Sugar-coated intimates

Arvida Bystrom on why the internet's “panty fetish” is an art world analogy

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Arvida Bystrom

Arvida Bystrom is the Internet's pink-haired princess, flying around her kingdom on a rainbow unicorn, almost. Actually, she's a 22-year old Stockholm-born photographer and artist, now based in London. She explores sexuality, self-identity and contemporary feminism.

Bystrom grew up with a compact digital camera in hand and selfies as an expression of her teenage girl identity. Now a full-grown artist, she uses teenage aesthetics to tackle the difficulties of adult life. She exploits girly things to destroy the concept of being pretty and steps into dangerous territory of taboo topics including period and body hair. Jelly shoes suddenly become a fetish object, pop up windows and smartphones are just a new frame for art.

Currently Bystrom shoots mainly magazine editorials and various photography projects, models occasionally and runs a gallery space called Gal with her friend Hanna Antonsson. Gal is located in Limehouse and showcases likeminded emerging artists. Each show lasts for just one evening. The next one, “Intimates Index” by Charlotte Cullen is opening on the 14 December.

Here, Dazed talks to Bystrom about Gal space, the latest show and fetish.

Dazed Digital: When did you first start shooting?

Arvida Bystrom: I used to paint a lot when I was a kid. And at some point when I was about 12 years old I got into photography. Digital cameras were quite new back then and all my friends wanted to be photographers. Then I just kept on shooting I guess.

DD: Where does your love of colour stem from?

Arvida Bystrom: I just always really liked pink, and it's the thing which I can't really escape. I wanted to be a princess when I was a kid. I'm coming back to pink all the time, and then I found Tumblr and this whole aesthetic. It's fun but it's also lots of crap, it's what you use it for really. In the beginning I was quite confused, but then I kind of found my style through Tumblr.

DD: Have you always been interested in self-portraits?

Arvida Bystrom: It started like curiosity of what you look like when you're a teen girl, and if you can alter that and what you present to the rest of the world. And also I think because in the beginning I was really scared that people would say that I did something wrong. So it was quite easy to just use myself as a subject and object.

DD: Did it change much how you look at yourself?

Arvida Bystrom: It changed when I got interested in feminism probably. I started trying different things and I was less interested in making myself look beautiful, or looking a certain way. I know I don't have to look like the photos I'm taking which I really wanted to when I was 14. I know it sells, I know I get jobs through this but I am interested in shooting other people who don't quite look like me because I believe that everyone can look beautiful. And in my photography it's more about everything around me, colours, things I like, my aesthetics makes it more interesting.

DD: You explore a lot of taboo topics connected to femininity like periods and body hair. Is it a feminist statement?

Arvida Bystrom: I wouldn't say it's a statement. I am a female and I was brought in that way. So instead of fighting against it, I am questioning things which feel like imprisoning myself, like feeling that you have to shave off your hair. Now I think it's pretty and I like body hair, but if people want to shave it, it's also pretty, I don't really care. But feeling that you have to do something is not fun.

“The art world can be really pretentious and we don't really want to be a part of that, it's just fun for now.”

DD: And what's usually the reaction to your period photos?

Arvida Bystrom: Recently someone took one of my period photos and put it on Reddit with a title that some feminists want to “bleed free”. And I'm like, I don't mind that someone wants to do that, I couldn't be less bothered, but my project is not about that, it's like the title says "There will be blood". People sometimes compare period to shitting yourself. But when it comes to periods you can't really feel that it's coming. It happens to so many people so often, and it's so not discussed. Bleeding nose is kind of the same thing, it's the same bodily fluids, and this actually exist more in art.

DD: So are you putting together a new show around it now?

Arvida Bystrom: There was this girl who made a study about period art in Europe. She interviewed me and we decided that we should make an art show. We're going to have an exhibition about that in Gothenburg in March. 

DD: Tell us a bit about your gallery space Gal

Arvida Bystrom: I have a gallery with my friend Hanna Antonsson, she's a photographer as well. We had a studio in this big building and we were looking for a bigger space which became available, it's on the ground floor and we thought "we could have a gallery here". So we decided to start! We've had four shows so far and one coming up. But we're trying to be just lowkey about it. I really like art but we are more about popular culture. The art world can be really pretentious and we don't really want to be a part of that, it's just fun for now.

DD: Does it really have pink floor?

Arvida Bystrom: The studio has a concrete floor and we had to repaint it anyway so we were just like, let's just make it pink. It makes the space really basic. 

DD: Tell us a bit about your upcoming show?

Arvida Bystrom: The show is “Intimates Index” by Charlotte Cullen. It's about people who sell panties online. We kind of want to draw parallels with the art world, how to alter this idea of yourself to be able to sell the panties, how you have to fetishise this object to make it sellable. If the panties are dirty, you can sell them for more than you bought them for. It's the same with the art world, there are lots of people who make amazing art but they won't sell it for however much Damien Hirst sold that shark for, just because they haven't found a way to fetishise it.

DD: What are your plans for the future?

Arvida Bystrom: I don't know! I have breakdowns at least once every month where I don't trust myself enough, don't know if I should keep on going – should I sell myself as a product all the time if I don't like that? I want to keep on shooting, and in future I want to put together some kind of a book.

Charlotte Cullen's show Intimates Index opens at Gal 14 December 7-10 pm.

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