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Interview with Elina Brotherus

redaktor: Slávka Kittová 2010-08-30


What is your relationship to the country, landscape? Is it theatrical, erotic, neutral?

It′s visual. I always choose the places where to work with the eye.

From foggy “Rothko-like” sceneries you have moved to figural compositions that resemble minimalist psychoanalytical confessions. What or who do you look for by your photographs, or in them? What new can be found by an artificial eye of a camera? Another life?

I still like those foggy Rothko-like views! I′m slow as an artist, I seem to work on the same subject matter for years, and do different series parallel to each others. Who do I look for with my photographs? I think in the end I work for myself. I want to see how certain things look like. If others enjoy looking at them too, that′s even better. Probably every artist′s dream is that the work will live longer than the artist and become a part of the tradition.

Inspite of the realistic background the living model makes an impression of something pasted up; almost as something cut out of it? It is clearly visible in the scenes where you stand backwards to the camera’s focus and hold a self-timer in your hand. Should I rather understand it as Barthes-like mortifying of what has been dead for a long time? I mean a man to man relationship, perhaps a relationship to our surrounding.

For me that type of image, recurrent in my work, represents contemplation. The figure turning its back to the spectator has chosen the view for us to see, we can be there and watch together, but we don′t disturb eachother. I love the back. It′s so peaceful.

Together with photography you do some examples of videoart. What is the role of a time in your photographs? What time do you project in your photo-series?

Most of my photos I see as somehow timeless, not tied to any certain epoque. Some early works however, from the series Das Mädchen sprach von Liebe, have an emotional ′decisive moment′ so that they could not have been done earlier nor be reconstructed afterwards. Then, a third category are those works that are precisely an investigation of time and how to depict it in still photographs. I have for instance long exposures where things not visible to the eye take place: in Perspective 2 (from the series The New Painting) there′s a boat that passes by and its light draws the white line of the horizon. Or in Mirror, a set of 5 photographs (also from The New Painting), where the misty mirror gradually clears up and reveals the reflection. This I also did as a video. They are surprisingly different: I feel that the still photos fall into the realm of painting in art history, where as the video is much more uncanny in its realism.

Is it a kind of mantra, achieving state of an ideal northerly trance? Since the days of Walter Benjamin an “endless” reproduction of pieces of art has been a "toy" for plenty of artists.

I′m interested in repeating a gesture, like in a theme and variations. It′s a very photographic idea isn′t it, because camera makes it possible to easily follow the changes that take place as a function of time. Even though one would over and over again repeat the same thing, it′s never exactly the same. I have been working on a series calles ′Time Series IV′ since about a year now, where I take a picture of my face every day. I had to start a medication and was worried about the changes it would bring about so I wanted to see how my face would change. It′s like a semi-scientific experiment, also paying tribute to Roman Opalka, and it′s quite surprising to see how small differences become big when the parameters are reduced. I′m showing a selection of 100 of these portraits in London at the Bloomberg Space on Finsbury Square, Sept.1-25. Here are some examples:

Is your thinking influenced by new technologies? How? To think in a so called “frame by frame“ scheme would probably be too linear...

I have long been a dinosaurus still working in film and producing large-size hand-made C-prints. A year ago I bought my first digital camera, mostly for using it as a video camera. I try not to change my way of working when I shoot digital: I use a tripod and compose carefully in the camera, rather than making hundreads of shots. This year I have been mainly doing new video works. Many of my students shoot on film and then scan their negatives. This is probably what I will do in the future too, in addition to some smaller percentage of directly digital photographs. The large pigment ink prints are getting better and better, and their permanence is superior to the traditional C-prints.

Nowadays almost everybody is a photographer, many of them become artists as Lautremont has prophetically predicted. What makes a photograph a piece of fine art? Is it possible to establish what is and what is not an artistic photography?

Everything is determined by the context. Anything can be art if it is shown as art (with sincere thinking in the background and not as a joke).

I suppose you are interested in Finnish visual art scene? What do you think of contemporary Finnish photography?

I am of course. I teach regularly in several Finnish art schools, including my old school University of Art and Design. It′s a small scene here, I suppose a bit like the Slovac scene in the way that everybody knows everybody and are in relatively friendly terms. There are a number of good artists of all ages, from Catarina Ryöppy who is +70 to say Anni Leppälä who must be way beyond 30... You can look into FInnish photography for instance on the web sites of the Finnish Museum of Photography, and Gallery Hippolyte, run by the art photographers′association.

I would like to go back to your series “Artist and her Model”. Is it possible to understand it as an intellectual game? What do you want to question by your statement? Is it a gesture of an artist who had lost viewers and the reason to work, or is it supposed to draw a viewer into the picture?

The theme of artist and model is very old in art. I′m revisiting this traditional type of image. It′s perhaps a bit of a feminist ′clin-d′oeil′ as often it used to be the male artist and the naked female model, and I′m sometimes inversing this situation. It′s also about the gaze: the artist′s gaze on a model, admiring the strange beauty of the human figure, but unlike to the omnipresent advertising imagery of our time, without any sexual side-thoughts. I enjoyed for instance working with the six dancers of Opéra de Paris who came to pose for me in my studio, for the series Etudes d′après modèle, danseurs. Then later I entitled another series Artist and her Model, also playing with my double role in my pictures: I′m the artist but I′m often also ′her model′.

Richard Kitta

Born in 1972, Helsinki, Finland. Lives and works in Finland and France.
2000 Master of Arts (Photography), University of Art and Design Helsinki (UIAH)
1997 Master of Science (Analytical Chemistry), University of Helsinki

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