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Marlene Steyn, Knot I: I Knot

Marlene Steyn, Knot I: I Knot

SMAC Gallery is proud to present Knot I: I Knot, a new exhibition of paintings and ceramic sculptures by Marlene Steyn. Here, her characteristically elongated, distorted figures bend and twist in yoga-like positions, often writhing and transmuting into the sporting goods by which their actions are accompanied. Pale, slender arms embrace the aqueous contents of a swimming pool; legs, arms, severed heads and spherical breasts become the supports for the volleyball net and the volleyballs respectively.

The title of the exhibition is a play on Not I, a short dramatic monologue written in 1972 by Samuel Beckett – in which a singular, disembodied mouth utters jumbled sentences at a ferocious pace, a female soliloquy in the third person. This separation of self is relevant to Steyn’s practice – dismembered body parts in pastel colours, fragments and distortions of the human form in the old Descartian ‘separation of body and mind’ tradition.

Knot I: I Knot also alludes to Jacques Lacan’s Borromean Knot – a group of three rings which are linked in such a way that if any one of them is severed, all three become separated. This Borromean Knot forms the intersection between and interdependence of the three orders of the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic. Steyn’s loose, looping figures reference this bond which constantly threatens to come undone, by linking the Lacanian knot to a physical yoga pose: the knotting of the body (like a koeksister) in order to unknot the mind.

This kind of interdependence contributes to Steyn’s sprawling boundless territory of polymorphism. While all bodies, forms and materials in her practice are subject to decomposition – manipulated, turned inside-out, deconstructed and sometimes made absurd – they are never truly reduced to the sum of their parts. As per Hans Bellmer, “The female body is like an endless sentence that invites us to rearrange it so that its real meaning becomes clear through a series of endless anagrams.”

Capable of fluctuating between observer and observed, interior and exterior, conscious and subconscious, physique and psyche, Steyn’s figures remain signifiers of the difficult business of living in a body and the kaleidoscopic moments of contact with the world beyond.

Knot I: I Knot will be showing at SMAC Gallery in Johannesburg until 11 November 2017

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