Elina Brotherus

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body, language, outsider
Visual Arts (photography)
Europe, Nordic, Europe, Western
Finland, France
created on:
May 29, 2003
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Please note: This page has not been updated since January 4, 2005. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Elina Brotherus
Elina Brotherus


Painting by camerawork

Elina Brotherus is a prolific photographer who was born in Helsinki in 1972 and now also spends much of her time in Paris. She was trained in analytic chemistry before she decided to take up photography. Her early works, rooted in the documentary tradition, involved self-portraiture but more recently her interests have been dominated by formal concerns. Her practice continues to focus on the human body and landscape. While her works provoke conceptual questions, the artist insists that her interests are primarily visual. In her ongoing series, ‘The New Painting,’ Brotherus uses a camera to investigate the dilemmas that have challenged painters for centuries.
The early works of Elina Brotherus mainly involve self-portraiture but as her practice has evolved, it has become almost devoid of all autobiographical elements. Still studying analytical chemistry when she decided to take up photography, Brotherus was at first resistant to the idea of investigating her own emotional life. On completing her science degree, however, once freed from the rigours of the scientific thinking, she experienced ‘a tremendous burst of creativity’, which resulted in a series of self-portraits, ‘Das Mädchen sprach von Liebe’ conceived between 1997 and 1999.

Rooted in the documentary tradition, these photographs capture actual events and happenings in Brotherus’s life as they occurred. She made ‘Wedding Portraits’ (1997) when she married, ‘Divorce Portrait’ (1998) when she divorced, and ‘I Hate Sex’ (1998) ‘when I felt that way’. The connection between art and lived experience is key: ‘Creating images shakes me up; and when life is ‘shaky’, I get the urge to take photographs,’ she says.

Believing in the ‘profound sameness of human beings’, Brotherus’s early works are highly personal yet delivered in a formal language that is ascetic and subdued. In 1999, she stated, ‘I provide viewers with a blank screen, a surface on which to project their own feelings and desires.’ Her early series often deal with love and its side effects, ‘the absence or presence of it in its different forms.’

In ‘Suite Françaises 1’, a series of landscape pictures, Brotherus’s approach becomes increasingly abstract as she captures vast, deserted landscapes, which she refers to as ‘commas’ or ‘breathing spaces’. She explains, ‘The world contains so much mess and visual noise – I have tried to mark off the interesting and significant fragments’. A bridge, a heavily symbolic image, appears throughout the series and is valued, according to Brotherus, because ‘you can’t see to the other side’. She says, ‘It is the same as with a curved hillside or the horizon, which we cannot see beyond because the earth is curved. I am interested I these kinds of views, in kinds of “edges of the world”’.

In ‘Suite Françaises 2’, Brotherus explores classical themes of photography – landscape, portraiture, interiors, still life and the study of the human figure. Yet the series is also a reflection on migration and the artist’s own relocation to France. Investigating her experience of being an‘outsider’, the work focuses on the ability to speak the host language as fundamental to a sense of belonging in any society. ‘When you do not understand the language spoken around you, you live in a strange state of instability. Language is essential in creating the feeling of basic security,’ she says. ‘Language is a way of creating order out of chaos. We give names to objects, classify and categorise things, analyse phenomena. Language makes thinking possible.’ When she first arrived in France, Brotherus was barely able to buy a train ticket.

Reflecting upon the difficulties of learning a new language, of becoming familiarised with a new country and culture, the series speaks of ‘outsiderness’, about ‘the incoherence between the person and his environment, and about the simple small means with which one tries to take his place in society’, says Brotherus. The process of art making is one way in which the artist herself makes sense of the world. ‘Taking photographs is,’ she says, ‘like naming things, a way of taking control of the world’.

Jan Kaila has pointed out that ‘Suite Françaises 2’raises fundamental questions at the heart of human experience, including ‘the existence or impossibility of purely visual non-verbal perception’. Brotherus, however, insists that her concerns are primarily visual rather than theoretical, stating, ‘I trust my eyes and my intuition’.

She continues to combine self-portraiture and landscape work. ‘When shown together they reflect on each other, and this cross-linking produces new kinds of contents in both genres. The land-scapes become charged with meanings, and the self-portraits become more peaceful.’

