Why We Objectify Arvida Byström

Why We Objectify Arvida Byström

The Swedish artist explores the evolving definition of the word "sexy" and it's influence on our perception of sex.

The Swedish artist explores the evolving definition of the word "sexy" and it's influence on our perception of sex.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

“The thing is, I am not so minimalistic.”

When entering Arvida Byström’s exhibit at Stockholm’s Fotografiska, you’ll see she’s not kidding. Within Inflated Fiction, the multi-hyphenate artist and digital media connoisseur has created an IRL, 3D embodiment of her Instagram page, which in itself is but a fractioned expression of her playful mind. The lavishly pink wonderland is flush with Byström’s signature aesthetic and ethos—intimate selfies, a lengthy script of printed Instagram comments, a giant hand holding an underwear-clad peach, and a flurry of images that makes the viewer question the difference between what is cute vs. sexy vs. sexual.

“Most of my followers think that this is an aesthetic that is fun to play with. A lot of the time, I feel like I do it in a very hyper-sexy way that is barely sexy to a lot of straight men, because I’m too much,” she explains. She is okay with viewers sexualizing a photo (“I’d literally be mad if people never jerked off to my photos—but I don’t want to know about it”), however she wants us to consider whether this is inherent in the photo or a projection of our own minds.

“This imagery of ‘sexy’ has very little to do with sex,” she explains. “You may have on a hoodie and some sweatpants and be kind of gross and hungover, and maybe that’s when you feel the horniest…to say that my work is about sex is a disfavor to sex. I want things that are actually about sex to get promotion, because [it’s] a super important topic. I don’t necessarily deal with it that much. It’s more of an image that we tie to sex, and a lot of the time, it’s very off.”

Ultimately, Byström raises a question around objectification—who are we to decide if a portrait is sexual, especially when there is no direct depiction of any sexual acts? Why does displaying body parts that are both pragmatic and sexual more often hint toward the latter? For those of us that remember, a younger Britney Spears played with this dichotomy masterfully—if you are to constantly hint towards sex, even while adamantly declaring sugarcoated innocence and even virginity until marriage, the public will always choose sex. And fortunately for artists, sex sells.

But Byström’s exploration of the body goes further than its sexualized depiction. As a post-Internet artist, technology is an increasingly abundant motif in her work. For the opening of Inflated Fiction, Byström injected herself with 30 NFC chips that would display messages on one’s phone when scanning her body. She created a video in which Siri reads a monologue discussing how she doesn’t exist within our concept of gender. If you ask her yourself, she says something along the lines of: “I am genderless. Like cacti. And certain species of fish.”

“They’re obviously trying to play on her being a woman, a cis woman,” Byström thinks. “She’s an unsexualized representation of a woman, where she’s more the mom or a secretary. But an unsexy secretary.”

Siri’s devoid of a body, and thus without any visual clues, we have trouble casting any nuances of sexuality onto her. Byström notes that in the movie Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with an operating system, a lesser-known actress played the OS’s voice before producers switched in Scarlett Johansson last minute. Having a known face and body like Johansson’s allowed moviegoers to sexualize the voice in a way we simply can’t with Siri.

In all, the exhibit brings about an emotional rollercoaster similar to that of opening up Instagram. We judge Byström, we judge ourselves, and we wonder how we can feel so sad and turned on in the very same moment.

Credits: Photographer-Arvida Byström Stylist-Lo Hallén Makeup-Madeleine Gaterud Photo Assistant-Fredrika Eriksson Photo Retouch-Mikael Bigun Fashion Credits: Look 1:
White ruffle bra - Arvida's own
White, transparent trousers - Lazoshmidl
Fake fur leopard stole - Lazoschmidl
Red thong - BACK
Red PVC pumps - BACK
Look 2:
Red bra - Arvida's own
Corset dress - BACK
Printed stockings - BACK
Black thong worn as hat - BACK
Slingback pumps - Arvida's own
Black bag - Humana Second hand
Bag jewelry - Acne Studios
Look 3:
Blue lurex knit - Lazoschmidl
Red PVC speedo - Lazoschmidl
Red bag - Stylist’s own
Black, floral printed bag - Humana Second hand
Bag jewelry - Acne Studios
Ear jewelry - Acne Studios
Red PVC pumps - BACK
Look 4:
Red PVC jumpsuit - Alice Jardesten
Red thong - BACK
Black slingback pumps - Arvida's own
Look 5:
Denim cut-out jumpsuit - Alice Jardesten
Red thong - BACK
Red thong worn as hat - BACK
Red PVC pumps - BACK
Look 6 (Cover Image):
Red bra - Arvida's own
Blue, checkered dress - Acne Studios
Red PVC speedo - Lazoschmidl
Red PVC pumps - BACK
Look 7:
Checkered shirt bodysuit - BACK
Grey suit bodysuit - BACK
Red thong - BACK
Red thong worn as hat - BACK
Ear jewelry - Acne Studios

UP NEXT

Dr. Barbara Sturm Reveals Her Stance on Acid Treatments and Anti-aging Labels