/14 Portraits


The Umbilical Vein

Memymom is a collaboration between two artists, a mother (Marilène Coolens -1953) and her daughter (Lisa De Boeck – 1985). Two self-taught photographers who work and live in Brussels, Belgium. ’The cross-generational project began with what the pair describes as a ‘hangover from the past’. They are referring to analogue image archive made from 1990 till 2003 of Marilène encouraging Lisa to express herself and to invent her own improvised theatre sketches.

Coolens began taking the photos that now make up ‘The Umbilical Vein’ when her daughter was just five and continued until she turned 18. Images of a nine-year old De Boeck sitting on a bed in a Pucci blouse and high heels, others of her pouting seductively at the camera à la Marilyn Monroe or posing as Catwoman, capture the transformation of a child into a young woman. The photographs will leave few people cold. They taunt viewers, who find themselves wanting to give them a comfortable place within an understandable context. But a nagging question remains: Are they a statement on the sexualisation of girls, or do they simply add to that imagery? Or are they about something else altogether? According to the duo, they found inspiration for the characters De Boeck portrays in their experience of the 1990s, the decade during which most of the photos were taken: pop culture, movies, fashion and pedestrians on the streets of Brussels. De Boeck usually seems quite serious in the photos, often almost unhappy. But Coolens encourages you to look closer to find a child’s daily reality. And you find this in tiny details, such as a faint trail of spaghetti sauce in the corner of Catwoman’s mouth.

These semi-staged dreamscape portraits developed into a mature conversation that deals not only with metamorphosis, personal identity, potential and a maternal relationship, but has evolved into a plea for sensual analysis and tragic romanticism. It reveals both the foundations of the close mother-daughter bond and the professional career of this artistic duo, who have worked together under the moniker Memymom since 2004.

The rough analogue images of a past era also form a source of inspiration for the artists’ current work which produces an emotional aesthetics that stops just short of the erotic; inventing mystery, exercising intimacy and creating a post-modern hyperlinked narrative where anything might unfold. The mother-daughter relationship means they can often work in a highly intuitive manner that allows the results to emerge naturally, even almost automatically.

Memymom has previously exhibited in Germany, Spain and Belgium. This summer they were part of Watou Art Festival, Maison Moderne at Air Antwerp in collaboration with Jan Decorte and Sigrid Vinks and they also took part in the group exhibition ‘Unnatural Selection’ curated by Brad Feuerhelm and Daniel C. Blight during the Unseen Photo Fair Amsterdam. The retrospective exhibition ‘The Umbilical Vein’ was exhibited for the first time at The Flemish Arts Center ‘de Brakke Grond’ in Amsterdam, The Netherlands from 19 September till 3 November 2013.