‘Photography is the new painting’, Edda Jonsdottir, director of i8 gallery in Reykjavik, once said to Brotherus. With this provocative statement in mind, the artist embarked on a new on-going series, ‘The New Painting’, in which she uses a camera to investigate the dilemmas that have challenged painters for centuries: ‘light, colour, composition, figures in space, projection of the three-dimensional into the two-dimensional’. Titling her pieces after well-known paintings such as ‘Les Baigneurs’ (The Bathers), 2000 and ‘Femme à sa toilette’ (Woman washing), 2001, she places herself firmly in the art-historical tradition.

As in earlier works, Brotherus uses herself as a model, yet these later photographs move beyond concerns of self-portraiture and the representation of the self. Instead, the artist is primarily interested in the problems posed by using the human figure as a model: ‘How do the figures interact with space and with each other? How does the light reveal the form? What happens if the direction of the gaze changes?’, asks Brotherus. ‘The human body in its beauty and its banality never stops to fascinate me,’ she admits.

Source: Based on artist statements and an artist’s interview with Jan Kaila in 2001, published in the monograph ‘Decisive Days’, Kustannus Pohjoinen, Oulu, 2002.
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts


Elina Brotherus was born in 1972 in Helsinki, Finland. Before graduating from the University of Art and Design Helsinki in 2000, she studied analytical chemistry at the University of Helsinki, gaining a Master of Science in 1997. She currently lives and works in Helsinki and Paris and has exhibited widely in both group and solo shows internationally. Her works are in public collections across Europe and in private collections in Australia and in the United States as well. In 2002, she was shortlisted for the Carnegie Art Award and for the Citigroup Private Bank Photography Prize. She lives and works in Helsinki and Paris.



Amos Andersson Art Museum, Helsinki Apotekets Kulturförening, Stockholm Centre National des Arts Plastiques (CNAP), France City of Lund City of Nice Collection Lambert, Avignon Corcoran Gallery, Washington County Councils of Gävleborg, Halland, Jönköping, Skåne, Uppsala and Västerbotten, Sweden Finnish State Art Collection FRAC Alsace, Selestat Gothemburg Art Museum, Gothemburg Gävle Konstcentrum, Gävle Hasselblad Center, Gothemburg Hämeenlinna Art Museum, Hämeenlinna Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki Malmö Art Museum, Malmö Mestizo, Murcia Moderna Museet, Stockholm Musée d´Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône Museo da Imagem, Braga Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome NSM Vie, Paris Oulu Art Museum, Oulu Saatchi Collection Saastamoinen Foundation, Finland SOK Art Collection, Helsinki Swedish State Art Council Tampere City Art Museum, Tampere The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki Umeå municipality Västerås Art Museum, Västerås Private Collections in Europe, Australia and America.


Film / TV,
- Carnegie Art Award 2002, artists´ interviews, by Magnus Egler and Tiina Cavén, Sept. 2002 (in Finnish and in English). - Chanel 4, UK, Feb. 5, 2002, Citigroup Private Bank Photography Prize 2002, by Christabel Gingell (in English). - ARS 4 YOU, TV Nelonen, Finland, Sept. 30, 2001, series of interviews of ARS 01 artists, by Tiina Cavén (in Finnish). - Printemps de septembre, artist´s interview, produced by & : gb agency, Paris, May 2001 (in English and in French). - Radio Aino, Yleisradio, Finland, Feb. 2, 2001, Fotofinlandia award, interview, by Sari Siekkinen (in Finnish). - Finland´s television, Lumottu tie, Aug. 2000, artists´ interviews (in Finnish). - Sveriges Television, Sweden, Bildjournalen PAL, 1999, Istanbul Biennial, artists´ interviews, by Pontus Kyander (in Swedinsh and in Finnish). - Radio Ylen Ykkönen, Finland, July 12, 1999, Näyt, artists´ interviews, 5 parts, by Jonni Roos (in Finnish).


