Last February, photographer Elina Brotherus won a major photography prize in France. Her exhibition Règle du jeu will open in September at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. We met Brotherus in Helsinki while she was preparing for her exhibition.
One winter’s day, Elina Brotherus sat in front of a jury in Paris for the first time in her life. She had been given thirty minutes to introduce her ideas to them. After fifteen minutes, she was asked to leave. She was told there was no point in handing over her catalogues. “I thought it had not gone well at all. But they called me back the same evening and told me I had won,” Brotherus recalls the events.
Winning the Carte Blanche PMU prize led to the most intensive creative period in Brotherus’s career. All the works in the exhibition had to be new. As an artist using her own body in her work for the past twenty years, she felt she had already done everything that could be done in front of the camera. How many more positions could she still invent? Finally, the idea for the new pieces came from the Fluxus movement of the 1960s which Brotherus had started to study for another prize she was nominated for, the Swiss Prix Elysée.
“I realized that the 1960s and 1970s had returned.”
“I recently participated in a show curated by René Block in Berlin. It showcased his personal archives and collection. After seeing the exhibition and talking to René it dawned on me that the Fluxus artists wrote down instructions on how to create their works. They called these event scores. They are like musical scores or notation which you can use to make art.”
A Made-Up Art School
Brotherus did not win the Prix Elysée, but placing in the top eight gave her the opportunity to develop the idea further. “It was then that I realized that the 1960s and 1970s had returned. I feel this is an art school of my own invention where these wonderful, strange and somewhat forgotten artists are my teachers and help me out.”
“Because the scores of the Fluxus artists are so open to interpretation, they can be executed in various ways so that the piece will eventually reflect the artist’s personality in the end. When I asked René if I could work with other people’s ideas, he told me of course I could – that is the whole point of the scores. It saved me. I could now be creative without being inventive,” says Brotherus.
Le jeu – play
Proposals for the PMU competition had to involve the theme of play, le jeu, in some form. “PMU is the national horse racing provider in France, and I thought that this fits perfectly with this Fluxus thing which, after all, consists of playing with various rules,” says Brotherus. Winning the prize expanded the idea further. Brotherus drew from Fluxus, but also from modern poetry, especially from the works of the Finnish poet Tuomas Timonen.
“It has been liberating and refreshing to collaborate with someone.”
For the new series, Brotherus has collaborated with her longtime friend, the dancer and choreographer Vera Nevanlinna. “It has been liberating and refreshing to collaborate with someone. Vera is interested in the same people as I am. She has worked with the dancer and choreographer Deborah Hay who also uses scores in her work. Our imaginations support each other.”
The Pompidou Is a Grand Ocean Liner
The Centre Pompidou in Paris is one of the most famous museums of modern art in France and in the world. Their exhibitions reach an enormous number of people. “This is my Warholian fifteen minutes of fame,” jokes Brotherus. However, working with a large museum has its challenges. “The Pompidou is like a slow ocean liner where every detail goes through a hierarchy of people,” Brotherus says. “As a straight-talking, no-nonsense Finn, I have had to learn their ways. Working with them has been intense, but rewarding.”
“Fluxus was a godsend”
The Pompidou’s photography section, which includes the gallery, is in an interesting phase right now according to Brotherus: “Neither the new director Florian Ebner nor the curator and acting director Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska are French. It will be very exciting to see what kinds of exhibitions they create for this modern shrine for photography. PMU also funds the Pompidou’s photography gallery and maintains that entry into the gallery must be free of charge. I wish there was something like this in Finland.”
Turning the Page
The Règle du jeu project marks a new phase in Brotherus’s oeuvre which has always alternated between autobiography and references to art history. “I believe that life influences our work: when something happens in my life, the art changes.” Brotherus thinks that her 12 ans après series (2009–2011) marked the reappearance of autobiography. After the Annonciation and Carpe Fucking Diem series that followed, Brotherus thought she was done with autobiography for a while: “Fluxus was a godsend – it is wonderful, fun and effortless.”
Elina Brotherus’s exhibition Règle du jeu opens at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on September 27 and is open until October 22. The French publisher Filigranes will release the exhibition catalogue at the opening. After the Paris exhibition, Brotherus’s new works can be seen at the Kunsthaus Wien in Vienna in March 2018 and at the Serlachius Museum in Mänttä in June 2018.
Elina Brotherus, b. 1972.
Brotherus is a Finnish photographer and video artist who lives and works in Helsinki and in Avallon, France. Since 1997, she has held several individual and group exhibitions in Europe, North America and Asia and her work has been widely featured in institutions such as the Photographers’ Gallery in London, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. She has received, among others, the Fotofinlandia award (2000), the Carnegie Art Award for young artists (2003), the Prix Nièpce (2005), the State Prize for Photographic Art (2009) and the Pro Finlandia medal (2012).
Text and picture of Elina Brotherus: Laura Boxberg
Translation: Tommi Kakko
Balloon Dash, 2017, Photo, video. 60x80cm each. After Larry Miller: 220 Yard Balloon Dash, 1970.
All runners have as many inflated balloons as possible tied to their bodies. Once the balloons are in place, they run a normal 220-yard race.
Published in Ken Friedman, Owen Smith and Lauren Sawchyn (eds), The FluxusPerformanceWorkbook, a Performance Research e-publication 2002.
Yellow Ball, 2017. Photo. 80x106cm. After George Brecht: the yellow ball, from Cloud Scissors: music, dance, stories, games, puzzles, jokes, defections, solutions, problems, biography, questions, poems, answers, gifts to Robert Filliou from George Brecht
Published in George Brecht, Water-Yam, Editions Lebeer Hossmann, Brussels and Hamburg 1986 (Original edition: Fluxus Editions, New York and Wiesbaden 1962).
Orange Event, 2017, Photo, video. 9 x 30x43cm. After Bengt af Klintberg: Orange Event Number 16 (for Åke Hodell), 1963-1966.
Regard two or three oranges for a long time. From Twenty-Five Orange Events.
Published in Bengt af Klintberg, The Cursive Scandinavian Slave, Ubuclassics 2004, Series editor: Michael Tencer (Originally published as a Great Bear Pamphlet, Something Else Press, New York City 1967).