Corinne Mariaud and the idolatrous bodies: A fascination with image by Caroline Boudehen, Art Editor

In her latest series “FAKE i REAL ME”, Corinne Mariaud photographed 23 young women who incarnate an ideal image, and symbolize a generation consumed by the desire to possess a "perfect" body. These young women have been doing everything since adolescence to obtain a utopian physics: through makeup they transform their faces using contouring and highlighting techniques to reshape the nose, create cheekbones, illuminate their complexions… and even undergo cosmetic surgery.

Corinne Mariaud chose her models in Singapore and Korea because this obsession with an “ideal” appearance is there pushed to the extreme. « In Seoul, South Korea, the pursuit of perfection is becoming the ultimate goal. Young women place physical beauty among the most important things in their lives”, says the artist. Through her portraits, Corinne Mariaud presents us with their vision of Beauty. “I photographed portraits of these young girls and asked them about their expectations and their views on beauty,” says photographer Corinne Mariaud. In the series “FAKE i REAL ME”, most of the young women wear enlarged and coloured lenses, spend a total of one to two hours daily on makeup and skincare, and admit to having had one cosmetic surgical procedure. “FAKE i REAL ME”, embodies the loss of the "I", stretched between illusion and reality.

Corinne Mariaud is a French photographer, who lives between Paris and Singapore. While developing her personal and artistic approach to photography, she also works as a freelance photographer for such publications as Le Monde and Aden, Liberation, Philosophy magazine, Psychologies magazine, Numéro and many others. Her entire work is focused on the human body and its place in society. The artist is particularly interested in people’s tendency to treat the body as a material that can be shaped as desired. This body is insubordinate to fatality. Everyone has the power to transform it according to one’s own image or representation. Like the sculptor, Pygmalion who falls in love with his own creation -a statue that becomes alive these young women sculpt their bodies according to their desire. Corinne Mariaud’s models are an incarnation of this power over the body. Similarly, she takes control over these bodies by staging them for a photo shoot. The artist recognizes the double treatment that the body receives. On the one hand, it appears to be the subject of beautification and care, and on the other, it is seen as a victim in the never-ending quest for perfection.

Most of the time the artist focuses on particular parts of the body and the body language, such as smile, legs, faces, etc. The times she depicts the entire body, the face is concealed, and therefore this body is not identifiable. It becomes a representation of an individual in general. It becomes a symbol. The artist uses it as a puppet, a disjointed and broken puppet that she places in incongruous and disturbing situations. The artist initiates a reflection on the body’s function in the world and daily life (work, leisure, etc.). In her series, the body does not meet the expectations and requirements of social life. It is placed in a context that seems decorrelated, "abnormal". The artist questions the relation to the body, but also to the rules imposed by a society. Corinne Mariaud seems to reveal not only a physical exhaustion but also a moral exhaustion too, that resonates with the evils of the 21st century. The artist’s scenes highlight the questions but let her audience figure out the answers.

We are spectators in front of the Corinne Mariaud’s photographs. The scenes are carefully selected and the main characters intervene as the actors of a utopia that has gone wrong. For example, in her series "I Try so Hard" the artist filmed her models smiling during the two minutes before photographing them. As the model strikes a pose her face tightens and the smile changes. The smile becomes a rictus. Through the growing tension on the models’ face the artist questions the very meaning of a smile and takes the opposing view of it. "The smile refers to several topics. There is the idea of a woman reduced to her appearance. When the models hold a smile, it's violent. The smile is a tension. It contains the expression of resistance, which also applies to the world of work and to all the moments when we are in balance between vulnerability and power”, says Corinne Mariaud. The smile is a mask, an expression of an emotion that ultimately conceals another one.

In her photographs, Corinne Mariaud portrays the extreme. Bodies reveal themselves through absurdity, stretched between humor and gravity, banality and abnormality.
In her portraits “FAKE i REAL ME”, the models look at the viewer right in the eyes. Front view. The image fascinates. Young women are spellbound by an ideal of superficial beauty, and the spectator is fascinated and enthralled by these young women and their features.
Are models and spectators guilty of idolatry? Through retouching and seeking perfection, the faces seem to be moving away from what characterized them. It makes them unique on one hand and linked to humanity on the other hand, which is their defect and their particularity at the same time and makes a face singular. Here the ideal, aesthetically speaking, is finally becoming a norm! Perfection and its incarnation will have the same shape for people who seek it: prominent cheekbones, eyes with enlarged pupils, luscious-lipped mouths, etc. The process of taking control of one’s body over nature is opposed to the conformity imposed by the society. Certainly, the body is no longer considered untouchable, but the question of its appropriation by each one of us is raised: does my transformed body really reveal my own perception of myself?

