16th September – 16th October 2022
PV: 15th September 5 – 8pm
Where do you end and I begin? We are constantly seeping into one another, eternally dissolving into the world. We are entangled with our surroundings. We are filled with infinite strangeness.
Marlene Steyn’s work is concerned with the relationship between painting and psychoanalysis, exploring the formation of reality and of the self. Each painting offers a deep dive into the psyche, bringing the viewer face to face with the other within. Steyn’s work encourages us to find the unfamiliar within ourselves and to challenge the boundaries of our bodies and identities.
Throughout You-Me-Verse, female figures are interwoven with their environments, becoming part of the landscapes. Faces appear and reappear as iteratively repeated motifs. The repetition is not mechanical or precise; features and expressions change slightly from face to face, suggesting the phases and multiplicities of identity that can be found even within a single individual.
A number of the works in the exhibition examine the blurred boundaries of the self experienced during pregnancy and motherhood. Steyn draws visual parallels between trees and the placenta, as well as using wordplay to suggest a mysteriously potent analogy between moon and womb. You-Me-Verse confuses the dimensions of time and space, mingling bodily scale with the level of the landscape or even the planetary or universal.
The notion of the oasis emerges throughout the show, suggesting an essential process of creating sanctuary and finding calm, in spite of the visual complexity of the images. Bodies of water further evoke the womb, while water is also figured as a space of the imagination and the unconscious. These dreamscapes, determined by emotions and hormones, are part of Steyn’s attempt to create inclusive, soft, feminine spaces, ruled by the poetical rather than the logical.
Many of the paintings are set around an ambiguous twilight hour, with the sun low on the horizon or the moon just rising. These are times of metamorphosis, when the light tricks the eye and objects and places seem to morph, taking on magical identities. This concern with change is rooted in Steyn’s interest in mythologies and the fluidity of interpretation surrounding folklore and legends. For example, within the many compelling narratives of people turning into plants, animals, and geographical features, does metamorphosis offer an active escape or a passive sense of release? Or is transformation sometimes a punishment, dooming a character to an eternity of remembered trauma or grief?
Steyn’s paintings are themselves transformational; never static, they induce a sense of restless vertigo through apparently infinitely repeating openings into the new. The complex layering of ideas and images offers various points of entry into each work, allowing openness to interpretation and pointing to a multifaceted subjectivity across shifting emotional registers.
Text by Anna Souter
Marlene Steyn was born in 1989 in Cape Town, South Africa, where she currently lives and works. Steyn obtained her Master of Fine Art degree in 2014 from the Royal College of Art in London, UK. Her work is included in Phaidon’s prestigious Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art. Artist-in-residence programmes include a collaborative residency with Kay 16 and Artport Residency in Tel Aviv, Israel and an upcoming residency Sundaymorning@ekwc and centre-of-excellence for ceramics in Oisterwijk, Netherlands in 2023
In 2019, Steyn presented two solo exhibitions: deep she dive her at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa, and Unbuttoning my belly, at Lychee One in London, UK. Earlier solo exhibitions include: Shouty Insides at Galerie DYS in Brussels, Belgium in 2018; Knot I : I Knot at SMAC Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2017; Your Skin Is Not The Best Hiding Place at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town and You Can’t Cry When Your Head is Underwater at Lychee One, London, both in 2016; Mad Love at Lychee One in London as well as The End is Located Underneath Her Third Armpit (if the muscle is flexed) at Commune 1 in Cape Town, both in 2015; How Cannibals Cuddle at Cabin Gallery in London, in 2014.
Recent group exhibitions include: Act 1: Body and Thrall, Rugby Art Gallery&Museum, Rugby UK 2022; Unfair Weather, Lychee One, London 2021; A Show of Solidarity, in support of the South African Solidarity Fund during an enforced Covid-19 lockdown, at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town 2020; Staycation at Lychee One in London, UK 2020; ‘L’Heure Bleue’ at PLUS-ONE Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium and SHAPING THINGS: An exploration of clay and ceramics in contemporary South African art practice at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch, all in 2020. Further selected group exhibitions include African Textures at OSART Gallery in Milan, Italy; arteBOTANICA in collaboration with Viviers Studio at the Nirox Sculpture Park in Krugersdorp, South Africa, both in 2019; Paper Cuts, at the Saatchi Gallery in London UK; Bone Memory at Lychee One in London, UK and Kneadingthetorsomakesabuzz, curated by Karni Barzilay at KAV 16 Gallery in Tel Aviv, Israel in 2018; Another Antipodes Inc at PS Art Space in Fremantle, Australia and All Things Being Equal at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) in Cape Town, South Africa in 2017.
Steyn has participated in numerous art fairs including: Miart in Fiera Milano City in Milan, Italy; London Art Fair and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London, UK; Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), Cape Town, South Africa and FNB Art Joburg, Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Marlene Steyn’s work features in numerous public and private collections including the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) and Norval Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, The Royal College of Art Collection, YIS foundation and Marcelle Joseph collection in UK and the Springmeier Collection in Germany and the X museum in China.