Fia Backström by Robert Fitterman

BOMB 134 Winter 2016
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Backstrom Fia 01

Installation view of Lesser New York, in Greater New York, MoMA PS1, 2015. Photo by Pablo Enriquez. Courtesy of the artist and MoMA PS1.

An equation for Fia Backström. In 2005, the artist opened lesser new york in her Williamsburg loft, which was a response to Greater New York (2005) but it was lesser; it was a greater response to the lesser limits of the art world that she saw reflected in PS1’s concurrent survey; this lesser exhibit/installation was organized under the auspices of a “fia backström production,” a lesser production of curated ephemera such as press releases, invites, posters, and so on culled from found materials and the work of a greater local network of friends and peers; the lesser aesthetics of dejecta, pasted directly onto the walls, reflects a greater decorative pattern, not unlike Rorschach images of a lesser art industry itself within a critique of a greater institutional relationship to art production; as such, the lesser display of curated ephemera (from nonartists and artists alike) not only comments on the greater vortex of art and capital, but also serves as a lesser gesture toward something like a memorial wall, not unlike a collection of posters on the greater Berlin Wall, or a lesser improvisational 9-11 wall, or, more recently, a greater Facebook wall, or the lesser construction wall surrounding the Second Avenue gas explosion in the East Village, all pointing to a lesser memorial for the greater commodified institution of art consumption; whereas in Backström’s lesser new york each move repels consumption by both the lesser value of the pasted paper and its repetition, which dispels the greater value of precious originals; so the act of reinstalling lesser new yorkten years later at Greater New York—the very institution that rejected her a decade earlier—speaks to the nefarious long arm of Capitalism that can morph into an owner of its own critique; so that lesser new york is greater than its initial critique, greater than a work of institutional critique: it is a continuous institutional relationship, a lesser critique that keeps on giving in its new contexts; the collective spirit of artists working together playfully is lesser, whereas the critique of how artists can imagine working alongside the institution is greater, or vice versa; the lesser gesture of a curated mixed-media installation in one’s home with no clear identification and no commercial validity becomes untethered when it is greater, and this particular lesser becomes greater in the Greater New York (2015) context; still, the instabilities of the organizing systems by Backström continue to put pressure on both the defining features of art production in both the lesser context and the decade-later greater one; further, the greater question of what constitutes an art as a lesser art becomes a dizzying conundrum when the greater art institution frames the lesser to be greater, when the lesser is invested in its lesser relationship to the greater. Great.

lesser new york is presented in conjunction with The Artist’s Institute, whose current season is devoted to Fia Backström’s work, through February 7, 2016.

Robert Fitterman’s fourteen poetry books include Nevermind (forthcoming in spring from Wonder Books) and No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself (Ugly Duckling Presse). He teaches writing at NYU and at Bard College, Milton Avery School of Graduate Studies.

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Originally published in

BOMB 134, Winter 2016

Featuring interviews with Jem Cohen, Tom Burr, Maylis de Karengal, Portia Zvavahera, SO - IL, Sarah Ruden, Michael St. John, Stephen Collier, Mayo Thompson.

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