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Painting (MA)

Kate Howe

Kate Howe (she/they) is an American artist living and working in London. Howe holds a BA (summa cum laude) in Art History from Arizona State University and an AA in Technical Theatre (highest honors) from Foothill College. She is the founder of RuptureXIBIT (+Studio), a free residency and experimental exhibition space for artists, and she will graduate from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Painting in June 2022.

Howe’s work resists complicity with historical precedent. In her work, which spans painting, drawing, tattooing, textile work, sculpture, writing, performing, sound, social and experiential practices, and draws heavily on her ancestry in theatre, film making, quilting, writing, and art, she responds to the canonical record by viewing existing historic works through forensic anthropology's lens, engaging with these works as evidence, recontextualizing paintings, and resurrecting their ghosts. Howe’s research-based practice is unflinching, unapologetic, excoriating, excavator-esque, surgical, and relentless.

“My research reveals the mechanisms by which we have always taught the subjugation of people and the acceptance of that subjugation as implicit. If we can reveal the mechanism, we can reveal it as mechanized, that is, inorganic, unnecessary: unpickable.” 

The work is the detritus of the research, totems for the future or portals to the past.

Howe’s current body of work responds to Artemisia Gentileschi’s 1610 painting Susannah and the Elders and Eiko Matsuda’s 1976 performance and post-performance career in the Japanese erotic film Into the Realm of the Senses

Howe states: “Running through all my work are the seams of things being healed from rupture, the scar of having been brought back together, pregnant and uneven, forever imprinted with what came before, continuously repositioned in potentiality and future-facing."

Show Location: Battersea campus: Painting Building, First floor

If this is the Rupture, I'm ready for some guidance.

When I found Eiko Matsuda, I sainted her. She is our patron saint, the patron saint of women +NBX who dare to name themselves in their work: I made this. The patron saint of risk. We pray: please, let our work be our work, and let us not be mistaken for our work, though we are our work and our work is of us. Please, Let us dare to risk.

She is Eiko Matsuda. She died in obscurity in 2011 for the crime of making something new, something risky. She was erased.

I protest! I protest. I un-erase. I resurrect. I connect. I imbue. I tattoo. I make a totemic, a ritual, I place these prints with the work: a golden one with a piece that is a prayer that the story can go differently next time. A white one with pieces that come from memory, from traumatic memory, from erasure, from Eiko, from her ghost, from all of their ghosts, from the ghost over every woman in every rape in the met museum.

In response to Artemesia Gentileschi's 1610 painting Susanna and the Elders.

Hands: Ann Quilter, Ellen Wight, Sadie Wight, Ronan Porter, Mariam Nakiwala, Veronika Benk

Prickwork: (L to R)

"The moral of the story, ladies, is THIS: as long as you are a VIRTUOUS WOMAN, god will save you, no matter what kind of a pickle you find yourself in. But that's not really what the lesson is here is it? The lesson is you are not safe. These are not really images of VIRTUOUS WOMEN are they?

No. They are images of a woman being attacked by trusted Elders in her community, again and again. These elders are serial offenders, abusing through the centuries from painting to painting over and over again. 

It is a crime, a cold case, and there are clues to be found here. Clues that can tell us why it happens and how to make it stop."

Lettering: 

Left side: "The work your mother did is not work you will finish"

Top: "The work is not historical"

Right side: "But it is work that must be done"

Bottom: 

"carborundorum.carborundorum 1973.1992.2022"

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum"

Bottom Prickwork: "A young beautiful woman and one who feared the lord. The tale of Susanna. (v.v. 2-3, NRSV)"



Medium:

Yin Min blue oil paint and 24 karat gold on kraft paper with stitching and prikwork.

Size:

6.7 x 3.7 m
Site Specific Installation: Eiko, not Sada (Installation view: Kate Howe's left ear.)Tattoo on skin.
Still: Eiko Matsuda's left ear in the film Into the Realm of the SensesTattoo on the left ear of Eiko Matsuda, pre-dating her role as Sato Abe in the film "Into the Realm of the Senses" and standing here as her artist's signature to her most challenging role.
Wade Enstrom at Old London Tattoos about to tattoo his first earlobe.
A tattoo is a ritual. You create a wound on purpose. It hurts. You hold still. The artist can not really see what they are doing, the wound bleeds as it is created. The mark will never be as beautiful as the moment it is finished and the blood is wiped away. The mark scabs over, becomes ugly. You must not touch, you go in public, everyone knows this is fresh ink, a fresh mark, a moment of significance. The scabs fall away and only then can you see what you are left with forever, a lotus from the mud.
Eiko not Sada: The Divine Edition in Gold FrameShe protects us: she gives us the faith to sign our work, to dare to make work knowing it could be mistaken for autobiography, she says: I am here while you contemplate that most dangerous thing: agency. She protects us while we look, ponder, dare to have faith, dare to say I am here, this was me.
Eiko not Sada: The Ghost Edition in White FrameShe is there with us, protecting us as we dare to consider memory, that which came before, to honor what was, she haunts the work so we don’t have to. She holds our collective trauma while we stand with historical truth.
Here is Wade's sketch, with my tattoo on the top. Feel free to use it to get your own link to Eiko, not Sada set up. The reception is pretty good once the installation is complete. Wade Enstrom, at Old London Tattoos, can help you out.