Published Written,
2003 - Art, das Kunstmagazin, Nr.9, September 2003: "Aufbruch im hohen Norden", Boris Hohmeyer. - Artphoto, issue #3, 2003: "The power of the visual", Asko Mäkelä. - Artphoto, issue #3 (online edition), 2003: “The New Painting of Elina Brotherus”, Adrian Armanca. - Le Soir, Feb. 26, 2003: "La peinture réinventée à travers l´objectif ; Elina Brotherus à l´espace Contretype", Jean-Marie Wynats. - La Libre Belgique, Jan. 22, 2003: "Photographies en vue : The New Painting", Jean-Marc Bodson. 2002 - Tema Celeste #94, Nov. 2002: "Elina Brotherus; through the looking glass", Giovanna Calvenzi. - Le journal des arts, Oct. 25, 2002, #2: "One Man Show; Elina Brotherus". - Art Forum, Oct. 2002: "Elina Brotherus, Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid", Barry Schwabsky. - Le Monde, June 20, 2002: "Les autoportraits de Brotherus, baromètres de ses sentiments", Michel Guerrin. - Aftonbladet, May 12, 2002: "Vem är jag – och varför? John Peter Nilsson om en ny stjärna från Finland", John Peter Nilsson. (In Swedish) - ArtReview, Vol. LIII, March 2002. "City clickers ", Francis Hodgson. - Books from Finland, 2/2002. "Elina Brotherus; Ordinary Days". - Contemporary Visual Arts: "Reviews : Citigroup Private Bank Photography Prize 2002", Keith Patrick. - Hufvudstadsbladet, Jan. 19, 2002: "Närbilder ur ung kvinnas liv", Dan Sundell. (In Swedish) - Sydsvenskan, Jan. 17, 2002: "Medan livet vänder; Elina Brotherus, Fotografier, Lunds Konsthall", Pontus Kyander. (In Swedish) - Financial Times, Jan.5-6, 2002. "Cities reflect nature; a Finnish contemporary artist trying to capture light the Impressionist way", Lynn MacRitchie. 2001 - ArtReview, Vol LII. "Water, water everywhere; Finnish artist Elina Brotherus makes a splash at Wapping", CE. - Modern Painters, Winter 2001 Vol. 14 Nr. 4. "Magnetic North", Craig Burnett. - Flash Art, Nov.-Dec. 2001. "Magnetic North @ Art Gallery Walsall", Catherine Grant. - Frieze, Oct. 2001. "Elina Brotherus, &: gb agency", Laurie Attias. - Vogue, #921, Oct. 2001. "L´ancien et le nouveau", Michel Guerrin. - Libération, "A pleine vue", Supplement de Sept.-Oct. 2001. "Elina Brotherus, Corps étranger", Hervé Gauville. - Tema Celeste, #86, Summer 2001. "Elina Brotherus", Francesco Poli. - Portfolio, #33/2001. "Elina Brotherus: Misty Mirrors, Foreign Languages and other Vicissitudes of Life", Brigitte Kölle. - Katalog, Vol. 13 No. 2 /Summer 2001. "Elina Brotherus: Behind my eyes", Søren Haldt. Museet for Fotokunst, Odense 2001. - Le Monde, May 6-7, 2001. "Photos d’identité; Les signes intimes d’Elina Brotherus", Michel Guerrin. - Aden / Le Monde, April 26, 2001. "Elina Brotherus : le français en dix-huit leçons", Françoise-Aline Blain. - Contemporary Visual Arts (CVA), issue 34/2001. "Previews: Elina Brotherus, Suites françaises 2". - Paris Photo, No 13, April-May 2001. Artiste invitée / Artist Insert: Elina Brotherus. 1999 - Le Monde, Aug. 22-23, 1999. "Intimité/identité sous l´oeil d´Elina Brotherus", Michel Guerrin.


