The Digital Decade 2010 - 2015

memymom’s first, self-published photo book appeared in November 2015. Entitled The Digital Decade, it contains photographs – all of them now shot and processed digitally – from series such as ‘The Baby Blues’ (2014), ‘Dusting off the Memory’ (2013), ‘La petite princesse’ (2012), ‘The Nurse’ (2012), and ‘Nunsense’ (2011). Lisa and Marilène frequently worked in series at this point; a reflexive awareness of their own practice had opened up, and they now approached projects for new photographs with a heightened degree of intent. One of the clearest examples in terms of this dimension (‘now we’re saying something about ourselves’) is the picture memymom Channels the Blues (from ‘The Baby Blues’ series), in which the women express the emotion that overcame them when they were unpacking photos for the 2013 exhibition that had been taken when the family was still complete.

When they compiled the book, though, Coolens and De Boeck did not stick to the series. Working in series did not mean that the individual images had lost any of their autonomous value and could not be shown separately; all the photographs in the book were included because of their own intrinsic worth. A different sequence of photos creates a different visual story and allows other meanings to emerge. This may be a detail, but it shows that memymom also work in a conscious way when publishing their oeuvre. What began as a casual game gradually developed into a conscious practice and a visual study in which not a single detail is left to chance – in other words, into art.

The difference between the ‘work’ in the first chapter, ‘The Umbilical Vein’, and that in the second chapter, ‘The Digital Decade’, goes beyond the differences between analogue and digital or single and serial work. Marilène – who, unlike her daughter, doesn’t like to be photographed and prefers to be shown unrecognizably – has now also become one of the dramatis personae. Brûlant Secret (from  ‘The Baby Blues’ series) shows her from the back, while reading Stefan Zweig’s 1911 novel Burning Secret on a tablet. In the story, the 12-year-old Edgar befriends a man who wishes to seduce his mother in the hope of holding onto her attention. Lisa can now be found behind the camera too, or else she is no longer photographed alone. Mother and daughter, both unrecognizable, appear in the same image in Den Deugniet (Rascal, 2013). It goes without saying that a picture such as this generates a dramatic dynamism that wasn’t present in the images in the first chapter.

The locations used are another substantial change. All the images in ‘The Umbilical Vein are set in undefinable, fairly enclosed and improvised interiors, whereas the view in ‘The Digital Decade’ zooms out a little to reveal recognizable locations: a bedroom, a garden, a hotel room, a cemetery, a landscape. There is room on this broader stage for several characters. In The Bedroom (from the ‘Whodunnit’ series, 2012), for instance, Lisa appears up to five times in different guises, thanks to the possibilities of digital image manipulation. The second group of works is also wider thematically, with an explicit focus on motherhood, among other things. We see Lisa with a cuddly toy tied to her front, as if pregnant with her teddy bear, and as a veiled mother breast-feeding one of her four Liberty-clad dolls. Works such as this are memymom’s artistic, ironic responses to the clichéd questions posed by disconcerted people at the time of the first photographs, regarding what they saw as a collaboration between a mother and her daughter that went too far: ‘Won’t it take matricide to keep your relationship healthy?’

The reality is that we badly need memymom’s highly imaginative fiction. As Philip Roth put it: ‘The world of fiction ... in fact, frees us from the circumscriptions that society places upon feeling; one of the greatnesses of the art is that it allows both the [artist] and the [viewer] to respond to experience in ways not always available in day-to-day conduct; or, if they are available, they are not possible, or manageable, or legal, or advisable, or even necessary to the business of living. We may not even know that we have such a range of feelings and responses until we have come into contact with the work of fiction.’

Jo Coucke