memymom / Home game
solo exhibition at Le Botanique Museum, Brussels
27 May – 1 Aug 2021
concept & curation: memymom (www.memymom.com)
Produced by Le Botanique
Co-produced by Le Musée de la Photographie à Charleroi, CCHA, VSAC & Vlaams Cultuurhuis ‘de Brakke Grond’
Memymom is the collaboration between mother-daughter artist duo Marilène Coolens & Lisa De Boeck. Two self-taught photographers who work and live in Brussels, Belgium. The cross-generational project began with what the artist duo describes as The Umbilical Vein, a reference to the analogue image made between 1990 and 2003. An intimate archive of family photos in which Marilène encouraged Lisa to express herself and to invent her own improvised theatre sketches. The Brussels duo memymom uses attractive and colourful postmodern imagery to take a critical look at today’s world. With their carefully stripped down exhibition they brazenly formulate urgent questions about the world of tomorrow.
With Home Game, Botanique presents the first major retrospective of memymom in Brussels, the home city of mother and daughter duo, artists Marilène Coolens and Lisa De Boeck. The exhibition showcases more than 220 of memymom’s works from 1990 to date, making it a broader and entirely revisited continuation of their solo exhibition at the Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi (2018). It centres around the fascinating and important symbiosis between the two artists, both when conceiving and creating their works. Self-taught, they do almost everything themselves: photography, looking for sets and locations, casting, styling, lighting and post-editing – 4 hands working on one project.
New and never seen before
We’ve Seen Things, a work from 2018, is the highlight of the exhibition with which the duo invites visitors to share their take on recent developments in society and in the world that have left a major impression and to which many can relate. Like in Charleroi in 2018, Somewhere Under the Rainbow, The Digital Decade and The Umbilical Vein – the three ‘chapters’ shaping memymom’s artistic journey to date – are the thread running through the exhibition which presents many new photos which have never been seen before. Slowly but surely the very productive Brussels duo unveils what they have produced over the past thirty years.
Mysterious and complex
Each of memymom’s chapters is characterised by its own narrative and tone. More than contrast they offer an opportunity to look for links, references and reflections on the different walls, made all the more intriguing by the mystery that lies within each photograph and which isn’t always as readily revealed. Some references are very personal and can’t really be deciphered which makes their work complex and multi-layered although their desire for beauty continues to be a leitmotiv. This exhibition and catalogue illustrate how memymom – straight talking and uncompromising yet open to outside influence – continued to pursue the same compelling artistic narrative. Somewhere Under the Rainbow, with its undeniable darkness, shows how easily and energetically the duo managed to translate the intimate and personal quality of their early years into the universal and topical issues of today.
Published by Botanique
texts by François Cheval, Geert Stadeus and Alice Zucca
pages 208 pp
French and English
Price 35 euro
Introductory text exhibition and catalogue by Alice Zucca
The face of a mother holds within itself the face of the world, and a child, reflecting himself in it, will also grasp the essence of the world for the first time. Lévinas argued that the face of the Other, in addition to a direct relationship in the proximity of the face-to-face relation, opened to what the philosopher called “the third party” that he defined as “another neighbour”, situated beyond the mother-child dyad. Thus, if the child makes its primordial encounter with himself after coming into the “world” through its mother’s face, it is able to experience its own “Self” and will soon find itself incorporated – as it grows up – in a context of third parties and otherness that it will have to take into consideration in order to decipher the hidden grammar of the social relations that will lead it to build other necessary and significant relationships. On the other hand, motherhood in itself is a radical expectation of something that – although held deep within the mother – reemerges as a form of otherness that opens up to a new universe. It is, once again, the mystery of a life that is to come, of which nothing is known. For a mother, birth is not only the completion of a long wait; it is also the birth of a new life that divulges another world, an individual who, at some point, will end up being the only true creator of himself.
If instead of acting as a lever for individual autonomy and independence from the maternal sphere, the theme of birth is declined in a biological-identity and a genealogical perspective, it tends to become both the natural and cultural presupposition of a simple search for belonging, unity and “completeness” for beings desperately devoid of origin and foundation, which would be found precisely in the arrival of a child. It is a powerful but dangerous mythology, because on the one hand it weighs the act of procreation with excessive expectations, while on the other it confers the children with a redeeming role that they cannot perform. The purpose of the mother is “hospitality without property”, and the gift of a child is not a designated bond that a priori sanction the different parts of their existence. It is the precious indication that, from the very beginning, we are not alone in this world. And this is the greatest of revelations. A bond can be of blood. It can also be something that is automatically given, and that requires no participation or involvement. But an alliance – considering and embracing the presence of the other neighbour – is always a choice.
