Magazine article Artforum International

1000 Words: Miriam Backstrom and Kira Carpelan Talk about Their Recent Collaborations

Magazine article Artforum International

1000 Words: Miriam Backstrom and Kira Carpelan Talk about Their Recent Collaborations

Article excerpt

ARTISTIC COLLABORATIONS tend to be celebrated as win-win situations: Working together, artists expand their strategic arsenals and even, in a sense, their identities. But a more complex dynamic unfolded last year, when Miriam Backstrom decided to collaborate with a younger artist, Kira Carpelan, then in her penultimate year at Stockholm's Konstfack Art Academy. Backstrom, known since the early 1990s for her photographs of eerily evacuated interiors, has in the past few years increasingly turned to the moving image, working with actor-collaborators to script and shoot videos that expose the often-confounding symbioses of fact and fiction, selfhood and assumed persona. Pushing these interests toward an extreme, Backstrom invited Carpelan to take over Backstrom's solo show at the Stockholm contemporary art space Fargfabriken. (Bearing in mind the fact that Carpelan had helped edit Backstrom's 2005 film The Viewer, the gesture perhaps most readily recalls Martin Kippenberger's ambiguous relationships with his many assistants-cum-apprentices, e.g., Michael Krebber.) To put the exhibition together, Carpelan was given access to all of Backstrom's resources--finances, equipment, even diaries--but she had to agree to let Backstrom document the yearlong preparation process on video.

The result was a veritable labyrinth of recursive interconnections: The exhibition "Miriam Backstrom: Kira Carpelan," which opened last February, identifies Backstrom as the artist and Carpelan as her creation; but the work on view--an untitled video starring Backstrom and well-known Swedish actress Rebecka Hemse, who also appeared in The Viewer--was made and is owned by Carpelan. Oblique and allusive, the film focuses on two women, Lillith (Hemse) and Rosa (Backstrom), talking to and past each other, seemingly bemused by the slippages of subjectivity and communication.

As for Backstrom, she showed her own video, Kira Carpelan, 2007-, as a work in progress last January in the group exhibition "Art of the Possible" at the Lunds Konsthall in Lund, Sweden. In it, we see Backstrom posing Carpelan for a portrait with the meticulous care of a collector looking after her treasure; Backstrom and Hemse delivering a talk on the project; and Carpelan in conversation with "Art of the Possible" curator Anders Kreuger, who seems to be gently egging her on, urging her to make the most of the situation. It is, in a sense, a backstage drama--but instead of the clear narrative arc one associates with the genre, we get an excruciating battle of wills manifest in lukewarm smiles, blank gazes, and wary exchanges. "What can you do for me?" Backstrom asks Carpelan at one point. Carpelan replies, "I can be the image of your limitations." In another scene Carpelan tells Backstrom, "You have no vision [for the project]." "I have many intentions," Backstrom answers. "Can't you tell me about them?" says Carpelan. "Yes," says Backstrom, "but you have to ask me first."

If it's difficult to tell where each artist ends and the other begins in all this, it's even harder to identify what they have done together. An apprenticeship? A reality show? Identity theft? An updating of the myth of Pygmalion, with Backstrom in the role of the sculptor and Carpelan playing Galatea, the sculpture that turns out to possess a life of its own? A take on All About Eve, on Persona--or, as Fargfabriken curator Jan Aman suggests, on the role-playing of Lonelygirl15?

MIRIAM BACKSTROM: I did employ Kira to help me cut one of my films, but she has never been my assistant. She has been my artist, my work of art, and my material. I wanted to work with something, or somebody, that I didn't understand or recognize, and to let this project and person control me, my work, and my exhibition. I knew I'd have to adjust to the will of this person and to the decisions she made. I was interested in living under the pressure of not being able to plan, of not knowing what kind of difficulties Kira would put me in. …

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