Elina Brotherus talk in London @ The Wapping Project

I have seen her work exhibited a couple of times before and so made my way to London to hear her talk; the OCA who arranged this also made a video of the event.

The first time I saw her work was at the Sense of Place exhibition in Bruxelles where there was an hour long video of herself walking naked into and out of a lake. I sat and watched it and felt a sense of calm mingled with a slight eroticism although Elina is not advertising herself here as an available woman and her face remains largely hidden.
She struck me as rather a melancholic person but perhaps her talk will dispell this idea. On entering the relatively small, wood paneled room overlooking Dover Street in London, presently home to the Wapping Project, I see that she has a strong presence that beams across to those of us listening to her.

The other work of hers I saw was about a year ago in the Motherhood exhibition. This was a series of photographs about her repeated attempt to have a child via artificial insemination treatment which proved futile.
In her talk, she says at one point that her life is not a quiet river rather a dark corridor !! Why can not artists be happy? It seems they trade on our unhappiness, sorrow which we tend to ignore even repress. This is of course not true of all artists or art and there is a feeling of contemplation in Brotherus’ work if not transcendence.
Her standing in the lake series of photographs that I saw as a video is also being produced as prints and a small paperback book.
This exhibition contains her characteristically simple subjects namely landscape, fog, reflections, the human being in natural surroundings with reference to art contexts.
Her work New Paintings rose out of an intense study of the history of art. However, the idea that painting is dead and photography has taken over is not the meaning of her work; she loves the Old Masters. This work is reproduced in a book called The New Painting which happens to be on sale in the gallery; I can not resist buying a copy since this is an approach to photography that interests me and one in which I dabble (Magritte photographic recreations for instance also Vermeer). The body of work called The New Painting (the book is dated 2005) contains a portfolio of her work from the begining of the Millenium in which she experiences a shift in her work, the former being about content and the more recent about form (according to an interview recorded about 10 years ago).
She likes to sit by the window and look at the sky since “These moments of blank mind are necessary, for it is then that ideas emerge from the deep.” She also says “I love to watch. I’m shifting more and more away from words into images.”
Her attitude to colour is to try and remember colours she sees, taking notes in the spirit of Bonnard, trying for instance to describe what the colour of the sky looks like, “what colour the water or the shadows are.” Finding correct colours for her prints which she makes herself is similar to the process of the artist searching for the right oil pigment.
She is presently working with a Dutch photobook designer who sees the photobook rather like one might a film as there are a succession of images. Furthermore, there is composition beforehand and then another composition afterwards as the book takes shape.
 
books Dutch designer
Black Passport Stanley Green
War Porn
 
photobook like a film
composing before and something after
Her most famous photograph is a self-portrait wearing a red nose, in fact a squashed fruit, which was on the cover on what is probably the most widely read book on art photography, The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton; this photograph is about an instance in her life, a record of that experience, and is unrepeatable. When work is personal not easy to have someone else there such as a model.
One can often see the cable release in her photographs; this shows the model is the photographer which is quite important. The images are an invitation to a shared contemplation!
Her landscapes with figures in do not have intended meaning; she does not think that far ahead! With some subjects that are difficult to discuss a photograph can help to explain what is happening; this is not a cathartic process rather detatchment from the experience.
Her work is something that happens! it is not calculated.
She enjoys creating exhibitions from collections of her photos, laying out the photos on large table and then starting to select ones that mean something to her.
I chat with her awhile afterwards and she writes down a list of her teachers. She is a famous or at least internationally recognised artist for a reason not because of luck yet it is not easy to recognise her genius from the photographs. That takes a little time and the images need to work on one for awhile.

 

 

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One thought on “Elina Brotherus talk in London @ The Wapping Project

  1. I think you’re right about having to allow time for her images to work on you. What I’m contemplating at the moment is how much difference it makes when you actually meet the photographer.

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