New York

Annika Ström

I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY. This wry anti-statement, with its overtones of Cagean Zen, is brushed in shades of dilute blue acrylic on an oversize sheet of white paper by Swedish artist and musician Annika Ström, forming the disingenuous introduction to a modest but far from weightless exhibition, “Everything in this show could be used against me.” Centered on a new video, 16 minutes (all works 2003), the show further demonstrates Ström’s talent for making something out of nothing. Aligning the dreamy, introverted nature of individual studio practice with the glimpsed views and half-remembered encounters of everyday life, she gradually charms the viewer into a reconsideration of process and genre, emotional resonance and critical effect.

Ström writes and performs her own pop music in the airy, bittersweet mode of the Pastels or Belle & Sebastian, but it’s integrated into her art far more fully than at the level of a straightforward sound track. Rather than simply graft a tune onto an already completed work in the manner of so many of her contemporaries, she attempts, with some success, to employ it as a structuring device for her visual material. In 16 minutes, Ström’s meandering love song punctuates a quirky but precisely edited montage of views from apartment and airplane windows, paintbrushes standing in buckets of water, and tropical fish circling in domestic aquariums. Every couple of minutes someone interrupts the flow to discuss a family snapshot, pointing out the names of people pictured, revealing fluctuating relationships and lapses in memory, and exhibiting a combination of dry humor and nostalgic melancholy that sits nicely between Ström’s own lines. “This is a song for you,” she sings. “But you will never hear it.”

Essentially a meditation on contingency and loss, 16 minutes is also an acutely self-aware and self-referential work in which Ström picks apart her own role and persona as an artist. Jerky time-lapse sequences showing the artist buzzing around her spare, sunlit studio are juxtaposed with snatches of televised figure skating in which the performer spins, leaps, stumbles, and falls. At one point, Ström even imitates the skater’s moves; the viewer can’t help but anticipate a similar mishap. Remember the footage of a surfer that Julian Schnabel dropped into Basquiat, a tiny figure riding a wave for the length of the movie before finally wiping out and disappearing from view? The fact that several of the paintings that Ström’s video shows in progress—Small, Big, and Painted video still—are here in the flesh, also initiates a circular game in which the interconnected images call one another’s authority and authenticity into question.

In Green piece, Ström prints eight phrases that could be song titles or lyrics onto the spines of a wall-mounted rack of audio cassettes. I AM IN LOVE, I LOVE YOU, I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU, I MISS YOU AND I WANT YOU—the emotions expressed are universal, and their yearning tone is immediately understood. Yet the pop context emphasizes that their significatory power is inevitably diminished through endless repetition. In one of the funniest passages from 16 minutes, a man struggles to describe his girlfriend, ending up with a vague and awkwardly phrased portrait that could apply to almost anyone. “The head itself,” he shrugs, “is quite a normal size.” Later, a woman wistfully recalls encountering on the subway the most beautiful man she ever saw.

Michael Wilson