Marlene Steyn
deep she dive her

26. 10. 2019 – 07. 12. 2019
Cape Town

SMAC Gallery is pleased to present deep she dive her, a solo exhibition by Marlene Steyn.

“Write! And your self-seeking text will know itself better than flesh and blood, rising, insurrectionary dough kneading itself, with sonorous, perfumed ingredients, a lively combination of flying colours, leaves and rivers plunging into the sea we feed. “Ah, there’s her sea,” he will say as he holds out to me a basin full of water from the little phallic mother from whom he’s
inseparable. But look, our seas are what we make of them, full of fish or not, opaque or transparent, red or black, high or smooth, narrow or bankless; and we are ourselves sea, sand, coral, seaweed, beaches, tides, swimmers, children, waves… More or less wavily sea, earth, sky – what matter would rebuff us? We know how to speak them all.”

– Hélène Cixous

In Hélène Cixous’ The Laugh of the Medusa, she declares: “I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard of songs. Time and again, I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst…”. Cixous is calling on woman (that disquieting, obstinate, universal feminine) to “write and thus forge for herself the anti-logos weapon.” Existing on the edges of the symbolic order, of the logos (order! Rationality! Logic! The virtues of man!), woman has come to exist largely in the Imaginary: as fantasy, as Medusa, as Mami Wata – away from the idea of absolute, stable, fixed meanings, and towards the understanding of woman as capable of causing shipwrecks and natural disasters. Woman as an irrepressible ocean; woman as the placeless place.

Historically not quite located anywhere, and yet s e e p i n g through, flowing across, swall-O- wing everything and everywhere – the female body, woman, is inexhaustible in her imagination and desires; her space denying negation. And not quite located anywhere, yet s e e p i n g through, flowing across, swall-O-wing everything and everywhere – Marlene Steyn’s work – her writing, her painting, her sculptures, her at once considered and rash use of repetition – is inexhaustible in her imagination and desires; her space denying negation; her paint the precursory for movement.

Her third solo exhibition with SMAC Gallery, Steyn’s deep she dive her comes as an ocean of woman, and, in its vast expansion of numerous and various female appendages, is a body without end, passing into infinity. Taking heed of Cixous’ call, and perhaps understanding it better than most, Steyn’s work moves through the limits of language (both visually and within the written word – her titles are a feast of seemingly immeasurable ideations) and the world as discoursed by man; moves beyond the notion of woman as only a receptacle, a vessel for the penis and a place for the embryo to grow – and poses the question: But what of the water that flows through her?

Here, Steyn places an emphasis on the understanding of woman as never having had place, or space, in (phallocentric) history; of woman as a porous body, entangled within the environment, at once everywhere and nowhere; of woman as water – of s e e p i n g, flowing, swall-O-wing, without ever inscribing or discerning contours. Here, Steyn makes possible the impossible nature of woman; impossible because woman has, for so long, been untenable in a real social setting.

Adept at choosing telling details, Steyn’s choice of emphasis is evident in her review of familiar objects, feminine mystiques, and the Imaginary – creating uncanny motifs through repetition and unpredictable combinations. Using anchor points – such as the female figure, aquatic scenes, and snakessssssss – Steyn reinforces the symbolic visual language (her painting as writing, yes!) that has become synonymous with her method of working, and, in turn, establishes herself, woman, as the taker and initiator, as the dynamic subject.

Abyssmistresses sees Steyn’s painted she-creatures – an ocean of woman – occupying and co- habiting space with snakessssssss, jellyfish, coral, she-weed; this woman is at once a personification of the tides, motions, torrents of the sea and an epithet of the Imaginary – she is, as Artaud put it, “the absolute contradiction of not being able to be a body without being the body of a spirit, which disembodies it.” This subject exists only in the abyss; made up of the water that runs through her. In contrast in matter, yet still remaining true to the notion of woman as being both nowhere and everywhere, Arching Type comes as a larger-than-life rendering of woman – made from foam, steel, fibreglass and resin – with a gaping hole through her torso. Here, she is the porous woman – legs open, her vagina a hole, her womb a vessel. Again, she is disjointed and aphoristic; all too much and yet not enough, enlarged by the a b s e n c e s and pOres and l a c k that defines her.

These a b s e n c e s, pOres, and l a c k that have placed woman on the margins are reiterated in Steam/me//time – both in the very subject matter (the overflowing, insurrectionary woman) and in the very painted, repetitive portrayal of this subject. This woman has evaporated into steam, she is without contours, unable to be contained. And yet what matter would rebuff her? In her repetition, Steyn realises that this tool for message-making, for messaging, is, as Ashraf Jamal writes in In the World, “a paean, a praise song, to the palpable seriousness of matter, and the pleasures that matter, when worked upon repeatedly”. Steyn’s most recent body of work is one that celebrates the fluctuating tides, the emotional waves, the depths of woman; the torrential and foaming and wet pleasures (hmmmm) of woman; the deep she dive hers. Here, woman is rebuffed by no matter – s ee p i n g, flowing, swall-O-wing.

Text by – Ellen Agnew