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Arvida Byström
Arvida ByströmPhotography Fredrika Eriksson (@fredrika.eriksson)

Arvida Byström on why she implanted 30 NFC chips under her skin

The Swedish photographer and artist explores how technology is increasingly intruding into our bodies

“To inflate something is to make something that actually takes very little space spread out but instead takes a great deal of space,” explains Arvida Byström when asked about the title of her latest exhibition, Inflated Fiction, currently showing at Stockholm’s Fotografiska. “A lot of things in society are amplified and depicted in ways that have little to do with reality. This is something I want to highlight in my work.”

An artistic polymath with a practice rooted in digital media, Byström’s imagery explores how our perception and experience of both reality and identity is moulded by technology – often, to extreme degrees. “My show at Fotografiska deals with two extremities: the person who can’t leave their body, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, a femme which is disembodied: iPhone’s Siri,” the Swedish image-maker explains. “On the one hand, human bodies – especially feminine and queer ones – are usually signifiers of sex, they are hyper-sexualised. When in reality, I think it’s safe to say, most bodies spend most of their time not having sex. On the flipside to that is the immaterial femme-bot Siri, the disembodied feminine creature that tech companies are trying to entirely detach from the concept of a body, although she does have one; it’s just not made of flesh.”

Interestingly, Byström’s curiosity surrounding the phenomenon of tech intrusion doesn’t limit itself to an outsider gaze. As part of a performance opening the exhibition, the artist became her own physical subject matter, implanting 30 NFC chips under her skin – a procedure she describes as pragmatically useless, but similar to tattooing as a form of non-verbal communication. “Each chip looks like a big grain of rice, and they can only be activated with an NFC reader, such as a phone,” Byström continues. “In Sweden, you can put your public transport card on it, for example, and just use that like you would an Oyster card. Inserting 30 chips is extremely unnecessary from a practical point of view. I put little messages on mine, or links to photos, which you can read out with a phone.” The performance, Byström argues, is both a metaphor for technological domination and a subtly affectionate tribute to the irrepressible desire humans have to express themselves creatively.

“One thing I find really cute is how we find ways to make art out of almost everything,” Byström admits. “Take writing, for example. It is thought to have been born out of necessity, to archive receipts and economic transitions – but then humans eventually started using it to make poetry and novels out of it. I find this very sweet; a positive note regarding humanity.” In an era where most people are digital natives, Byström concludes, learning to make art out of technology is a natural progression – a sign of acceptance towards the world we have created.