Expressing herself through different media such as drawing, painting, video art and installation, Pirjetta Brander regards drawing as her ‘mother tongue’. Trained at the Stockholm art school and the Tampere art and media school in Finland, she has exhibited mainly in Finland and in Europe. In France, her drawings were shown in Nanterre at the 2004 Triage, and one of her videos was shown at Paris Photo in 2006.
In her MAC/VAL residency as part of the Finnish season, she produced Village, an installation made up of a main house connected to six smaller houses. The invitation to the MAC/VAL gave her a chance to create links between her work, which explores human relationships, and her interest in French literature. It was Emmanuel Carrère’s novel L’Adversaire (2000) that inspired this Village, and the artist has read this writer’s entire oeuvre, which has been translated into Finnish. She was deeply marked by this tale of the career of Jean-Claude Romand, a criminal who murdered his entire family in 1993, fearing that the lie on which his life had been built was about to be exposed. This man pretended to be a doctor working for the World Health Organization in Geneva, and borrowed money from his nearest and dearest, with the lure of financial placements in Switzerland. Pirjetta Brander was intrigued by the vacuity of Romand’s life (he spent his days in motorway rest areas) and the innocence of those close to him (they never really asked any questions to find out the truth).
The seven houses forming the Village are painted black outside and red inside, and are linked together by a network of red tracks on the ground reminiscent of blood vessels. Visitors can venture inside the main house, which has a satellite dish to symbolise the world outside. Inside, a fresco with bright contrasts of green motifs on a red ground creates a strange visual phenomenon, at once aggressive and disturbing. For the artist, this is a ‘visual sauna’: the throng of stylised figures dazzles and introduces a powerful optical experience. As you get used to this bright light, and start deciphering the details, you discover through these similar figures characters who are outside the norm: invalids and people with one leg or arm all merge into the crowd. The desire to crush the others comes through larger figures and others who manage to hoist themselves above the fray and reach the clouds covering the house’s ceiling: social success is symbolised by a cloudy paradise.
Pirjetta Brander also refers to the myth of Plato’s cave, where prisoners see shadows inside the cave, thinking that this is reality, and are dazzled when their chains are removed and they can turn towards the cave’s entrance and see real people. This installation is accompanied by a soundtrack composed by Etienne Charry, whom she asked to create a sound that would conjure up an ants’ nest, metaphor of our human societies. Pirjetta Brander is interested in the workings of the family, the village, and those small structures of society where the most significant events emotionally are played out. She challenges the various hierarchic organisations in these structures, as here with the Village. These micro-societies, which are meant to protect the individual, can turn out to be very destructive.
This same motif of the house imprisons a woman’s body in the print Le Nuage noir, produced for international women’s day in 2009.
The video Le Cochon d’Inde (2003) features another aspect of Pirjetta Brander’s work. A small girl disguised as a princess sings about her disappointment and anger at her birthday. She had asked for a guinea pig, but her mother gave her a stuffed owl full of moths. The words of her song were written by the Finnish group Selfish Shellfish. Pirjetta Brander filmed her six-year-old daughter Ursula, then incorporated the group’s music as playback.
Like a blonde, blue-eyed Finnish princess, Ursula resembles a model little girl. But all her mimicry, with its powerful expressiveness, really does show anger, resentment, and ‘adult’ emotions that you don’t expect to find in the face of a ‘presumably innocent’ child. Her gestures illustrate the words, which describe memories of childish frustrations as they occur in adult memories.