Interview with Otto Byström

January 2018

A series of interviews with SPACE Art + Technology artists in residence

What were you doing in the year leading up to the residency?
During the first few months of 2017 I was busy working on my graduation show from the Academy of Fine Arts Helsinki. For this I made a text-based audio-visual work narrating possible dystopian near future/current scenarios. The fragmented text predicted and visualized the socio-political impact of the accelerating technological progresses in the fields of consumption, war and depression both on an individual and collective level. The project opened up a new thematic focus for me which I subsequently explored further during my residency at SPACE.

My year also included working with Sorbus, an artist-run space and collective that has been functioning in Helsinki since 2013. Last year we made ten exhibitions and other events that included a multidisciplinary open-air event, for which we removed the big window of the building thereby transforming the space into a stage. The eight-day program consisted of 33 performances, including music, performance art, poetry reading and two panel discussions. Together with André Chapatte I presented a new performance piece which showed a day in the life of two gender-queer macho mutants in the year 2084. Photos from Sorbus' 2017 program can be found here.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am looking into the phenomenon and changes that develop through the integration of the internet and new technologies as a part of societal and social functions. I’m trying to perceive the algorithms that are penetrating societal functions, the individual’s life and the influences of this process. At the moment my focus centers on themes such as social media’s manipulation of reality through contributing to the rise of paranoia, anxiety, depression and stress.

I’m also interested in how being an artist, in today’s world, requires visibility and involvement in corporate online platforms and how artists are often uncritically admitting to such scheme in order to make ends meet. I am trying to question and think through alternatives to this prevalent logic.

How have you found the residency so far?
The residency has been a good opportunity to focus and deepen my own contemplation, as I mostly collaborate with other artists and the Sorbus collective. At the same time, it was also great to meet the fellow HereNow residency artists and discover a lot of crossover in our interests. Plus, it is always interesting to see what is currently happening in London.

What’s coming next?
In January, as a part of my residency, I’ll be presenting a performative workshop together with my colleague André Chapatte. Also for the first half of 2018, I will be working on a new piece, which will be shown at the HereNow residency exhibition at SPACE. Additionally, I will also be working on a duo-exhibition with Ville Kallio for Titanik-galleria in Finland in July 2018.

As for my work with Sorbus, 2018 will be a time to look back at the past five years, including the editing a publication to be issued in 2019. This publication is a review of Sorbus' past activities and showcases the thinking born out of the space and the collective.

I’m also returning to producing music after taking a few years break from it, producing some new projects this year.  

Otto Byström is a HereNow residency artist kindly supported by the Finnish Institute