New masters: Laurens Mariën

We sat down with artist Laurens Mariën to discuss his work and the artistic climate today at the Broodthaers cabinet in S.M.A.K. Laurens is not your average artist, always inspired by something different and busy developing new projects. Get to know him through the work of Marcel Broodthaers, the new and the old master.

Text by Laura Callewaert
Photos by Sybren Vanoverberghe, shot in S.M.A.K., Ghent

How would you describe your own work?
That’s a funny question. People often find it difficult to understand that you’re not just focussed on one thing. They always want to put you in a certain box. You either have to be a musician, or a painter, or a photographer,… I personally start from an idea and then choose the right medium to develop that idea into a work of art. I have eleven projects running at this moment and they’re all very different things. I also used to be in a band called Soldier’s Heart, which I made a lot of music for. Now I also make music for Dolly Bing Bing and Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe. Everything I do comes from my ideas, whether I make music, organize performances or curate an exhibition. I’m way too interested in everything to just focus on one thing.

Curating exhibitions is my medium to express my ideas

I actually don’t make that much work myself anymore. These days I curate a lot of exhibitions. But I don’t just hang pieces to a wall, I connect work from other artists that inspire me and create a new entity, a new dimension in a space. I don’t know if you can call the curation of an exhibition my own work but in a certain way I would like to believe curating can be a medium on its own. Not from a dictatorial point of view but as a dialogue between people.

Curating exhibitions is my medium to express my ideas. For example, I did an exhibition with CAMPO & Leontien Allemeersch a couple of years ago in a totally different context than people are used to: ice-skating in a ring in Ghent. The artwork could move around on the ice so the image of the exhibition changed all the time. I wanted the first visitors to be penguins, but that was a little bit too expensive (laughs).

Broodthaers takes a regular object out of its context and gives another dimension to it

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
Inspiration is a difficult word for me. I’ve never really felt like I didn’t have inspiration. Everything in my life can be an inspiration. I think it was Picasso who said: ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’ I totally agree with that, you have to keep yourself busy and do things in order to gain inspiration. For example, I had a residency at NTGent where I worked with four other artists who gave me a lot of inspiration. People in general inspire me. Besides that, I get a lot of inspiration from rooms and spaces as well. A big empty space is like a dream for the creative part of my brain.

What do you need in order to create?
I’m a very chaotic person but I need structure in order to create. Therefore I have a very tight schedule. For example, I make music every day from 9 to 11 o’clock. That way really works for me.

What is your favourite work from the Broodthaers cabinet? 

I couldn’t choose one favourite work, so I chose two.

  • The mussel pot

It’s a simple object that everyone recognises, but he adds a whole different meaning to it. ‘La moule’ means ‘mussel’ in French, but ‘le moule’ means ‘mold’. The mussel can also be a little mold if you think about it. And every mold of a mussel is unique in its own way. That’s what Broodthaers often did, he takes a regular object out of its context and gives another dimension to it.

  • The mirror with the eagle at the top

It’s a readymade that refers to his own ‘fictional’ museum he started, called ‘Musée d’art moderne département des aigles’. The museum counted 12 different sections that he displayed in different venues. One of the sections was called ‘Section des Figures’ and existed of 500 images of this eagle. With this parody of a museum he criticized the museum as an institute which had all the power to decide what could hang in a museum and what couldn’t. After he declared his museum bankrupt, he ‘became an artist again’. That’s something I find very interesting because in many ways this institute still hasn’t changed. Why do you have a contemporary art museum if the people within the museum still have ideas from the past?

I’m also creating my own little museum. My collection is a reaction to what I see in some museums today, because I think they are not always collecting interesting or relevant stuff. Besides that, they aren’t open for new ideas or changes. If you are in that position, why wouldn’t you use the museum in a more interesting way? Make the museum less of an island? Try to trigger people again? I often feel like the museum doesn’t provide us with a lot of freedom and imagination today and that’s unfortunate.

Why do museums have the power to decide what’s art and what’s not?


How do you link Broodthaers cabinet with your own work?
I saw an interview with Broodthaers’ wife where she said that she made a lot of her husband’s works because he wasn’t that handy, or he didn’t have the patience. This is something I can very much relate to. I often have ideas, but not always the right skills to execute them. A lot of people find it important that you make your own work yourself, but I don’t think that’s always necessary. For me it’s about finding the best conditions to give form to my ideas.

How do you feel about the art world today?
In the sixties, Marcel Broodthaers went on strike at Bozar for eight days, even though he had a good relation with the museum. He wanted to support young artists who didn’t get the chance to show their work in big museums. If you would ask the same thing to ‘big artists’ today, I think they wouldn’t give a sh**. There is not enough or too much freedom for young artists and the solidarity between artists is sometimes hard to find.

From 1 till 31 May, members have free access to the Broodthaerskabinet
at S.M.A.K., Ghent.
 Join here.

Laurens is curating the exposition Night Shift: from dusk ’till down at Beursschouwburg and contributed to the performance My protest in the Netherlands.

You can check out Sybren’s work on his website.