Site Specific Installation.

Site: Artist's left ear

The 1976 film In the Realm of the Senses starred Eiko Matsuda as Sada Abe in a story of erotic entanglement ending in obsession, death, and delirium. This film, still banned in Japan, was the first film in which the actors engaged in visible, actual unprotected sex on-screen during filming. It is the true story of a couple consumed by each other. Often cited as the most erotic film ever made, and written about extensively in academia, the male star of this film and the film’s director shot to international superstardom after the daring, risky, beautiful, disturbing, problematic, and challenging project came out. 

Matsuda, the face of the project and the performance which carries the entire film and makes it real, heartbreaking, and quite relatable, faded into obscurity after being offered only two “pink” films after the release of In the Realm of the Senses

Erika X Eisen writes in her brilliant article Desire Vessel : ‘Matsuda Eiko’s career illustrates the erasure that occurs when women’s creative work is falsely reduced to autobiography.’ In other words, her male co-star did not have that problem. No one thought that because he had sex with her on-screen, he must be “that” kind of guy, probably a prostitute, and never offered him work again. They understood that he was an actor, and this was a role. A risky role that paid off. But they couldn’t make that leap for her. Matsuda did not speak a lot about herself or the film other than to make it very clear that telling this famous story required total commitment and fearlessness. She was brave for the sake of her art. She gave herself to her art. She signed her name, let it be known she was the actress equal to the legendary role. And she was erased for her art. 

I protest. I protest! I un-erase.

I create a site-specific installation with my body as the site. It is the small scorpion Matsuda had on her ear before the film was made. It is Matsuda herself, not Abe or any fictional character she played. From here forward, we go together, Eiko and I. She is one of my ghosts. 

I invite anyone to get this tattoo on their left earlobe, to plug into the Eiko network, to call forth her divine presence, or let her ghost intercede in your grief for you.

Thanks to Wade Enstrom at Old London Tattoos for the incredible work on this delicate, fiddly, very specific piece. 

Medium:

Tattoo ink, skin

Size:

2 x 2 cm
I felt it brush my forearms as it fell, keeps falling, over and over. The sky, I notice, is very blue, coming through the leaves. (After Gentileschi with Ghost totemic not shown) (Installation view)
Detail with Ghost totemic.

This piece is currently on show at the off-site exhibit of 17 RCA Grads entitled "what is becoming us". This show features 17 of the '22 painting cohort and is open from June 22-30 with a PV on the 29th of June from 5-9 pm. Book at https://artsvp.co/katehowestudios

As I discovered the thousands of versions of Susanna and the Elders carved, painted, stitched, and drawn between 1011 and 1750, I began to print them out and tape them to my studio wall. After a while, my wall looked less and less like a collection of exquisite historical paintings and more and more like the wall of a serial rapist collecting photos of their crimes.

I could not escape the collective trauma in each one of these images and began to recognize the clues in the case, the clues linking these cold cases together. The same items were appearing across the centuries: the bench, the cloth, the pool, the oak tree, the mastic tree, the elders, Susanna, the hand shushing, the hand pointing to god.

The cloth. The cloak. The thing they are grabbing. Research then - research the nature of traumatic memory. If these are memories I'm seeing, like Susanna telling her story again and again: and there was a bench, and there was the cloak I was wearing, and then the sun was coming through the trees. There was a bench. If these are memories I'm catching threads of, I learn their quality so I can identify, pull through into the present, and reconstruct the timeline. Trace the tracks of the perpetrators. Follow them, doggedly, like Bosch through the centuries. Everyone counts or no one counts. I research PTSD through the US National Library of Medicine and NICBM.

In traumatic memory, sensory detail replaces narrative. The story shifts from what happened, to what was felt, seen, heard, tasted, and smelled. The experience becomes about experience as the content overwhelms our trauma centers, and we bend reality, we misdirect, and divert. We cope.

Susanna is talking to me again: and then I looked up and I remember he had his finger pressed to his lips, and his mustache curled around his finger, and his fingernail was chipped. What color was his hair? I don't know. The hair near his finger was brown and white and clumped together, I remember because it covered part of his finger. It was long. And then cold air on my arms and the feeling of the cloth falling. The sun came through the leaves really brightly. I remember seeing the sun and thinking: bright blue, aren't I supposed to think yellow when I think of the sun?

