Marcel van Maele

1931 - 2009

Died in Antwerpen (BE), born in Brugge (BE).

Marcel van Maele was a writer, performer and visual artist. He was a nonconformist, critical and rebellious. His oeuvre expresses a penchant for total individual freedom. He opposed bourgeoisie and the established order and saw art as a means to change consciousness. His defiant attitude towards life and his experimenting brought him into contact with both the law and psychiatric institutions on several occasions. "If my madness can't be satisfied, boredom sets in," he said.

In 1952, when van Maele came of age, he enlisted as a UN volunteer in Korea. Not out of militarism or anti-communism, but to escape from an oppressive family environment and the unadventurous duty of military service in Belgium. In Korea, where he says he was 'a terrible soldier', he kept a diary. From September 1953, after returning to Europe, he gallivanted on a Solex bicycle through some 27 countries, with a predilection for Scandinavia. In between he worked in a great deal of diverse professions, including night watchman, woodcutter, cow keeper, carpenter, grape picker, dock worker, etc.

In 1956 he returned to Belgium and made his début with his poetry collection Soetja. He became an important voice of experimental poetry in the 1960s. In 1962 he was briefly a member of the editorial board of the avant-garde magazine Labris, the voice of the experimental Zestigers. In 1963 he became a member of the revamped Tafelronde and his prose début Kraamanijs was published in 1966. In 1972 he was awarded the Arkprijs from Het Vrije Woord for his book Ik ruik mensenvlees, zei de reus.

Marcel van Maele was a flamboyant speaker and a true lover of the stage. As a 'performing poet', he made quite a splash in Brussels on 17 February 1973 when he stepped behind the microphone on the stage of Vorst Nationaal, shot a pistol in the air, and exclaimed 'The first Night of Poetry has begun'. and fired his poems into the venue.

In the 1980s he travelled to the Sahara with his good friend Raphaël Opstaele and his Mass and Individual Moving to print poems on the Pioneer, a solar-powered printing press.

In addition to four novels, film and stage scripts, he continued to publish poetry collections regularly– about 25 in all – increasingly in bibliophile editions and several times in collaboration with visual artists. A recurring theme in this was the conflict between the absolute freedom of the individual and the pressure of society and reality that curtails this freedom.

Parallel to his literary work, he also produced paintings and collages in the 1960s. From the 1970s on, van Maele began creating unusual objects 'in the no man's land between literature and plastic art', often combining objets trouvés with texts and words that he somehow made inaccessible. His Gebottelde Gedichten (1972-2002) are rolled up in a well-sealed bottle and Vakkundig Hermetisch (1973) is a poetry collection cast in a block of polyester.

His texts, words and books are cut up, glued, painted over and made inaccessible, not only by putting them in bottles or polyester, but also in suitcases, vegetable boxes, birdcages or by nailing them to chairs, piercing them with nails or storing them in alcoholic spirits or oil.

His plastic-poetic objects  are humorous testimonies of the artist's social involvement. They often appeared as multiples in small, democratically priced editions. In addition to a large number of multiples, van Maele also created unique 'text paintings', assemblages, sculptures and installations in which he always managed to bring word and image together in an inventive and witty way.

Marcel van Maele himself speaks of the 'art of ideas', influenced by surrealism, dadaism and kindred spirits such as Marcel Broodthaers with whom he was friends in Brussels in the 1960s. In 1965 and as one of the first, van Maele wrote the text Mosselen: op en top pop in the magazine Kunst van Nu about the visual work of Broodthaers. He also dedicated his poem Als een gedicht zijn gezicht verliest to him.

In the 1980s van Maele gradually began to lose his sight and eventually became completely blind in 1991. In the last decades of his life, however, he continued to write poems, with the help of his wife. From then on, he delegated the implementation of his many ideas for multiples to third parties, in which he himself ‘maintained tangible control over the objects’.


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