12 Ans Après
Project info

Acclaimed Finnish photographer Elina Brotherus will be exhibiting a series of work for the first time in the UK at the Wapping Project Bankside, which recently opened at its new location at the spectacular Bishop’s Place, Ely House, in the heart of Mayfair.

Brotherus is well-known for the unflinching documentation of her own life, and "12 ans après" represents one of her most intimate bodies of work. The series brings together her Suite françaises – which the artist made on moving to Chalon-sur-Saône in France for a residency at the age of 27 – with a set of photographs taken on re-visiting the same places twelve years later. "I wanted to see how it would affect me to be in that same place again, after the passage of all those years," says Brotherus. "It was like an experiment or a time machine: I wanted to confront myself with my younger self, at the very beginning of her career."

At the age of 40, Brotherus was invited back to the very school where she had studied French to give workshops to the students. She took the opportunity to address her altered circumstances, "to look into where I am now...what has happened since those early years full of expectations, and what has not happened." She even opted for a room in the same dormitory in which she had stayed during her original visit in 1999.

Suites françaises recorded Brotherus' attempts to assimilate in a place that was not only foreign to her, but where she did not speak the language. During that first visit in 1999, she began teaching herself French using post-it notes, sticking words onto objects that are seen throughout her photographs in this series. "When you do not understand the language spoken around you, you live in a strange state of instability," she explains. "This work (Suite françaises) is an effort to learn a new language, to get acquainted with a new country and a new culture."

The post-it notes appear again 12 years later, though by then Brotherus had learned the language to a good level and they contain whole stories rather than simple words and phrases.

In both series, Brotherus presents language as a method to create order out of chaos, and in this way her work poignantly reveals the universal need to belong.

In this series and throughout Brotherus’ oeuvre, we see self-portraits that examine the relationship between the individual, time and space. The emotional, autobiographical quality of the work conflates the subjective and the universal, so that we see how both ourselves, and the world around us, are changing over time. The moments that make up "12 ans après" juxtapose past and present selves, capturing the memory of Brotherus’ sense of self at two distinctive times in her life, paradoxically managing to immortalize the very notion of transience and change. "Creating images shakes me up," she says, “and when life is 'shaky', I get the urge to take photographs."