You’ll never meet anyone quite like Arvida Byström. Tumblr goddess, fashion icon and rainbow enigma, the 22-year-old Swede has drenched the Internet with her glitter-covered vision of the world for most of her young life. Arvida is a part-time artist, photographer, model and feminist with opinions about everything from body hair to monogamy. About two years ago, photographer Valerie Phillips fell into a serendipitous collaboration with the online sensation and the pair have been friends ever since. In Hi you are beautiful how are you, Phillips captures Arvida in the everyday, which turns out to be just as quirky, strange and ordinary as you could image.
“She is a little unsettling.”
Phillips does not claim to know anything about her muse other than what she observes. Arvida loves cats but is allergic, so surrounds herself with any and all kinds of feline paraphernalia clothing to stickers. Her hair is a kaleidoscope of chameleon colors and her Tumblr is overflowing with sparkling GIFs and selfies. Arvida’s opinions are unabashed and unfiltered – using text abbreviations and Internet slang when interviewing with i-D Magazine and shooting a series of visceral period photos for Vice. She’s pro-body hair, isn’t bothered by porn and doesn’t see the point of marriage. For her 2013 installation Mattress: Art Installation Performance Piece Exploring Modern Sexuality & Relationship Transparency in the Connected Age, Arvida moved in to a London gallery with her partner Tim Kelly, documenting every part of their relationship (including sex).
Attempting to capture such a large and unknowable personality, Phillips manages to take photos of her muse in a way that feels much different than the ones we see Arvida taking of herself, somehow candid and organic in more homey settings. The series comes from the pair meeting up regularly in London to drink coffee, take photos and make crafts. We asked Phillips about Arvida, Internet art and the freedom of being girly.
Recently published by Longer Moon Farther, hi you are beautiful how are you is Phillip’s photo book documenting the past 2 years she has photographed Arvida. They have also collaborated on 4 zines: Meow, A Fantastic Kitten, This Is My Drivers License and It’s not him you see at night in your dreams.
What is Arvida like on first impression? What drew you to photographing her?
“What first drew me to photographing Arvida was a piece of work she’d made called ‘Lick Fuck Luck’. A mutual friend showed it to me. It’s a self portrait which I now have in my house waiting to be framed.
“I also liked how she was initially unenthusiastic about modeling for me – she felt more inclined to pursue her own art. Once we got talking, we clicked pretty quickly. She was open to the way I work, which is spontaneous, unplanned and unencumbered by narrative or pre-conceived constructed ideas. And so we starting taking pictures.”
How did you go from photographing Arvida over a weekend to having her move to London? Did she move just for you?
“Ha – I wish. Arvida didn’t move to London for me, but I’m sure knowing me and a few others she’d made connections with in the city made it easier. It was obvious after our first weekend together that we had a very natural way of working. She knew I wanted to continue with the project and we never really discussed it that much. We simply picked up where we left off, very naturally.”
Why do you think Arvida has such an overwhelming following? What makes her so relatable?
“She’s not about bullshit or following what others are doing, that’s for sure. I think people are intrigued and excited by that. Her style and content is very confident and evolved for such a young artist. Her art tackles difficult subject matter in a unique way. There’s an openness and bravery in the work she makes, that’s unusual in the uptight conservative world we are asked to live in.”
Describe a typical day photographing her.
“We meet up at her studio or mine, a cafe or my house, with a bunch of clothes and have an adventure. A very ordinary seeming adventure, which somehow becomes much more, once we start taking pictures.”
How do you think this Millennial generation of Internet artists differs from generations past?
“I don’t think it differs as much as people like to think it does. The only difference to me is that people now have an easy vehicle for living out their art and life mistakes in public, and seem happy to do so. There is a huge amount of shit to wade through online before stumbling upon the amazing, original, inspiring stuff. But in a way, that’s no different from life in general.”
It could easily be said that the candy-colored aesthetic is superficial or flakey, however she is clearly digging at something deeper. Is remaining cavalier a way of exploring uncomfortable or challenging topics?
“I wouldn’t describe Arvida as ‘remaining cavalier’ about anything. She is total commitment, interested in the politics of feminism and gender issues, but also likes My Little Pony and dying her hair. And I don’t think these things are necessarily at odds with each other.”
You spoke in a Vice interview about the freedom of being “girly”. Do you think women have more freedom to express themselves – to be strange, evasive or just simply goofy?
“I think most guys kind of pick a style and don’t tend to deviate, and I think that attitude is reflected behaviorally as well as aesthetically. When I’m shooting girls/women, there’s a definite level of playful bravery that runs rampant throughout. Not so much with the guys I shoot. They are more guarded and less prepared to risk looking silly or doing anything that plays against their preconceived notion of themselves.”
All images © Valerie Phillips