Memymom – perfect symbiosis

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 ‘The Umbilical Vein’. 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.


It’s quite rare for a duet to consist of a parent and child. How did this unusual collaboration begin?

Marilène: We hear that a lot, but for us it’s a very normal something that started spontaneously. Like most children who usually like being in front of the camera, so did Lisa. Only it became something reoccurring and it was a way of communicating with each other. Later we started thinking things through and going further and that’s where the collaboration began as we know it know under the name memymom.

Lisa: It’s Marilène who remembers the most of the very beginning. What I feel as most recognisable and memorable when looking at The Umbilical Vein for example, is my energy. And I guess it’s my energy that was something that Marilène knew how to react to and I liked that – a lot. The moment where I became the personification of an understanding between us.

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Do you work together on every field of the process of a project or each one of you focuses on different things?

It’s in the end always something that’s created together. But everyone has of course their focus on certain details of a project we work on. I will be the one saying that I want a straitjacket for a doll or barbie and then Marilène makes those, but works further on the possibility of that idea by adding details that become self-referential again. We both have our alone moments in the creational process and have conversations in between that concretise the images we want to make. To say it in one word: symbiosis.


What was your funniest experience working together?

Marilène: The shoot in Baiyoke Sky Hotel in Bangkok – Thailand during our three week trip, which resulted in the image ‘The Escort’. When I started photographing, it just wouldn’t work. We really laughed a lot when she was crawling over the hotel’s carpet to get into the part of the escort, while wearing this little pink dress and silver shoes we bought in Bangkok.

Lisa: It’s the highest tower in Thailand and I absolutely wanted to stay there. One big tower with a lot of tourists in it and because of this simplistic kitch actually really great interiors to shoot in, it’s how you look at it… But to get back to the story, I can act really silly during a shoot with Marilène. With her I’m not ashamed of how I look or act and that way we get to unveil all those double layers.

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If you could choose one photograph from all your work, which one would it be and what does it mean to you?

Lisa: That’s not an easy one, it changes. From the moment I hang our printed work on the wall I start looking at it again. I always find it a strange sensation to look at your own work and to realise what’s happening within that, to realise that we made that ourselves. But one that always gets my special attention is the one from Nunsense where both ‘nuns’ are sitting at a table and drinking from empty glasses, it tells more than I could have imagined. It’s just bizarre that you are capable of giving another form to reality or even forming a truth when creating.

Marilène: For me it’s the Whodunnit images. Everything is just right there, Lisa knew perfectly well what to do and it’s where we understood each other the best, in the context of both being adults now.

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Name five things that have inspired you the most lately.

Lisa: There’s a few exhibitions I saw back in September in New York that really inspired me: Wolfgang Tillmans’ show at David Zwirner Gallery, which relates to all of us. Also undeniable is the way he hangs his work and tells a story: smart, simple and very strong.

Another thing is Snoecks Magazine, it’s a Belgian yearbook that covers contemporary art, photography, architecture, literature… it’s a real honour to be included in this year’s edition. The editor-in-chief, Geert Stadeus, is a very passionate and driven man, who’s been doing this for over ten years now and it inspires to understand his choices and the diversity when it comes down to art.

And the last that I want to mention is the Polaroids I shot a couple of months ago just to have fun and to approach a different way of making images. What I like is that you look at an image that is made now, but the Polaroid itself is something that I automatically place in the context of the past, so in a way it’s a play of time. And it’s just one image, so you get to focus on it and find hidden and unintended details.

Marilène: At this point it’s Belgium that inspires me the most and that’s more than five things. It’s the little strange country that Belgium is and all that comes with it: the history, the art scene, the current political situation.


Give us a hint about your upcoming work.

We’re working mainly on ‘The Singular image’ where we focus on getting the past, present and future together and hide secrets in plain sight.

We’re also bundling our digital body of work made from 2010 till 2015 in a book, a selection from ‘The Digital Decade’. It’s good to bundle this, because it makes it continuous, we also decided to not sort our work into the series they originate from, but mingle everything and keep it exciting for ourselves and have the ability to make associations and new stories. I guess we are in need of curating our own work, you have to be constantly busy with it in a smooth not pressured atmosphere, to be able to give it a place because the relationship with your work is never-ending. I know that sounds obsessive, but you need to be that a bit as an artist I believe.

Interview by Callikrati Vuyuk