Published Written,
- Carnegie Art Award 2004. Text: John Peter Nilsson. Carnegie Art Award Publishing, Stockholm 2003. - ELINA BROTHERUS: BAIGNEURS, 2001-2003. Text : Hannele Rantala. FRAME, Helsinki 2003. - Blue Horizon. Contemporary Finnish Photography. Text: Elina Heikka, Yumiko Chiba. Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo 2003. - Fables de l’identité, parcours de l’exposition. Text: Régis Durand. BeauxArts magazine, 2003. - Zeitgenössische Fotokunst aus Finnland. Text: Andreas Vowinkel, Pirkko Siitari. Neue Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin 2003. - FRAC Alsace, Acquisitions 1996/2002. Text: Philippe Piguet. Editions FRAC Alsace, Sélestat 2003. - ELINA BROTHERUS : THE NEW PAINTING. Espace Photographique Contretype, Brussels 2003. - Femeninos, PhotoEspaña 2002. Text: Oliva María Rubio, Giovanna Calvenzi. Madrid 2002. - Beyond Paradise; Nordic Artists Travel East. Text: Apinan Poshyananda, Elina Brotherus. Bankok/Kuala Lumpur 2002. - The Citigroup Private Bank Photography Prize 2002. Text: Val Williams. In association with the Photographers´ Gallery, London 2002. - DECISIVE DAYS, Elina Brotherus, Valokuvia-Photographies-Photographs 1997-2001. Text: Jan Kaila. Kustannus Pohjoinen, Oulu 2002. - SPRING, Elina Brotherus. Text: Sophie Howarth, Jane Rendell. The Wapping Project, London 2001. - Printemps de Septembre à Toulouse : Théâtres du fantastique. Text: Marie-Frédérique Halin, Val Williams. Actes Sud 2001. - ARS 01. Text: Val Williams, Leena Laakso, Elina Brotherus. Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki 2001. - Magnetic North, Current Installation Photography in Finland. Text: Caryn Faure Walker, Mika Hannula. The Finnish Museum of Photography, University of Art and Design Helsinki, Helsinki 2001. - SUITES FRANÇAISES 2, Elina Brotherus. Text: Andrea Holzherr, Val Williams. & : gb agency, Paris 2001. - ELINA BROTHERUS. Text: Caryn Faure Walker, Elina Brotherus. i8 Galleri, Reykjavík / Galerie Anhava, Helsinki, Reykjavík 2000. - Norden, Zeitgenössische Kunst aus Nordeuropa. Text: Mika Hannula, Sabine Folie, Brigitte Kölle. Kunsthalle Wien, Wien 2000. - The Passion and the Wave, 6th International Istanbul Biennial of Contemporary Art. Text: Anders Kreuger, Paolo Colombo. Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, Istanbul 1999, 2000. - Finnish line : Starting point, jeunes artistes finlandais. Text: Yrjänä Levanto, Paul-Hervé Parsy, Elina Brotherus. Musée d´art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg 1999. - ELINA BROTHERUS. Text: Yrjänä Levanto, Elina Brotherus. Galleri Stefan Andersson, Umeå 1998.


Exhibition / Installation,
2004 Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF 04) Photobiennale 2004, Moscow. France – Terre d´Accueil, The New Gallery, Jerusalem (cat.). 2003 Culturgest, Lisbon ; Museé de l’Elysée, Lausanne (until 2004) (cat.) Le pire est à venir–Images contemporaines du monde, Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône Girls´ Night Out, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California (cat.). Carnegie Art Award 2003, Royal Art Academy, Stockholm ; Kópavogur Art Museum, Reykjavík Kunsternes Hus, Oslo ; Charlottenburg, Copenhagen ; Victoria Miro Warehouse, London ; Helsinki Kunsthalle (until 2005) (cat.) GOKANN, IV Trienniale of Finnish Art, Kyoto ; Helsingin Taidehalli / Helsinki Kunsthalle (until 2004) (cat.). Fables de l’identité, Centre national de la photographie, Paris. Naked before God, Pärnu uue kunsti muuseum, Pärnu. Inhimillinen arki, Vantaa City Art Museum, Vantaa. Transparente, Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome (cat.). Zeitgenössische Fotokunst aus Finnland, Neue Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin ; Mannheimer Kunstverein, Mannheim ; Städtische Galerie, Waldkreiburg ; Stadtgalerie Kiel, Kiel ; Brandenburgische Kunstsammlung, Cottbus ; Helsingin Taidehalli / Helsinki Kunsthalle (until 2004) (cat.). Nostalgic Real, Mullerdechiara, Berlin. View, Muu Gallery, Helsinki (cat.). New Realities, Hasselblad Center, Gothemburg. 2002 Face/Off, Kettle´s Yard, Cambridge (cat.). La Jeunesse, La edad más bella, Sala de Exposiciones del Canal de Isabel II, Madrid. Le bâti et le vivant / The Built and the Living, Semaines européennes de l´image, Galerie Nei Liicht, Dudelange, Luxembourg (cat.) Carnegie Art Award 2002, Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik ; Kunsternes Hus, Oslo ; Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen ; Victoria Miro Warehouse, London ; Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki ; Röda Sten, Gothemburg (until 2003) (cat.). Symptomania, Kunsthalle Lophem, Lophem (cat.). Platform of Encounters, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius (cat.). Attachment +, European Cultural Capital 2002, Brugge (cat.). Beyond Paradise, National Gallery, Bangkok ; National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur ; Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai (cat.). Citigroup Private Bank Photography Prize 2002, The Photographers´ Gallery, London (cat.). 2001 Rendez-vous 3, Collection Lambert, Avignon. Silence in the City, Gwangju City Art Museum, Gwangju (cat.). Make me feel, Art Athina, Athens (cat.). ARS 01, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (cat.). Théâtres du Fantastique, Printemps de Septembre, Toulouse (cat.). Magnetic North, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall (cat.). Confidences, Casino Forum d’Art Contemporain, Luxembourg (cat.). Surface and Whirlpools, Borås Konstmuseum, Borås (cat.). Fotofinlandia 2000 Award, Kaapelitehdas / Cable Factory, Helsinki. 2000 Jahresgaben, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main (cat.). One of those days, Mannheimer Kunstverein, Mannheim (cat.). Quinze en Europe, Septembre de la Photo, Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice (cat.). Waterfront, Kulturbro 2000, Helsingborg, Helsingør (cat.). Narcisse blessé, Autoportraits Contemporains 1970-2000, Passage de Retz, Paris (cat.). Norden/North, Kunsthalle Wien, Wien (cat.). Think 2000, The Finnish National Gallery Ateneum, Helsinki (cat.). Sandroni Rey Gallery, Venice, Los Angeles. Galerie Lindig in Paludetto, Nürnberg.


