Set in the palatial interiors and grounds of La Maison Carré near Paris, Elina Brotherus revisits her 2015 Les Femmes de la Maison Carré, supplementing the eponymous series with a further seven new images. Composed but mysterious, Brotherus readily embodies different incarnations with each room she enters in a continued exploration of the self and the photographic image.
Brotherus’ project began in 2015 at the invitation to exhibit in the museum Le Maison Carré, a building designed in the late 1950s by fellow Finn and eminent architect Alvar Aalto. Seduced by Aalto’s masterful use of light and fastidious detailing, from furnishing to architectural finishes, Brotherus evolved the project from a single photograph – as she had first intended – into an extensive, ever-growing body of work. Familiarising herself with the building, Brotherus sought to understand how Aalto harnessed natural light and its movement through the space, which in turn informed the composition of her own images. A bedroom, a dining room, an illuminated hallway – the images give merit to the gentle swathes of light and shadow that are cast upon the surfaces.
As in much of her work, the placement of Brotherus’ own body within the image imposes a tender balance between herself and the space around her. Prop in hand, seated or standing, Brotherus looks onward in an expression of benign indifference, treating her body as a compositional element upon which viewers can ascribe their own narrative. As if to spur us on, Brotherus can be found draped in costume from a bygone era – here in 1960s and 70s clothing – leaving the viewer to wonder, who exactly are these women? What is their relation to the building?
Compositionally, Brotherus’ images come together as if sketched out by the steady hand of a painter. But in truth, she acts spontaneously. ‘I have no preconceived image in mind. When I enter the room, I never know what I will be doing [...] It’s like walking around a flea market: you don’t know what you are looking for, but you recognise it when you see it.’ To give an illusion of a premeditated body of work is a tribute to her mastery. This can be partially attributed to Brotherus’ art school education, which has afforded her a generous supply of art historical references and themes from which she routinely draws. But educated or otherwise, Brotherus considers it effectually impossible to produce art without touching on a pre-existing ideology. ‘Art doesn’t come out of a void. It’s a network of cross-references whether we do it consciously or not.’