Elina Brotherus talks '12 Ans Après'

Finnish artist Eline Brotherus made her name with a groundbreaking series of self-portraits, and twelve years later she returned to document the same scene. Shown together for the first time in the UK, she tells us about the experience

‘In 1999 I was an MA student in Helsinki when I read about a residency programme for young artists. For photographers the options included the Nicéphore Niépce museum in Burgundy.’

‘Twelve years later I was asked to teach at the museum. I said I would only if I could stay in the same guest house in a former monastery. I think they wondered why I didn’t want to stay in a nice hotel.’

‘There was nothing keeping me in Finland as I was recently divorced. So I applied for the French residency and got it. The only problem was that I didn’t speak French.’

‘I wanted the new series to be like a time machine with myself. I shot myself in the same rooms. I even found the same blue coat I wore in 1999 at the bottom of my closet.’

‘That’s why I started to use Post-it notes in my photographs. A friend told me they were a great way to learn a new language. So I stuck them to objects. Even myself.’

‘You can see how the use of text has changed between the old and new works. Back then I was naming objects, now I write a statement, sometimes using 15 Post-its in a row.’

‘The works became about trying to get a grip on life. The museum director became a mentor. It was the first time that somebody took me seriously as an artist.’

‘Twelve years ago I was at the beginning of my career. Today I’m at a new turning point. I’m half-way through my life. I didn’t expect to mourn for my young self. But that’s the woman at 40, I guess.’

‘In one of the images it says “content enfin” – finally happy. By the end of the residency I had met somebody new. It took a couple more years to learn French, though.’

‘There are lots of things I could tell my younger self. Like, work hard but try to relax. And take the train – I get my best ideas on the train.’

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