Exhibition / Installation,
2004 Baigneurs, The Wapping Project, London Galleri Stefan Andersson, Umeå. Photography Gallery Hippolyte, Helsinki. Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen. Chateau d´eau, Toulouse (cat.). 2003 Kunsthalle Lophem, Lophem (cat.). Cassina, Tokyo, in Feel Finland (cat.). The Museum of New Art, Pärnu. Suites Françaises 2, Image/Imatge, Orthez. Baigneurs, Istanbul Biennial side event organised by FRAME, Hotel Marmara, Istanbul (cat.). The New Painting, Espace Photographique Contretype, Brussels (cat.). Fotoencuentros, Murcia (cat.). Sala Caballerizas, Murcia, in Fotoencuentros, (cat.). 2002 Galeria Noua, Bucharest. Real Jardin Botánico, PhotoEspaña, Madrid (cat.). Encontros da imagem, Braga (cat.). INOVA (Institute of Visual Arts), Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lunds Konsthall, Lund ; Västerås Konstmuseum, Västerås ; Hämeenlinnan taidemuseo / Hämeenlinna Art Museum, Hämeenlinna. Orchard Gallery, Derry. 2001 Spring, The Wapping Project, London (cat.). Suites Françaises 2, &: gb agency, Paris (cat.). The New Painting, Galleri Stefan Andersson, Umeå. 2000 Encontros de Fotografia, Coimbra . Suites Françaises 1, Galerie Anhava, Helsinki (cat.). Galerie i8, Reykjavik (cat.). 1999 Pohjoinen valokuvakeskus / Northern Photography Centre, Oulu. Suomen valokuvataiteen museo / The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki. Dance Portraits, Galerie Anhava, Helsinki. 1998 Galleri Stefan Andersson, Umeå (cat.). Galerie Anhava, Helsinki, with Andrei Lajunen.


2004 5-year Artist’s Grant, Finnish State
2003 Carnegie Award 2004, Young Artist’s Scolarship
Vuoden 2002 Kirjavaliot (The Best Books of the Year), Finnish Committee of Book Art
2002 Carnegie Art Award, shortlist
2002 Citigroup Private Bank Photography Prize, shortlist
2001 Prix Mosaique, Centre National de l´Audiovisuel, Luxembourg
2001 Fotofinlandia 2000 Award
2001 Three-year artist´s grant, Finnish State
2000 Finnish Cuultural Fund
2000 Finnfoto Yong Artist´s Stipendum


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Northern Spring

(18 October 01 - 13 January 02)

Magnetic North

(28 September 01 - 18 November 01)
I Hate Sex
Suite Francaises 2
Divorce Portrait
Femme a sa toilette