bjork, their highly distinctive style has to some extent become synonymous with her music, itself fiercely original. ‘She’s one of the all-time classics. From day one we made a list of people we wanted to work with, and she was pretty near the top,’ they admit. ‘We’re real fans of her music; she makes good work, rather than just doing anything to make money.’
‘She’s got a very visual mind, which comes across when she’s writing music.’ But they refuse to flatter themselves that she could be influenced by them, working backwards with potential Lynn Fox visuals in mind when beginning fresh material. My question is met with three-fold laughter. ‘She’s very strong-minded.’ But they will admit to having a positive working relationship with her.
While their work invariably stands alone as a fascinating cross-over between sculpture and film, it’s never a case of thinking of a fabulous concept and then laying an appropriate score over the top: Lynn Fox’s generation of ideas must always start with the music. ‘We put it on a loop thousands of times, and then chat to each other for days about the ideal treatment. We’ve yet to make a video which has compromised our style: we’re lucky in that we’ve had amazing clients who give us the chance to unify the visuals with the music.’
As they slip into mechanical metaphor at the end of the interview, my mind wanders once again to entertain visions of a Borg-like collective: ‘We don’t get into gear before ten o’clock; we never function properly before then,’ they admit. This creative trinity may be more machine than (wo)man, but they still have their basic human foibles.
This article was published in the December 2004 edition of Blowback magazine