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Histoires de filles Autoportraits et mythologies aux miroirs

Cécile Camart

At the Arles National Photography School, Mireille Loup already asserted her penchant for the tragi-comic tone. Curious and eager for theory, she writes a memoire on the “counter-serious”, nourished in part by preliminary research on Marcel Broodthaers, in Brussels. Fascinated by semiotic articulation, of text and image, she writes her first autobiographical books, for example Un jour il faudra que je pense à me marier (1994). From the age of ten, she has made weekly visits to photo booths and classed the accumulation of her identities in albums. One of her first series originates from these childhood rituals.


Chacun de mes visages, begun in 1992, is an autobiographical research into work in progress. It today consists of 85 portraits – staged or not – of the artist, arranged in a frieze without chronology. Following a recurrent framing, closely encircling the face, all photographic genres are exploited, including the most fantastic and amusing set ups. This considerable series forms the keystone of the arch of an already comprehensive body of work, where the mastery of the narrative mode dominates.


Mireille Loup practices the art of the scenario with ease. Christophe, Anne, ma photographe et leurs amis (1991-97) gathers six micro-fictional accounts, originally conceived as storyboards. The photographs show characters inspired from her autobiography, to whom the artist attributes absurd legends or allusions to contemporary references : Cindy faisait des autoportraits en Bacchus. Another series of photographs, De ces couples qui se sont tant aimés (1998), proposes five amorous situations, pastoral or urban, true variations on the appropriation of romantic clichés. When Mireille Loup imagines a contemporary version of the myth of the pumpkin (l’Homme à la courge, 1999), she pays homage to the films whose universe she shares, like Enfants du paradis and la Bergère et le ramoneur. The video allows her to prolong this approach. Influenced by her opera-singer father, she was immersed at a very early age in the universe of the comedy. In the trilogy Henri (1994), Henri II, le Retour (1998), Henri III, la Chute (1999), she incarnates different feminine stereotypes following a series of humoristic playlets (declaration of love, life as a couple, separation) where she addresses a fictional character, Henri. One again discovers multiple portraits of the artist in Achetons français (1998), the opposite and satire of resourcefulness  - linked directly with two books by the artist, Réflexion d’une artiste subventionnée par le RMI, and Réflexion d’une vacataire au chômage technique (1997)[1].


Above all Mireille Loup dominates the orchestration of complex visual and sound installations. After Hyper (1998), a polyphonic and polysemic range in homage to her father, this time she concerns herself with her mother. With Une femme de trente ans (1999-2001), she proposes the reconstruction of the life of an imaginary woman. The starting point of the project, the short story[2] is inspired from the lives of three women (the artist herself, her mother, her model Anne Savi), and refers to Honoré de Balzac’s famous story, la Femme de trente ans (1828-1842), written at the request of an editor who wanted to gather together six short stories by the author relating to three different women[3]. In the colour photographs forming a frieze, the heroine played by Anne Savi unveils instants of her mysterious life to the spectator[4], before her sudden disappearance – the enigma of the story. A video filmed in the style of a documentary reinforces the detective-story nature of he plot, with the help of fictive witness statements made by the people close to the heroine. Certain key points of the fiction emerge, like the recurrence of a black and white portrait photograph of the mother of the artist – of the heroine? – at the age of six. In brief, a double homage, to the mother and to Roland Barthes: “I looked at the little girl and I in the end found my mother.”[5]




Cecile Camart,

in art press hors série : « Fictions d’Artistes », April 2002


[1] The books written by Mireille Loup, with very limited print runs and rarely shown, represent an non-negligible part of her work – in the guise of a practice close to an intimate diary – and symbolise the comprehensive unity of her reasoning for the last ten years.

[2] Mireille Loup, Une femme de trente ans, Paris, Trézélan, Filigranes Editions, 2001. See also the website linked with the installation: http://femme30ans.free.fr which received a prize at the Lille International Internet Film Festival (FIFI).

[3] Mireille Loup clarifies her proposition thus : « While Julie, Balzac’s heroine, sees herself trapped for life in a disappointing marriage, the modern thirty year-old woman is free to go, guilt-free, in search of a love she will doubtlessly meet more than once , or maybe never (…). But she will be the only one responsible, the only keeper of her free will, faced by a emotional call which will talk of moral discomfort, intoxicating, crushing.”

[4] The face of the nameless man who sometimes accompanies the young woman always appears blurry in the photographs, recalling his absence and the solitude of the heroine.

[5] Roland Barthes, la Chambre claire, Cahiers du Cinéma / Gallimard / Seuil, 1980.