Petit Journal # 39: "Valérie Mréjen: la place de la concorde"

Valérie Mréjen was born in Paris in 1969 and graduated from the École d’Arts in Cergy-Pontoise in 1994. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibitions. Ranging across literature, cinema and video, she explores language and its multiple possibilities, taking as her material modest and familiar events from everyday life. She sketches out a lucid and unforgiving picture of the mechanics of human relations, haunted as these are by misunderstandings and commonplaces.

"La place de la concorde" is Mréjen’s first solo show in an institution. Its title refers both to the location of the Jeu de Paume on the famous Parisian square, and, by antithesis, to the discord and unease that run through many of her pieces. This show features a dozen of her earliest videos along with more recent works and four videos made specially for the occasion, plus an installation entitled Je ne supporte pas, based on the answers given to the question put by the artist: “What are the things you can’t bear?”

On completing her studies, Valérie Mréjen started making her own little illustrated books, which are now available in a single children’s picture book (Une dispute et autres embrouilles, PetitPOL, 2004). She has also published Mon grand-père (1999), followed by L’Agrume (2001) and Eau sauvage (2004), all with Éditions Allia: three autobiographical texts (her grandfather, a former lover and her father being their respective subjects) that use a fragmentary style to convey the music of familiar language.

In parallel, since 1997 she has made more than twenty short videos, of which a selection are presented here. These sketches come out of banal situations, slight incidents and stories that are sometimes cruel and strange. Fixed frames, spare settings, minimal stagings and sequence shots constitute the recurring device. This economy of means helps to lift these sketches out of a sociocultural context and protect meaning and legibility from the commonplace. Rigorously written, inspired by readymade turns of phrase or “found” expressions, the texts are spoken with detachment by actors and thus reveal situations of dissatisfaction, verbal repression and discomfort. The vacuity of the discourses, which are seen as pre-formulated and ineffective verbal glue, endow these works with a tragicomic, absurd dimension.

The videos made for this exhibition continue this logic and at the same time exacerbate the process. Capri thus shows a man and woman having a row and, as if develops, so their names change. Made up of lines from films and TV dramas, the dialogue is simply a sequence of hackneyed lines: “You’re beautiful when you get angry”; “Go on! Say it. Say it. Talk. Talk to me. I need you to talk to me.” There is no natural flow to this sequence of phrases; they seem to be separated by pauses and blanks, as if attesting to a malaise. In Ils respirent, voice-over monologues accompany still-shot portraits of eight individuals, as if providing the material lost in those blanks. They enter a different register, all the way to a silent shot of one of the actresses, Edith Scob.

If Mréjen’s treatment of human relations sometimes makes us laugh or feel uncomfortable, her point of view as an artist is never superior or mocking. For she does not exclude herself from the perturbed condition whose workings she exposes: “All these people… All these bodies, they are breathing. They all have things to do. They live somewhere. All these lives. Each name, each history, all these childhood memories. Faces, lives side by side. Public transport, concerts, offices. All these languages that I do not understand. All these places where I’ll never go.”

As part of the carte blanche offered to Valérie Mréjen at the Jeu de Paume cinema, five of Mréjen’s own films will be shown in the auditorium, including La Défaite du rouge-gorge (2001), Pork and Milk (2004), a documentary in which members of ultra-orthodox Jewish families talk about the consequences of their decision to abandon their religion, and Philippe, shot for the Arte TV series, “Tous Européens”.


1997 / 1’35’ / video / colour / sound
A person faces the camera and enquires about the spectator’s health and wellbeing using all the conventional expressions.

Au revoir, merci, bonne journée
1997 / 1’50’’ / video / colour / sound
A woman with a predatory smile tirelessly repeats the words “Goodbye, thank you, have a nice day”.

Une noix
1997 / 1’43’’ / video / colour / sound
A young girl and a woman record a song.

1998 / 1’10’’ / video / colour / sound
A young woman talks about what she did last night.

Anne et Manuel
1998 / 2’15’’ / video / colour / sound
A man and a woman drink an aperitif at a pedestal table.

1998 / 2’10’’ / video / colour / sound
A young woman describes a night of romance.

Le Projet
1999 / 1’54’’ / video / colour / sound
Three friends get together to work.

Il a fait beau
1999 / 4’ / video / colour / sound
A man coming home describes the holidays he has just had.

Des larmes de sang
2000 / 2’ / video / colour / sound
A woman sitting on a sofa complains about her husband’s behaviour.

Le Goûter
2000 / 4’03’’ / video / colour / sound
A young woman has friends round for tea.

Titi ou les kiwis
2000 / 1’27’’ / video / colour / sound
A couple at a table, arguing.

Blue Bar
2000 / 2’47’’ / video / colour / sound
Acquaintances bump into each other at a preview.

Portraits filmés
2002 / 13’30’’ / video / colour / sound
“In the Portraits filmés series I asked friends or acquaintances to tell me about a memory — old or new, deeply affecting or trivial, but something that had a particular meaning for them. Each person sits facing the camera and tells their story.”

Eau sauvage
2004 / text published by Éditions Allia
Excerpts from Eau sauvage read by Lise Lamétrie (2’45’’) and Frédéric Pierrot (4’12’’).

2008 / 6’ / video / colour / sound
A couple arguing in their living room.

Ils respirent
2008 / 7’ / video / colour / sound
A series of faces, their expression distant and absorbed. We hear each person’s thoughts in voice-over.

Voilà c’est tout
2008 / 5’50’’ / video / colour / sound
Filmed at two schools, the Guy-de-Maupassant in Colombes and the Saint-Sulpice in Paris, students answer questions about their lives, the future and their feelings.

Hors saison
2008 / 2’ / video / colour / sound
Over a sequence of hotel postcards, a man talks about his trip.

Je ne supporte pas
2008 / installation
A list of things that the friends and acquaintances who were questioned cannot bear.


La Défaite du rouge-gorge
2001 / 23’ / 35mm / colour / sound

2002 / 13’ / 35mm / colour / sound

Pork and Milk
2004 / 52’ / 35mm / colour / sound

2004 / 11’ 30’’ / video / colour / sound

2008 / 26’ / video / colour / sound
made for the “Tous Européens” collection for Arte