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KATE GOTTGENS

Her Fine Blades

Exhibition Portfolio
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EXHIBITION TEXT

Solo Exhibition

09.02.24 - 06.04.24

Cape Town

Welcome to the liquid loop. A space of unfettered imagination where the fierce forces of sex and money cast spells over human bodies and behaviour. Welcome to the salon privé – the psychosexual interior. We encourage you to be brave. Explore your corporeal affinities. Leave your etiquette at the door. Abandon your codes of conduct and be taken by a hungry impulse.


Come on in, whisper the twin vixens spinning the roulette wheel, their innocent white gloves entirely ironic. Welcome to your own private casino experience. It’s going to be a long, hard night.


The laws of physics – that broad domain of matter, motion, energy, and force itself – do not apply here. Law in general – not so much. Your body mass index counts for squat. Your neuroplasticity is worth less than your bikini at the poolside of inadmissible desires. To be young and female is to be looked at. So, be young, female and dangerous. In the realm of the avatar, everyone is a bombshell. Atmospheric pressure is increased at a mere cool glint of acknowledgement, a communicative word in the throat. You may find yourself dissolved by your own accelerated pulse – transmogrified and turned to amorphous gloop at an exploratory whim of the artist. Welcome the experience. The consequences will be character building. Or so they say…


With this new body of work, Kate Gottgens takes her capacity for concocting erotic scenarios that defy interpretation into eerie new places. With their ominous frisson of gender politics, these works recall earlier paintings, like Groundwork (horror vacui) (2022), A Sealed Room (2021), and Harvey (2017), which was painted in the year in which the serial abuse of women by media mogul Harvey Weinstein was brought to light. The female energy in those works has migrated into this new series – a strong and dynamic female energy that is life giving, but also potentially life destroying. We’re in decidedly post-‘Me Too’, post-Jeffrey Epstein, post-the-overturning-of-Roe v. Wade territory here and the threat of vengeance is real. Yet, with their time-defying whooshes and blurs, their Kodachrome hues, and their ghostly recall of archival photographs, these paintings are expressly ahistorical, transmitting a sense that time itself is a productive fallacy that has us in its grip, as dizzying as Rohypnol.


In these fraught scenarios, it is the female protagonists, with their come-hither/fuck-you tactics, their talons, their gloves and their stiletto heels, who wield the power. In the spirit of Angela Carter’s feral feminist fairy tales, Ottessa Moshfegh’s dark and musky female fantasies and the 1958 science-fiction horror movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the vengeful femme fatale looms large across these thrillingly taut canvases. Laced with sublimely cathartic humour, these paintings are visual incantations of noir fiction – although noir could be a loaded word in the context of a body of work that might be read as an elaborate auto-critique on the perpetual endgame of white privilege in all its unfettered pathological inwardness.


As a painter, Gottgens is a storyteller inspired by other storytellers. The title of this chapter of paintings is drawn from the title poem of Adrienne Rich’s breakthrough 1963 poetry collection Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, in which she repurposes images from domestic life, cites women writers like Emily Dickinson and Mary Wollstonecraft, and parodies the masculine tradition. The surreal lines themselves – ‘at least as beautiful as any boy or helicopter / her fine blades making the air wince’ – which conjure the monstrous violence of blades, nails, slicing, slashing, cutting – are drawn from Simone de Beauvoir’s take-down of patriarchy, The Second Sex. In making these paintings and shaping the anatomy of the figures within the frame, Gottgens was consciously channelling horrifying images from Rich’s poem, like: ‘She shaves her legs until they gleam / like petrified mammoth tusks’.


If De Beauvoir was first wave and Rich was second wave, we’re well into fluid, intersectional 21st-century terrain now. Within the frame of Gottgens’s game of time collapse, the past, present and future exist all at once as a continuum, a characteristic of the universe, like gravity or light. Strange phenomena of light bursts, shadow fall and cataclysmic elemental activity play a leading role in her staged narrative constructions. From the perspective of this phantasmal spacetime, men in suits and sunglasses are as much a pastiche of the archaic trope of masculinity as women in cocktail dresses and hairdos – a sort of camp, absurdist visual joke about the Hollywood-fuelled production of these obsolete categories of being.


Take the figure who came to life in the painting Candy Says. She is a she who feels like a he – not quite male, not quite female. To heighten the paradox, they are accompanied by a hovering bunch of breast-like balloons in the night. That’s the story. When Gottgens was deciding what to call the painting, the title of a Velvet Underground song came intuitively to mind. When she looked up the meaning of the song, she discovered that it is about someone who is uncomfortable in their body, questioning their gender. Between the image, the imagination and the canvas, subliminal things happen.


It is extraordinary, and somewhat chilling, to imagine that it all started with Silent Player – the little girl with the clown face…


She’s the axis, the central point of the whole, in control of it all. She’s dealing. With her eyes closed, she’s communicating with everything and everyone – working things. She’s deep in meditation.


And look where it led to. Never underestimate the power of a girl. – Alexandra Dodd

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smac art gallery |Contact: +27 (0)21 461 1029

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