The hues on the walls are a delicate blue that suspends logic, making the ocean feel near, in I hear you. This duo exhibition features young artists Mankebe Seakgoe and Tzung-Hui Lauren Lee, currently on show at the BKhz Gallery.
Lauren and Mankebe identified a close link in the meta foundations of their practice, which take root in the elemental. It was the deep resonance, the ability to feel the pulse of another’s artistic practice, that these bodies of work were brought into dialogue. The show explores themes of genetic memory, materiality, isolation, identity, ephemerality and delves into alternative modes of communication.
In Lauren’s work, we experience the movement of air, wind and clouds as tangible matter. Her installation-based practice involves processes of paper-making, calligraphy and sculpture, translating two-dimensional mark-making, such as writing, to three-dimensional space. She titles her works as the dates upon which the cloud formations were captured to record the cyclical nature of life.
Lauren’s process contemplates Chi as a vital energy that surrounds and inhabits the body. Her modes of harnessing and channelling make the intangible, tangible. This involves playing with ideas of how wind is captured by plein-air drawing through feeling. In this, she takes inspiration from Chinese calligraphy artists, whose practice involves staying in a mountain and, for a month, painting from what they feel and experience, that is, abandoning reliance on what they see.
The ramp at the entry of the gallery leads the viewer to heavy cloud formations with wind waves rifting through in 3 January, 2023, a singular image expressed in four frames. The etching and smearing allows the viewer to form imagery as they see it, while the top right frame emulates cloud movement by pulling away from the rest. This pulling away touches on her personal relationship with displacement as a diasporic artist, notions of inner and outer space, examining how loneliness can be imposed or self made for self preservation and renewal.
In 4 March, 2023, she used oil on silk to capture a velvet blue sky with streaks of clouds crossing through one another. The abstraction in her works brings forth the question, ‘What do you see?’ I see dragons taking flight in the sky. In Chinese mythology, these are embodiments of strength, good fortune and the spirit of transformation. In this, she reflects on the ways being born in South Africa has fragmented some connection with her roots. I find it interesting that her experiments produce imagery that can link to genetic memory and inherent attachments to symbolism that withstand time and migration.
In light of the works being in conversation, the quote “as above, so below” floats between the dragons in the sky and Mankebe’s Let there be water for you to see, a large-scale work with acrylic, charcoal and ink on canvas. It’s plastered with multiple variants of blue and white smudges, coated with recurrent calligraphy that creates wavelike structures. Though the textures of these works differ, they sit across each other, emulating reflections between water and sky.
In Mankebe’s work, distorted calligraphy offers an opportunity to deepen one’s understanding of the seemingly incongruent, allowing for meditations on the inexplicable. She predominantly uses the medium of charcoal and questions conventional ways of communicating and understanding. Her practice involves cursive motion writing, where she facilitates word flow that borders on illegibility.
Displacement plays a role in the evolution of her practice. Moving around a lot as a child fragmented her relationship with spoken language. She oscillated between Zulu, Pedi and English in relation to her surroundings. The stop-start cycles that formed through not arriving at full accustom to any of these languages limited how she could communicate. She ventured inward, leaning on writing. In From the carrier of the magic, she uses acrylic to replicate water colours that express at the tail end of a sunset, while the mix of motion writing in charcoal, chalk and ink creates illusive movements on the board. Looking at this work tranquilises the inclination to read to understand, calling forward the need to feel.
This need to feel is expressed in the title, I hear you. Both artists, when looking at each other’s work, are engaging in processes of listening to reflect on the play between the ephemeral and permanence, tangible and intangible, congruence and illegibility. The congruence in conversation is sometimes disrupted by the way the works are placed. For instance, I enjoyed the movement of air in Laurens’ 4 March, 2023 and water in Mankebe’s Let there be water for you to see but think a more parallel placement would have strengthened their connection. The works in the sculpture room offer a better example of how the works can poetically mirror each other.