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Setting the record straight with Arvida Byström

At Submission Beauty, we admit that we have a soft spot for the creative minds that have been nurtured by Scandinavia. But to define artist Arvida Byström as a Swedish artist would almost be to miss the reference point and origin of her work and world completely. More poignantly, her artistic voyage was seeded and informed by the online world, where it largely still exists to this day. The ping-pong relationship between Byström and the web is as interesting as ever – “post-internet” as we may be ? Read on below, as we try to dig into where Arvida Byström is at right now

PHOTOGRAPHY ARVIDA BYSTRÖM @arvidabystrom
INTERVIEW JESPER GUDBERGSEN @yessirjesper
MAKEUP IGNACIO ALONSO @iggifly @lundlundagency using Submission Beauty @submission.beauty

In your own words, how do you like to introduce yourself and your practice? Who is Arvida?

I’d say I am a lens based artist that likes to play with different mediums. Sometimes on social media, sometimes as videos, photographs, installations, performances or sculptures. Arvida Byström is sort of my alter ego that isn’t completely separated from my private persona, there is some overlap, but she’s sort of also a bigger projection surface than my private self. Sometimes it is nice to have that separation. Arvida is actually my middle name and I go by another name with friends and family.

You have said before that you were born / grew up on the internet. Can you speak on how it has influenced you creatively and personally to have shared your life from a young age ?

I usually say I had my coming of age through the online! I am just a tad too old to have fully grown up on the internet, I am a millennial after all. My career can’t be separated from the internet and probably wouldn’t even be a career, or would at least be extraordinarily different, if I would have been born 10 years earlier. I was very depressed during my teen years, and had a lot of social anxiety and would simply never have dared to share my art if I wouldn’t have had the safety of hiding behind a screen. At the same time, the internet probably prolonged my depression because I got some sort of social interactions and life through blogs and tumblr and alike – and if I wouldn’t have had that perhaps my depression would have seemed more severe and I would have gotten help earlier. Who knows.

How has your relationship with social media changed over the years ? 

Plenty. I fell in love with the internet when it was still more desktop heavy, not so much in our phones. The centralization of the internet that happened a lot with apps has changed the landscape of our online world. I loved tumblr, tumblr never made it in a great way to the app format, when I got really big it was through instagram though. But I never loved it over there. Tumblr was so fun because the platform is built to be a collaborative effort with all the reblogging, whereas Instagram is made to have original content. Even though many people post memes, technically the platform legally doesn’t encourage that and it doesn’t make it easy in the interface to repost stuff permanently. I think the structure, the interface, what is allowed and not allowed on platforms changes the style and the concept of art, and the discourse in general, immensely. Then I haven’t even touched on the censoring on instagram. I am currently hard shadow banned which means my name doesn’t even show up unless you type it out fully. The medium is the message etc etc. I’ve been considering getting only fans just to be able to post my work uncensored…

We’ve noticed the online ‘body discourse” centers very much about ‘hunger’ these days, with hunger-suppressing drugs being at the forefront of the conversation on social media right now. How do you feel about what seems to be going on in this area? 

I guess it is an anticipated backlash to the body positive ideal. I find it sad though. I come so much from a time on tumblr where people tried to find new ways of questioning 90s and early 2000s ideals about the skinny body so for me it is not so appealing. I had an eating disorder as a teen and when I got out of it the shocking thing for me was how much time I had all of a sudden. So much of my brain capacity had been focused on planning food and obsessing over it. Also with not enough nutrition you get very tired. Then again, it is easy for me to speak because I am naturally pretty lean… so I get that it is hard.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the ‘female gaze’ and other terms we use to talk about women in art ? 

The male gaze is just historically a term that shaped how we view bodies. Because men have been the protagonists of art and history,  western aesthetics have become rather one sided and sexist. Now we have this history of these beauty standards and they are ingrained in all of us – women and men alike. So naturally, women tend to photograph themselves in rather sexist manners. It is therefore hard to find a unique female gaze . Also I see myself as an artist not a woman artist. I think it is important at large to make sure we broaden representation, but we have to be mindful and make sure it is real representation and let these artists work with the subjects they are interested in and not just get chosen because they discuss representation in their work. To only include women in art shows that have the theme “women” is derogatory and minimizing, it is trying to cover up thousands of years of oppression by pigeonholing people once again. Women have to be able to discuss other things in their art: like technology at large, life at large. 

“To only include women in art shows that have the theme “women” is derogatory and minimizing, it is trying to cover up thousands of years of oppression by pigeonholing people once again. Women have to be able to discuss other things in their art: like technology at large, life at large.”

Do you think it’s important to discuss the gender binary when it comes to visual arts / creativity in general  – and why/why not?

I think it is important to discuss the disparity in who gets to show how and where, when it comes to gender and race. But I think art becomes bad when artists that have been brought in to fill the lack of women and people of color are also expected to visually and conceptually show this through their art.

What does it mean to be a young female artist today?

Not sure I am a young female artist. 

What is your definition of beauty?

I think it fluctuates too much to define it in specific terms. I find beauty intriguing though because it is so frowned upon. I think beauty should have such low status. Say for example when you are dating someone, to only date on looks is frowned upon and probably rightfully so. But to only date someone for their job or only date someone because they are smart is usually not something making up for a crappy personality either. You need a bunch of variables to make something worth it, or make something good usually. Beauty is like that to me. I sometimes enjoy dating a visually beautiful person and I can enjoy a beautiful movie, but if there is nothing more than beauty I probably won’t stay in the relationship or like the movie very much. But it definitely is one of those factors that can lure people in.

You’ve been flirting with artificial intelligence and the idea of robot/human interaction with our world for some time now. Could you elaborate on this exploration and the levels of “real / unreal” you are exploring here? 

I don’t think I explore real or unreal at all. To me it is strange that people define something as tangible as the internet as unreal. I would define narratives as unreal. Novels. Books. It is not something I work that much with tbh!

Another subject in your work seems to be dressing/undressing and the layers of illusion / diffusion / confusion that lie therein. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

I think for me,  I am just not very scared of the undressed. I think it is less of a specific interest of mine and more why other people are interested in my artworks.

Which do you prefer – real or unreal?

It is all real. 

Tell us some of your current obsessions? 

Smudged out lip liner and no mascara have gotten me feeling sexy again.  

Where are you right now and where do you see yourself going in the near + distant future?

Keep on making exhibitions and currently collaborating on a robot music project which I am excited about. More about that soon.