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13.09.2019 INTERVIEW
Arvida Byström

Arvida Byström. Foto: Patricia Stokholm.

On the Cloud - interview with Arvida Byström

Arvida Byström is an artist that hardly goes by unnoticed. Sporting 30 NFC-chip implants, making selfiestick aerobics with Maja Malou Lyse, DJ’ing as a boobed-up version of the dog snapchat-filter in the court of Charlottenborg at Chart, were I met her. The stalls were white as usual, but Arvida claimed the entire space of Gallery Steinsland Berliner(SE) plastering the walls with patterns in her trademark color: pink in various shades. A color that has been subject to yet another flush of interest in recent years, the later centuries’ associations with submissive femininity no longer completely defining it. It’s LGBTQ+, it’s Gulabi-gang, barbie, metrosexual, millenial and surely easy to make profits of.

I was immediately attracted to her still life featuring a bouquet of flowers neatly decorated with earphones, throwing fake nails for petals. And of course featuring the peaches. The peaches are everywhere, bursting through the constraints of their panties, yet carrying them with a dainty elegance. They are a hallmark of her oeuvre that can be seen on gallery walls, as well as tattooed on the arms of her fans.

She displays numerous selfies, not self portraits which wouldn’t be surprising at an art fair, but selfies as we know them. Again playing with the things traditionally being frowned upon. In the middle of the room is her newly made film, realistically suited to the common art fair attention span of a couple of minutes, each second a sensory overload. The narrator is the well known iPhone-character Siri, serving up the dream that technology entwines us in for better or worse.

Byström’s art is not exclusively reserved to the guests of the fair, but widely available through her Instagram that boast of more than two hundred thousands of followers. But it, too, can be capitalized, posing for a double-edged sword, just like the color pink.

AF Patricia Stokholm

Arvida Byström, Steinsland-Berliner
Arvida Byström præsenteret af Steinsland Berliner på CHART 2019

Can you tell me something about the pieces you exhibited?

The still life, was in the 18th century a classical subject for women. It was seen as something that suited them, because they weren’t allowed to do nude studies since only men were posing for them. Then it was said that if you hadn’t studied naked bodies, you couldn’t do proper portraiture. Still lives were lowest in the hierarchies of genres. In terms of history, it’s been a feminized medium and something that has been looked down upon.

As for the selfie, everybody takes them, everybody has flip-phones and has taken a selfie. But they are seen as a feminine medium, too. In photography the phone-camera is not considered a proper tool to shoot with. That’s why I chose to display a phone camera photo as biggest. It’s a selfie with a phone I’m holding. Photos that takes such small space can be bigger than the high resolution photos.

The peach I find fun and interesting because its something that holds a lot of symbolism throughout history. In Chinese painting they used peaches as a symbol for immortality. A lot of paintings through the centuries feature peaches, it’s an iconic fruit. It’s fun to come back to because today the peaches are having a kind of renaissance through the emoji because it looks like a butt, and they now equal butts.

You made a film as well?

I’ve made a video called ‘Disembodied daughter’. It’s based on a text by the authors Helen Hester and Nina Power who are talking about how a lot of our everyday assistants are feminized. In the video I talk about Siri being a disembodied entity and how she’s perfectly soothing and helping like a mom, but without being nagging. She’s like a clerk that helps you in a clothing store and not too sexualised. Later in the video, it goes on talking about how tech companies try to disembody their technology by using the word  “cloud”.

This makes it sound like when you use i.e. iCloud you are just put your files in the air, into nowhere. But when you put things on the cloud you are actually outsourcing it to harddrive-factories that need a lot of energy to keep them running and to cool them down, which leaves environmental footprints. We talk about technology as if it’s disembodied, but it’s not. Just as Siri is in our iPhones. 

I guess this is a common question but what is your relation to pink? What does that mean to you?

8-10 years ago it was a color that were more frowned upon, so I felt that using pink was more subversive, but today it is less so. Pink has become so co-opted, everything is sold with the branding of a millennial pink hue. But I stick to pink because visual art is naturally visual, and I don’t feel like i need to use some kind of "neutral" expression. Sometimes people ask: “why don’t you try to do something else, why don’t you try remove yourself, do something with less pink?” but when it comes to pink I don’t want to leave it, and when it comes to my body - I actually make a lot of art that doesn’t include it, but on a superficial level photos with me in it get more attention. But I feel like that isn’t really on me, I don’t decide what people choose to spread.