Experiencing that detail can trigger a PTSD event in which the event is re-experienced, even just fractionally or momentarily, yet completely, but which, at that moment, causes a fully-immersive and instantaneous re-experiencing of the trauma.

This is what someone means when they say they are "triggered."

Traumatic memory repeats in a loop that is always present, always happening, and always ready to become reality.

This makes me feel as though the pieces of the story that haven't been told are still there, trapped in time, hanging in air, repeating if I can tune into them. I use radio Eiko to follow the trail, to pull the threads of memory into the present, fill in the gaps, making space for the story to go differently this time.

Medium:

Oil paint and stitching on kraft paper in black surround with lights and Ghost totemic. (Totemic not shown)

Size:

Variable dimensions.
Susanna and the Others (After Gentileschi) (Installation view: Dyson Gallery)
Susanna and the Others: Just the painting

This piece is currently on show at the off-site exhibit of 17 RCA Grads entitled "what is becoming us". This show features 17 of the '22 painting cohort and is open from June 22-30 with a PV on the 29th of June from 5-9 pm. Book at https://artsvp.co/katehowestudios

I first encountered Artemesia Gentileschi's 1610 painting Susanna and the Elders in person in August of 2020, the week that I moved to London. It was scorching hot, my mother was here, having helped us cross the ocean with our few remaining belongings, our two children and our cats. We stood, blinking in the realization that we had done it, we had gotten out of the US, we had escaped the terrifying dumpster fire of our crumbling democracy.

In the brief breath between lockdowns, while my mother was still with us, when we still held hope that the pandemic would lift and life would be normal, Artemesia was here as well.

I remember trembling while walking up the sweeping back staircase under an enormous banner with her name: ARTEMESIA dominating the space above me. I remember feeling the weight of her imperious presence at the National Gallery. SHE trusts her work, that's for sure.

I remember wondering if the banner should have said GENTILESCHI instead. I didn't know how much partiy to fight for, then. Now I know, it's the pirates' code. Take all there is. Leave nuthin' left.

Susanna, though: Gentileschi's Susanna, painted when she was just sixteen. Startlingly different than all which came before. Gentileschi is powerful in part because of the moments she chooses. She waits, she lets the camera come close, she lets the story run forward. In Gentileschi's painting, the only one I could find on the subject painted by a woman, we are in tight, uncomfortably close to the action, just as Susanna is. Close enough their breath stinks.

In an inverted pyramid of power, the two elders loom over Susanna, forming a lintel to the plinth of her body as she flinches back. They are inescapable.

I thought about this moment, about choosing the moment. I thought about this story: what happens when the camera runs forward even further? What about the next day?

What happens to Susanna, say the next day, at the coffee shop? Who heard about this near-attack, was she really meeting someone and fucking under a tree? Who was he? Was she really almost raped? Is she lying?

I think about uncontrollable moments of shame, I think about upskirting and revenge porn and reporting. I think about victim-blaming and the exhaustion of the fear of not being believed. I think about the hope you feel when you trust and tell what happened, and the terrible, and very real social consequences which accompany that action, and the way the social landscape changes indelibly after an event like this occurs.

I think about the sensation of being cornered, implicated, stared at, dismantled, I think about the contradictory nature of both needing to be seen, and desperately needing the perpetrators and the crime to be the thing being seen, not Susanna. Susanna wishes she could describe this like it happened to someone else. Susanna is doing her best to stay whole.

Medium:

Oil and oil pastel with wall board transfer and stitching on Belgian linen, with silk frame and textile elements.

Size:

Variable Dimensions. Painting Dimensions: 220 x 488 cm
Susanna and the EldersArtemesia Gentileschi, 1610. 70 cm × 119 cm, oil on canvas. Schloss Weißenstein collection, in Pommersfelden, Germany.
Susanna harassed by the Elders (Daniel 13:1-63)Peter Paul Rubens, 1609 - 1610. 198 x 218 cm oil on panel. Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
Susanna and the EldersEmilian School, 17th Century. Signed with monogram lower right: G C, oil on canvas, 230 x 297 cm, framed. In private collection.
Susanna and the Elders Peter Paul Rubens, 1607. 94 cm × 66 cm, oil on canvas. Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg.
Susanna and the Elders1621-1622. Anthony van Dyck, 194 x 144 cm, oil on canvas. Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
Susanna and the EldersArtemisia Gentileschi. 1622, oil on canvas, 161.5 cm × 123 cm. Burghley House, near Stamford, Lincolnshire.
Susanna and the EldersArtemesia Gentileschi, 1652, oil on canvas. 200.3 × 225.6 cm. Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna.
Susanna and the EldersGentile da Fabriano (1370–1427) turn of the 14/15th century. Oil on panel, 32.9 cm x 56.6 cm. Museum of John Paul II Collection.
Susanna and the EldersGuido Reni Place. 1620 - 1625. Oil on canvas, 116.6 x W: 150.5 cm National Gallery London.
Susanna and the EldersHendrick Goltzius. 1615. Oil on Canvas, 138 x 104 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Susanna and the EldersMassimo Stanzione. 1630 – 1635, oil on canvas. 151.9 x 203.6 cm. Stadel Museum.
Susanna and the EldersPieter de Grebber, c. 1620, oil on canvas, 103 × 78.5 cm, Private Collection.

