Born 1970 in Stockholm, Sweden; lives in New York, New York
Undermining assumptions about what constitutes an exhibition—its institutional context, discursive network, audience, or even the artwork shown— Fia Backström’s work explores the parameters of format and the logic of display. Her work refuses fixity of images or categories; virtually impossible to characterize, her practice encompasses producing printed matter and merchandise-based items, arrangements and displays, creating objects, writing texts, and initiating gatherings and events. Working within a system that favors the branding of individual identity and style as an artistic signature, Backström acknowledges the elusiveness of her practice in a conversation with Wade Guyton for North Drive Press: “There is this great movie title for a film with Leonardo DiCaprio called Catch Me If You Can . . . about a con artist who always manages to escape. All artists are sort of like con artists.”
In recent installations, Backström has appropriated the work of other artists. For Forged Community Posters (2006), she superimposed SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) slogans over images consigned by artists represented by Andrew Kreps Gallery, turning a language of radicality into a marketing spoof. A New Order for a New Economy—to Form and Content (A proposal to re-arrange the ads of Artforum) (2006–07), a friezelike ribbon of magazine advertisements encircling the gallery, follows the directive of its own title. By unmooring the images from their original matrix and sorting them according to color, subject (nudes, portraits, animals, crying men), and composition, Backström flattens the formal differences—jarring colors, odd croppings, and the like—so carefully designed to ensure maximum visual impact in Artforum’s cluttered pages, transforming the commercial backbone of the magazine into its content.
In highlighting the mercantile underpinnings of the art world in the space of a commercial gallery, Backström renders its operations visibly reflexive. A similar strategy manifested in the performative work Herd Instinct 360º (2005–06), a series of gatherings staged as feedback-producing images of themselves—somewhat like Dan Graham’s seminal Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975), in which the audience confronted its own reflection in a mirror. Conceived to be similarly disruptive, Backström’s 2007 gathering Eco Day offered participants a series of conspicuously useless, waste-producing activities including interpretive dancing with toilet paper and a scattered “carrying around” of placards in Stockholm’s Marabou Park, where a protest march and a lifestyle commercial seemed indistinguishable. Considering us all guilty of collusion, Backström refuses narcissistic melancholy and didactic activism alike as she reworks the signs for engagement—including those of the art context—as they resurface in contemporary image culture. Instead, she offers frameworks for strategic positioning that are there and then are gone. SUZANNE HUDSON
Fia Backstöm, A New Order for a New Economy--to Form and Content (A proposal to re-arrange the ads of Artforum), 2006-07. Magazine, wooden shelf, and glass, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist