BRAVE NEW WORLD
Emma Arvida Byström is part of the aesthetic movement born online
by Maria Raposo
“We always joke about how many fucking hours we’ve spent in front of the laptop”, Emma says, smiling coyly at Hanna. I’m sat with the two Swedish artists in their gallery space in East London; a cafetiere pot stands between us on the pink, concrete floor.
The space is home to Gal, a project launched in August with the exhibition ‘Birds and Nipples’. The gallery is sporadic, opening about twice a month. Its concept is largely influenced by the strong aesthetics found online: it was “www that raised us” declares Gal’s Facebook page. For Hanna and Emma, the internet is a big deal. They giggle, “We’re shocked by friends who are not into the internet”.
Model and blogger, Emma Arvida Byström is something of a Tumblr celebrity. Her doll-like face paired with hairy legs and armpits generates attention all over the web but she is also a skilled photographer – published in Vice and shooting ad campaigns for brands, such as Monki.
Her photography has a polished aesthetic, a talent which her time on Tumblr has undoubtedly developed. By spending so much time online, she’s seen what works: what gets re-blogged and what fades without trace. As a result, her work is immediately recognizable with soft tones and a strong sense of color – transforming even crumpled paper into art.
She reflects a generation swamped by technology, seamlessly weaving Macs, iPhones and browser windows into her portfolio. Gifs are another regular feature on her blog but they are never used as a gimmick, only when they fit the work’s concept.
Pink leaks into both her blog design and dress sense. When I meet her she is dressed entirely in monotone – pink hair, pink skirt and a Barbie sweatshirt. Fiddling with the Polly Pocket which hangs round her neck, Emma is unashamedly girly. “I found my style through Tumblr” she says. She describes her “un-coded girlyness” as a way of embracing childhood. “Boys keep playing with computer games, so why can’t we have our plastic toys? It’s all aesthetics”.
“Boys keep playing with computer games, so why can’t we have our plastic toys? It’s all aesthetics”.
She’s frank about her appearance. Making most of her money through modeling, she knows she’s attractive. Yet this attention seems to have bred a bold strand of feminism.
“I don’t mind if people masturbate to my photos” Emma says nonchalantly, referring to the topless selfies she’s uploaded. “That’s not an issue; I just hate it when people comment, especially because I’m a female. You can’t really comment in a genderless way. If I was a man it would be fine. The history of women means you can’t have genderless comments. It’s more stigmatized. I keep on uploading these photographs to fight stigma.”
In 2010 she boldly confronted strangers who commented on her body in the street. She took their portrait, publishing their photograph with the original comments shamelessly emblazoned across them. “I want to be the fork that sticks in that potato”, one reads.
More recently she has focused on the pressure put on women to maintain their body, according to social stereotypes. “I am questioning things which feel like they are imprisoning me” she told Dazed & Confused last year. “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.”
Starting a photography blog at 16, she recalls the first time wonder blogger Tavi Gevinson linked to her site. Conversation is littered with people she knows through Tumblr but has never met in real life.
She admits spending hours interacting with people in the virtual universe. Reading through her “asks” takes up a lot of time, she tells me – "asks" are a Tumblr feature which lets internet-users direct questions at bloggers.
Obviously anonymous “asks” are an invitation for trolls to criticize. In Emma’s mind, the internet is not a male space; she believes these people exist because we live in a patriarchal society.
Yet it is not the trolls but her super fans that puzzle me – how does it feel to have a faceless fan-base hanging on your every word? She replies, “I don’t like to be put on a pedestal but there are so many cool and inspiring girls that are inspired by stuff I do.”
But online, several “asks” prompt tense replies. One user submits, “Sorry if this is personal but what are your measurements? My friend is shaped EXACTLY like you and I want to make her a dress for her birthday as a surprise…”
Emma’s response reveals a wary attitude to people who exploit the intimate nature of blogging; “How can you know we have the exact body shape… This is a really fucked up question”.
Emma’s art is part of a new aesthetic movement, led by the internet generation. Built for the masses, it’s designed to be shared by as many people as possible – explaining its focus on big statements and bold colors. Tumblr has provided a democratic platform for young artists to showcase their work. The site gives people like Emma – with strong ideas and a clear vision – the opportunity to build an online following before conquering the real world.
Visit the Gal Space Tumblr