This piece is currently on show at the off-site exhibit of 17 RCA Grads entitled "what is becoming us". This show features 17 of the '22 painting cohort and is open from June 22-30 with a PV on the 29th of June from 5-9 pm. Book at https://artsvp.co/katehowestudios

An altar in a dark side chapel. On the altar: a vintage ViewMaster c. 1964, and its original reels. The Bible Story in 3-D. African Animals in their Natural Habitats. Discover Yellowstone. Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Additional reels: historical works of art depicting Susanna and the Elders. One of these reels shows the repeated motion of the silencing hand present in most of the paintings: an instruction: stay silent.

C'mon, don't be that girl. It will be our secret.

The story of Susanna and the Elders is an apocryphal one. It was written in about 235 BCE, but it tells a tale that purportedly happened even earlier - 600 BCE. It is a "Once upon a time" tale, a gripping cautionary tale, a tale with a moral.

The moral of the story, ladies, is this: as long as you are a virtuous woman, no matter what kind of a horrible pickle you find yourself in, God will save you. Even at the last second. Promise. But you need to be super-duper virtuous or it won't work.

The story: Once upon a time, a woman was having a bath. While she was washing, two elders of her tribe watched her, "desiring" her, neither aware of the other. These elders catch each other in the act and decide to team up and approach her together. Shared goals and all that. Or planned, premeditated gang rape, however you need to look at it.

So these elders approach Susanna and she "declines" to have sex with them. Then the story sort of fast-forwards. She tells on them, and they are arrested. There's no mention of how she got away, what it was like for her to be attacked at her home in her bath and fight these two trusted men off, or of who she told, if they believed her, or how they reacted. None of this is in the story. But we know she told on them because they are arrested.

But then the elders insist: no, no she's lying. We caught her, we spied on her, yes, but she was meeting a lover under a tree, she was fornicating, she is an adulteress!

And so Susanna is arrested. And is sentenced to death for betraying her husband. And is about to be executed in public. But God makes a miracle happen! Knowing that Susanna is INDEED super-duper virtuous, he plants an idea in the head of a young boy, spectating.

"Maybe we should question the witnesses separately!" yells prophet Daniel.

So they do, and they ask, what kind of a tree was it that she was purportedly fornicating under with her lover? One says an Oak tree. The other says a Mastic tree. The witnesses were lying. Susanna is saved. Saved at the last second ONLY because she is virtuous and God knows it.

But that's not really what we learn from this story as women, is it? We learn: we are not safe. Not even in our homes. Not even the Oak, that symbol of truth and trust surviving across centuries can protect us. We learn our bodies belong to our husbands, and if they are separate from him, they are in danger. We learn we will not be believed. We learn we must not talk. We learn to be silent.

Education is Entertaining.

Medium:

WiP: Vintage ViewMaster, original reels, additional reels of historical works of art depicting Susanna and the Elders

Size:

Variable Dimensions

We are all complicit. We all hold bias. We all have the potential to carry benevolent sexism and learned helplessness.

The time when feminist meant frigid died up angry dyke is over. If you are still there, educate yourself. I'm not talking about women vs. men. I'm talking about the subjugation of half of the population since the inception of the patriarchy with the advent of Abrahamic religion as a means to keep power. I'm talking about 2600 years of being told we are chattel, I'm talking about uncovering all the places where we see it as normal, all the places we learn we are not to speak, all the places where we learn we can't be trusted with our own bodies.

It's the Rupture, y'all. Everything has changed. The rules dissolved. The conspiracy is revealed, and it is bigger than you, and it is bigger than me. And you are complicit. And so am I.

Time to capitulate or resist.

Medium:

Silk frame, plushie toy, silk floor cushions

Size:

Variable dimensions. Frame dimensions: 2.3 x 5 m

RuptureXIBIT (+Studio)

Several of these pieces are currently showing at the off-site exhibit of 17 RCA Grads entitled "what is becoming us". This show features 17 of the '22 painting cohort and is open from June 22-30 with a PV on the 29th of June from 5-9 pm. Book at https://artsvp.co/katehowestudios