For her latest film, The Black Bay Sequence, Finnish artist Elina Brotherus walks nude into what must be the bracingly icy waters of an Arctic lake. Her movements are calm and purposeful as she makes her way into the vast landscape of sky and water, split by the thin dark line of the horizon. It’s a classically Romantic scene: bleak, mesmerising big country and just the kind of place one of Brotherus’s earlier references, Caspar David Friedrich might have liked to get lost in. Yet here her composition of simple horizontal lines recalls more recent painting – the quiet beauty of abstract expressionist, Agnes Martin’s striped canvasses inspired by the Mexican desert for instance. As with Brotherus’ photography, it’s more like looking at a painting than a film – a carefully constructed vision of the Sublime, rather than a recording of a simple action.
Unlike her Romantic predecessors, there’re no wild ecstasies in the face of overwhelming nature for this artist. Though as bare as her surrounds, she seems less vulnerable than an equal to the unforgiving landscape. She is after all the creator of the image, the presence both in front of and behind the camera. We see her rangy silhouette stride away, the water rippling before her in a bow, and then she’s coming back, with her blunt bob dripping wet. She makes this short journey again and again, though if her movements are repetitive, there’re subtle differences from shot to shot: from the clarity of the water to the sunshine illuminating her peach flesh while shadows of branches dapple her shoulders.
Though filmed over many days and in various weather conditions, the camera position is fixed and as Brotherus walks or swims the same line over and over, her recurring voyage starts to resemble the ticking hand of a metronome. Her repeated dips in the lake seem to hold time on a loop, but it can’t be stilled. The film in the camera runs, the artist cuts a path through nature and her own life as the landscape changes, though at an altogether different speed to a human body. This seems an elegiac, melancholy work, underlined by a haunting sense of loss.
Text by Skye Sherwin