Marilène Coolens and Lisa De Boeck know this all too well. Since 2004, the mother and daughter have formed a prolific artistic duo in an equal alliance under the name of memymom. Hosted in the Botanique, their exhibition is appropriately called Home Game. Indeed, it is the first time that a major retrospective of their work is organised in Brussels, their home town. “We play house.” In an interweaving of meanings, the project was born in the nineties in a domestic context where “the house” – intended by Marilène as a family setting – assumes the semblance of a theater stage where everyone is invited to interpret their own role right from the start. Initially, Marilène experiments with her three children – Lisa and her two brothers – and redefines the symbolic and archetypal universe of family relationships through her camera, weaving together new and spontaneous trajectories along the path of development and transformation, giving life to new practical forms of social and communicative life, creating new forms of identification that will result in an intimate family archive of analogue photographs (1990 – 2003) subsequently compiled under the title The Umbilical Vein. Together with her mother, Lisa playfully starts exploring with the innocence of a child the various manifestations of the reality she experiences and her female condition.
As her mother immortalizes her as she is growing up, her appearance already predicts a “premature” portrait of what she will be. As a child, Lisa is photographed dressed beyond her years, made-up and bejewelled (Childlike Empress, 1997), in fancy dress (Catwoman Uncensored #2, 1994), busying herself in unusual scenarios and situations, sometimes wearing a wig that blatantly portrays her as a grown woman (I’m an Old Woman Now, 1996; Pose de Perruque, 1996), or still, clasping a handbag and a gun (Stick to Your Gun, 1996). Therefore, in a fundamental theatrical mechanism – which implies the concurrent presence of vision and sight, of what is looked at and the eye looking at it – each character is simultaneously its own vision of the world and every possible vision of the world, there to determine the individuality of each character, and proclaiming in fiction the truth of the things established. Lisa herself points out how she always had mixed feeling regarding these photographs: while she acts her part, she also reveals something about herself, which is something that will remain a constant in her adult work.
None of this would have been possible without Marilène’s collaboration. Today, in a crescendo, their poetic dialogue affirms itself as a pregnant example of the revealing power of the creative relationship at their identity level as distinct individuals and in the project that represents both, and by which they are represented in a unity of visions and ideas, imagery and values that no longer merely forms a bond but rather, an alliance in a conscious understanding. On the other hand – as we have seen regarding the notion of otherness – the concept of being and of the world cannot be revealed in a single word, but stems from a dialogue.
Lisa and Marilène are concurrently photographer and model, set designers and directors of this radical world they created and that is inhabited by new figures, since more figures have started appearing in the photos. Over the years, the semi-staged “paintings” have grown into a mature conversation between mother and daughter that not only broaches metamorphosis, individual identity, hidden and mother-daughter relationship but also investigates other fields of human knowledge, from The Digital Decade (2010-15) to Somewhere under the Rainbow (2016-21). Aesthetically enchanting and yet profound beyond, memymom’s photographs are images with more than one level of interpretation. They refer to reality and to history, theatre and cinema, where the past and present blend into images recalling childhood and the present time, now that youthful innocence has given way to new interpretations of the female universe. By nature, these images tend towards storytelling and sensuality in an intent that is never merely persuasive in a sensory manner that involves femininity per se, but one that extends to an imaginative endeavor to activate a reflection on issues going beyond the field of gender. These images always convey an idea, an ideal, a value that, animated by a sense of justice, intends to be communicated and is aimed at creating bridges with the otherness in a narrative that deals – in an autobiographical sense and yet universally – with what moves us as human beings, and thus what binds us all together.
A physically connected humanity is the great utopia in life, but one that demands nature to match our expectations, to reveal all our desired knowledge in a light that allows us to understand who we truly are. It is also essential for man to encounter the human “obstacle”, as it is where who we are is revealed, where we know what is right and what is wrong, what is possible or impossible. Lisa and Marilène invite us in a world of images that is made of suspended and dreamlike atmospheres which, despite their stillness, are always reminiscent of the frame from a film sequence. Their photographs are narratively laden in a moving imagery reminiscent of their fellow countryman Magritte and certainly of Lynch and Jacques Tati, both of whom are avowed sources of inspiration. A detail captured at its beginning, in the moment just before the event or stopped before it happens, always sets a story in motion. For better or worse, what happens must not be forgotten but should remain as a denunciation or a praise. We look at them as they embark on a reconnaissance (As Long as There’s One With a Golden Gun, 2020; She Follows the Yellow Brick Road, 2019; As Close as we can get to Mars, 2017), as they look for something, waiting for an enemy to fight or a friend to welcome, in search of a clue or in quest of the truth (memymom’s witnesses, 2019; When She Takes Off Her Mask, 2016), of something that reveals itself (Jutezak van ‘t Koetje, 2016). Standing still or ready to strike (Still Up for a Fight, 2019) or to defend themselves (Cuz It’s Raining Bullets out There, 2020), disguised as contemporary heroines or simply as themselves, as women with their own ideals (We’ve Seen Things, 2018; Many Things, 2018; Awful Things, 2018; Early Retirement Rehearsal, 2017). Like the hyperbolic hypothesis that presumes a continuous progress in the universe – the utopia of life that suggests universal association – to recognize the triumph of truth as a just cause, the first step towards the fulfilment that destiny attributes to all living beings is to unite and improve. Hence, in an invitation to search for the “real”, these images take advantage of every sign, every shock, every revolution taking place in a square in Rome, London or Paris.