How do you feel people receive you, what is the response to your work?
There are a lot of hierarchies within the art scene. Some people might think I’m too pop or too pretty. It’s like political or queer art has to be ugly so you cant sell it. There’s a lot of art like that which I really respect, but that’s not the path I choose to take. To make ugly art you have to have a lot of confidence in that what you’re saying is really important, and it relies only on your thoughts. But I come from another place where I like kitsch, and I like that people don’t have to understand my art in order to feel intrigued.

Young people find my art exiting and older people wonder what the fuck it’s about. Some people find it too pretty and easy, and some older people find it crazy and offensive. I think there’s a big difference between generations. People perceive it very differently. My art takes up so much space and it screams, it’s easy to have an opinion on.

What does the internet, and especially Instagram, mean to you and what has it meant throughout your life, I guess it’s changed a lot?

I entered the internet when I was a kid. I was bullied in my class and I started going into forums talking with, and helping out, others that were bullied. It was a sort of self-therapy to me. When I was in my early teens I realized that if you are good at taking photos of yourself, you get popular online. The first person I kissed I met online, my first boyfriend, my current girlfriend - all of them I met online... I was very depressed as a teenager, but I communicated via my blog and my photography. Eventually I found Tumblr, which was huge to me because of the bigger community, with more political discussions. It’s also were I got a ground understanding of art.

But eventually and with reluctance, I moved on to Instagram because my Tumblr community seemed to have moved.  I eventually liked the medium of the phone camera with it’s shitty photos and easy access. Now Instagram has become more just work to me. You kind of have to be there if you’re an artist, it’s fun though, in the way that you do reach more people.

Sometimes I do performances live on my Instagram, it’s fun because in the comments some people are like “what the fuck is this?” and other people are like “this is genius, this is performance art.” A lot of performance art is hard to understand and not necessarily the best or most interesting things. So it’s fun to put art in different contexts and bring it down a little bit. Art is usually put on a pedestal in closed spaces where people expect to see art. But when you go outside of that you get a different perspective on things.

But Instagram is a complicated platform because its owned by Facebook. Together with Google, and a few other companies, they are monopolizing the internet and keep finding more ways to profit of us. It’s totally commercialized. When I started using the internet companies didn’t know how to make money of it, nobody knew what it would become, hence it was more playful. Also the internet has become more closed-sourced, you can’t really customize the HTML of big platforms - which you used to be able to do, at least a tiny bit, before. The internet is becoming good for companies, but not for human beings. It’s frustrating and sad to see. We need to have more of push-back before things change.

Can you elaborate on your relation to the commercial aspect, because you worked for huge companies like Monki, it seems like you are riding the game but try not be part of it?

I don't know, I hope it’s like that. I think it's complicated. I do that so I can get money and funding. I couldn’t have done the things I do with just grants. I just started applying for stuff, but it’s a certain language you need to use. I’m not necessarily good at writing and the process is so long. The fun part of working with commercial entities is that you have deadlines and a high work pace, so you learn a lot, it’s like a school. I mainly learned video through commercial work. It’s usually so expensive that it’s hard to practice that without the money.

But then I don’t know if the world needs more things to buy. Also the conditions a lot of things are produced under today is terrible. Much production is outsourced and usually workers wont even get paid a living wage.  I’m grateful that I can live and scrape by, but I also do wish that the world was structured radically different.

Where are you going with your art?

I do one project at a time. I've been reluctant to enter the art world because I’ve been working commercially for longer.  As a private person, going to a museum can be fun or interesting, but there's also the hierarchies, the selling, all that pressure. Do I really want to enter in another industry, too? But at this point I like to work with the physical room, and you get to do that in your own terms here. And there are parts of being an artist that are fun and interesting. When you meet people outside of the industry it is really fun, and there are also a lot of interesting artist and people within the industry. It would be fun to make some public art, but they don't like too much with female bodies, or bodies in general, because they are scared that it might be too sexual and the get critiqued. But it is not always like that either, I can probably figure something out, because the public space is completely different and not too involved with all the crappy sides.

Thank you.

Arvida Byström

Arvida Byström: Upskirt, Pigment print on acid free paper. Courtesy: Courtesy Steinsland Berliner.

Arvida Byström

Arvida Byström: Tanline, Pigment print. Courtesy: Courtesy Steinsland Berliner.

Arvida Byström

Arvida Byström: Mumbai. Courtesy: Courtesy Steinsland Berliner.

Arvida Byström

Arvida Byström: Vanitas II, Print on acid free paper. Courtesy: Courtesy Steinsland Berliner.

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