Byström’s exhibition took three symbols, a Beanie Baby, a tulip, and an NFT – objects that, she explains, have all been subject to economic bubbles, albeit hundreds of years apart. Considered the first recorded speculative bubble in history, Tulip Mania came at a time in 17th century-Holland, when the price of the recently introduced bulb soared to staggering heights before undergoing a dramatic collapse only months later. The frenzied investment of Beanie Babies – the famed 1990s plush toy – two centuries later would repeat a similar pattern, with some of the rarer items reaching up to six figures on eBay. But Byström maintains, “This wasn’t so much false scarcity but artificial scarcity, or a feeling that something being rare can jack up the prices of items.”
The addition of NFTs marks a new frontier: Web 3.0. Characterised by its use of blockchain to create decentralised platforms, the medium suggests new possibilities removed from its private corp-dominated forebearers. Still, it’s a divisive subject: should we even be striving to make the medium exclusive when digital goods are, by design, limitless? By drawing on the past and present, Byström highlights how the price of an artwork affects how it’s perceived, from now to the future and beyond.
With an exploration of artificial intelligence sex robots in the works, Byström hopes to push her past explorations of female identity and technology even further. The topic is particularly pertinent in a time when the pandemic has narrowed human connection to the four corners of a screen, with many flooding the virtual world for a semblance of human connection. Sex or, more extensively, digitalised desire, is a logical extension of this. Evoking Žižek’s notion of sexual desire as a sort of distanced fantasy, Byström’s work invokes questions surrounding the feminised digital entity, identity, and agency.