As a word of warning, I’ll issue the disclaimer that I normally don’t recommend interviews comprised of all the things I hate. Fia Backström’s September conversation with Nick Stillman on NYFA Current, is hard to read, nothing can be copied or pasted, the media works have no easy to grab unique urls, some of the videos don’t play properly, and it makes use of the horrid pop-up window, a popular browser feature in 2001. However, everything about this work looks and feels like net art, so naturally I’m interested — even if it does happen to fall into a category of art with which I have a love hate relationship — institutional critique.
In as much as many of us, including myself, tire of such topics, the interview and work appeals to me nonetheless because it succeeds where so much art today fails; it is well put together, packs a few surprises, and most importantly, doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it is. As such, despite non-traditional formating [captured above], a standard interview structure remains basically in tact. Nick Stillman more or less begins by asking Backström how she defines her practice, she responds, and they proceed to discuss her work. The interview itself, of course, is also an artwork, an observation that can be made on aesthetics alone, or by virtue of the fact that she describes her practice as at least in part about locking down and stabilizing parameters, and proceeds to illustrate this point throughout the text. Backström also identifies an interest in investigating economic and social dimensions within images or events both of which are discussed in the interview.
Such was the case in regards to her tablecloths and fliers featuring graphically appealing arranged gallery names [see above]. On the surface, it’s hard to know why there should be too much distinction between the investigations of gallery marketing by Dan Levenson, and those of Fia Backström, apart from the fact that the former creates branding for a fictional gallery inspired by the real world, while Backström makes products for pre-existing businesses. Both seem interested in the idea of creating image branding on unlikely materials, neither claiming any more or less substance than what you see. “Their content is their circulation.” dictates a male voice reading Backström’s essay on table clothes thereby separating the work. Perfectly defining the perimeters of her project, she similarly claims nothing critical in her rearrangement of art forum ads purely on formal considerations. The viewer is left to decide upon the significance of distribution and Backström’s self described “love for images” as subject material. Backed by Madonna’s Vogue, the fact that the interest is so well expressed, leads me to believe that if nothing else, such concise articulation of those concerns holds importance.
Backström goes on to speak about the inherent problem in finding ways to make failure productive, since action typically requires the awareness of potential deficiency. Subscribing to the belief that no refusal should be made without proposing solutions, the artist flashes an image of a happy business man, presumably representing a problem efficiently solved. Conversely he may simply represent structural insanity, as do the children in Swedish artist Peter Theilgaard’s painting titled either “Are You Productive Little Friend?” or “Are You Profitable Little Friend?”
“Anyhow, I'd rather have structural insanity looking like unproductive refusals.” Backström explains obliquely after offering up the loose title translation above. Assuming this means she’d prefer a negative reaction to unhealthy economic models than whatever that placid smile above actually means I can’t say I blame her. That said, the statement intentionally opaque, leaves room for the message to fail completely in delivering any meaning. This too is acceptable within the set perimeters of the essay — “let’s play failure” — she tells us, admitting that she’s not sure how positive results might be achieved. I’m fairly certain there won’t be any if that’s the game, but you have to hand it to Backström for not being afraid to try.