Body's subjection is central in Corinne Mariaud's work, but a form of revolt of these bodies is also present: in some series, the faces are concealed and the bodies deceive the spectator. For example, in “Climax”, the woman seems to fight against herself. She exposes herself while hiding her face, and thus excludes the viewer. She enters into resistance with the social context that claims to control her sexuality. She fights to take power over herself. Under the lights of the studio, her body appears like a sculpture. The body recovers its ability to move and rises entirely against the rules of propriety or any ideal of aesthetic beauty. It becomes a weapon of revolt and struggle.
Corinne Mariaud’s portraits sow doubt about the body’s owner. Since its role in society has changed, it is ultimately subjected to people’s perception more than to one’s own. By being broadcasted in the virtual world (Internet, social networks and instant messengers), the body itself adopts a virtual shape. It merges with its surroundings. The Web does not care about the inner beauty, only the appearance counts. The body is an image to be transformed, to be redrawn and retouched (as in Photoshop) then to be broadcasted on networks. Nothing is left to chance, the body becomes one’s own brand, artwork and label. It is what  her protagonists want people to think of them. The body becomes a logo. An inanimate image that Corinne Mariaud transfers and prints in her photographs.

Through the series “FAKE i REAL ME”, Corinne Mariaud uses the classic form of portrait (three quarters frontal view), with a simple background which is almost innocuous. This format contrasts with those faces which seem to belong to another world, and to another time. Indeed, the characteristic of these faces is "Timelessness". It is difficult to give an age when the time marks are erased, when plastic and flesh hybridize. At first sight everything seems normal on these portraits, until a particular element strikes you and disturbs you. The "classic" form emphasises the "abnormality" and reveals the monstrous facet of these photographs.
The shadow of the monster appears in Corinne Mariaud’s entire work. The artist plays with the human body that she dismantles, distorts and dramatizes. In the absurd scenes, she portrays in "Climax" and “Disorder” she pushes us beyond the boundaries and beyond exhaustion. Individuals are alone in the photographs. Seen in their individuality, they "escape the framework" of normality, since they are placed in an environment in which they do not behave appropriately. In many photographs, the individual seems dead. The body remains inanimate in deserted streets, isolated, like a shell that its inhabitants have got rid of. The work of the artist thus expresses a form of solitude, where the norm is not reassuring but constrains the individual to a form of violence towards oneself.

Brutality is omnipresent in Corinne Mariaud’s work. The bloodcurdling looks of hybrid faces (“FAKE i REAL ME”), the bodies left behind (“Disorder”). A brute force exults ...
Every time it is about a suffering, which is expressed in a silent brutality. By presenting the cut off heads of in her series “Trophées”, Corinne Mariaud portrays the ideal woman as a frozen figure, trapped in her appearance and the victim of the stereotypes attached to femininity. However, on certain images we can feel a resistance, an imminent revolt. Corinne Mariaud says about these series: "Trophées" does not refer to the idea of collecting. When you see a doe in a trophy, you see something beautiful. But it is also violent, because the head is cut off. This is the paradox of hunters who say they like animals and kill them. In a way, trophies are a glorification of violence. The woman is represented there without any harm. When you look at the trophies, you start by smiling, and then you feel some discomfort. Among the trophies, there is one that reacts and resists ".
The spectator contemplates these "trophies" like tracks and symbols of a tragic achievement.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?” To which magic mirror do the models in the series “FAKE i REAL ME” talk? The photographer, the screen of the smartphone, or perhaps, the viewer behind the screen? To a judge. Their eyes seek the beholder’s approval, contentment, one’s blessing and desire. The role of the mirror is ultimately attributed to everything but a real mirror. Each one takes this function successively in the theater of Corinne Mariaud. Ultimately the power belongs to reflection.
Is Corinne Mariaud’s world far from the fairy tale?

The artist’s oeuvre is a reversed Hyperrealism. Hyperrealism implies the identical reproduction of an image into a painting, so realistic that the viewer comes to wonder whether the nature of the artistic work is a painting or a photograph. Artists used various sources, such as magazines or personal photographs as inspirations for their paintings. Corinne Mariaud is not a painter but she aims at reproducing reality beyond itself. Her models are derived from a reality, but hybridized. They are the embodiment of an image. One comes to wonder whether the models of Corinne Mariaud’s photos belong to reality.

Through her photographs, Corinne Mariaud explores the human body from every angle. On the one hand, the female body, as well as the male body, its plastic features, its role in society, stretched between humanity and monstrosity, an inanimate reflection of an ideal and a distorted representation, and on the other hand it is a totem that rises against imposed rules. Each time it is imprisoned in its ends: obsessive quest, total exhaustion, struggle with itself. Each time the body is exhibited, artwork of a life, fascinated and fascinating. An idol body.

by Caroline Boudehen, Art Editor