Memory. Short-term, long-term, fond, unpleasant; there are many different kinds. Some memories are easily forgotten, yet some stay with us forever, they bury themselves deep under the skin and take up home within our bones. In Bone Memory at Lychee One, six artists examine how are memories manifest, and why some refuse to leave.
The standout pieces in the show are undoubtedly Marlene Steyn’s paintings and sculptures. Faces in Waiting Rooms II, 2017, oil on ceramic, is literally a puddle in visage form. Blue, with drooping eyes and an exhausted, drawn out mouth, the creature seems to melt away. This character may be a comment on the feelings felt whilst in a waiting room – a place that I would dare to say almost never provides the most gentle of emotions, rather it is associated with nerves, anxiety, and all-round unpleasantness. The rest of Steyn’s works however, are less overtly depressive, but more corporeal in form. Her in Her Voices (Nose Salon), 2017, oil on ceramic, brass, marble, is a strange surreal object, in which nude bodies support a mouth and two pairs of eyes, positioning their arms in the shape of a nose. In Triceptual Vision, 2018, oil on ceramic and linen board, Steyn combines the two with the three-dimensional, with ceramics being placed on top of a painted background. Figures hug each other’s yes, looking into what they see, caressing each other’s memories in a work where ten sets of eyes can be seen amongst shades of yellow, pink and blue. A further painting, Moody Not Broody, 2018, oil on canvas board, shows a woman holding multiple heads, grinning in a strange and surreal imagined world, reminding the viewer that memories can be imagined too. The strange and surreal mood evoked by Steyn’s work is heightened by the way the paintings and sculptures are displayed against a wall covered in carefully manicured hands that stroke one another, almost reassuring each other that they will protect each other despite the secrets and burdens they are hiding,
Within the middle of the gallery space an object as peculiar as Steyn’s sculptures, rests on the surface of the floor. Bea Bonafini and EJRBarnes’s The Empress is a large, carpeted armchair. At the end of its arms, are two mirrored globes, allowing the sitter to view their reflection. Its textured surface is covered in arms, mimicking the wallpaper behind it. The work is an enigma, but it commands attention and provides a space of support and comfort, when being confronted with aspects of the past that might be difficult.
The rest of the gallery walls are covered in paintings that have been hung against white walls. Lian Zhang’s Mather Point Sunrise, 2018, oil on canvas, is fleshy and peach coloured. Amidst the thick patches of paint one can make out a pair of breasts, but there are also air bubbles; something is rippling under the surface. If you look carefully enough, an angry face emerges from the skin, while a darker, serious figure is overlooking in the corner. Perhaps Zhang is asking us about how we hide our memories. Do they rest on the surface, inconspicuously? And who is looking, trying to extract the details at what we are trying to conceal? Similarly, Aishan Yu’s Drawing 1, 2018, pencil and acrylic on card, also touches on the skin. In a Cy Twombly-esque work, a woman – depicted in black and white – adds colour by painting patches of yellow onto her face. Maybe she is masking something, a painful memory, or adding brightness to make it more palatable.
In Vivien Zhang’s Grid Method (Stone Waves), 2018, and Fruitility 2, 2018, both acrylic, oil and spray paint on canvas, intense juxtaposing colours appear to replicate the feeling of being confronted with intense memories and not knowing quite how to handle them. The paintings are both surreal and geometric at the same time. The images, Grid Method being predominantly blue, and Fruitility mainly red, balance the other out, seemingly acting as the inverse of the other.
Bone Memory faces the memories we bury deep, the ones we can’t get rid of. We all have them, and a lot of the time, we all do our best to turn a blind eye to them. Bone Memory reminds us however, that they are always there. In Leap of Faith, 2018, oil on canvas, however, Freya Douglas Morris depicts a different approach to dealing with the experiences that run to the bone. Through four long-limbed blue figures, she illustrates the act of letting go, throwing away the things that hold us back, and ultimately opening ourselves up to freedom.
Bone Memory is on display at Lychee One, Unit 1, The Gransden, 39-45 Gransden Avenue, London, E8 3QA until 4 January 2019