Bred in the Bone

Feast of Famine

written by Koulla Xinisteris

An intent to encompass and ameliorate the dark is a dominant feature in Bronwyn Lace’s work. Across the course of her bright trajectory, she has unflinchingly honed her fascination for dissection and other forensic pursuits that many of us might perceive as gross or hard.

It is a fact. Not many of us want to grapple with the intense and the difficult. Lace enters her world through the aesthetic, then she dissects looking for the DNA in everything. Fearlessly, she gets stuck in. Her gift of depth set in early as she witnessed her mother among the beds of the dying. Lace’s mother is an active realist – a relentlessly dedicated hospice nurse. Her imprint runs deep.

Lace is not scared of the dark. Nor is she shy to aestheticize and etherialise – and few can, as she can. In the aesthetic, we join in the flight to be bright, innocent, and unafraid. In her work, which straddles different media, including installations and performance, she uses weightless materials and colours: x-rays, translucent fishing gut, white satin, glass, resin, electricity…

Works like Stained and Engorged I and II and Punched and Impregnated I and II feel like totems or religious symbols. Yet they are also intently sexual works that defy the dumbing down of erotic mystery. Here, the erotic is spiritual, akin to love.

For Airs above the Ground, which appeared on an exhibition curated by Ricky Burnet in 2011, she re-assembled the bones of a horse. For Response (2015), which followed on from Neels Coetzee’s Crucible exhibition, Lace depicted the pelvis in resin in dialogue with Coetzee’s bronze skulls. These bodies of work have led to further exploration of skeletons and bones – and of flesh eaters, of flesh-devouring flesh. Lace’s recent encounters in various museums in Vienna, Washington DC and, not least in the Egyptian archives, have birthed further connections, feeding her subject. Her observations of nature continue to feed into her fascination with processes and mysteries of life, death, destruction and seduction. She returned from Vienna with the owl work, Bred in the Bone, – an accelerated time-lapse video, lasting a minute and thirty seconds, of carrion beetles frenetically feasting on the flesh of a gasping owl. This sequence conjures up the lunacy of hunger and entrapment – even desire, which enters the field in a way that was not there before. This piece features the dank underbelly of gestation which happens under a grid – another strong visual feature in much of Lace’s work. Gentle, fragile paper works bring Rorschach into the mix – a visual system intended to dissect a person’s personality, characteristics and emotional functioning.

The origami works – made from her parents’ abandoned Encyclopaedia Britannica set, purchased when they were expecting their first child – have been crafted to Lace’s design by her dedicated assistant Masetho Mohohlo. They invoke patience and the process of transitioning into meditative states. Each carefully crafted piece – of which there are thousands – is beautifully still.

For Lace, the origami works invoke the loss associated with the technological shift from information in hard copy into digital forms that has defined our era. In tearing these pages from the Britannica, folding and stitching them, she gives them another life. The encyclopedia, and its words will remain physically present – potentially for a long time to come.

Geometry is mysteriously and symbolically everywhere in this show. Some works are circular, Forked Flock Reflected, (2017) and Encylopaedia Britannica Revolve (2016-2017), others have strong triangular elements, the installation To Unfold and Reflect (2017), and Encylopaedia Dart (2017), is lit in such a way that it casts dramatic shadows, reminiscent of an electrocardiogram.

These works are imbued with a sense of immediacy and transience as though they were collective shooting stars moving through the sky, or a flock of swallows in flight. They recall the weightlessness of her bronze-cast wish bones and the work of MC Escher, who is a particular inspiration for Lace.

It is believed that if you fold 1 000 paper cranes, your wishes will come true. Sadako Sasaki was living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan on 6 August 1945, inflicting her with the ‘A-bomb disease’, leukaemia, at the age of eleven. Ten years later, she died, having folded 1 300 paper cranes. In perseverance there is peace. Perhaps, in the end, passion leads to truth. Perhaps there is little choice in this, but to surrender. Sasaki’s story is folded into the origami layers of this exhibition. Lace shows us that light can drop into dark places and that dark places with light shone on them can take flight.

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