Linder by Francesca Gavin
Including extensive documentation of drawings and research images the book Linderism, recently published by Walther König, reproduces works from across the career of Linder Sterling (English, b. 1954), from her punk collages to her recent work
All art is sex! The phrase, taken from the poster for Savage Messiah, Ken Russell’s 1972 biopic about Vorticist sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, is an apt description of Linder Sterling’s approach to art. Over the past five decades, she has continued to probe how photographic imagery manipulates the viewer, drawing particular attention to the intersection of the sexualized female body and capitalism.
Russell’s poster is among the images reimagined in Linderism, the catalogue to an exhibition of Linder’s work held at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge earlier this year. Bearing a scrapbook-like aesthetic provided by Belgian designer Julie Peeters, the book provides a deconstructed look into the artist’s practice. There are images of beautifully shot interiors alongside medieval illustrations of unnatural births, documentation of dancers next to covers from hardcore homosexual porn mags. Throughout it all are Linder’s own unique and memorable photomontages.
Deeply informed by the rebellion and resistance of punk and second-wave feminism, her work has long-incorporated elements from situationism and Marxism while remaining visually accessible. Many of Linder’s signature images combine hardcore pornography with innocuous objects, from plush roses to kitchen appliances. She picks apart printed media, consumerism, and domesticity with an open eye, presenting what’s so twisted about the norm. What makes her work so appealing, however, is that it never feels overly intellectualized or forced. As far back as the ‘70s, she collaborated on zines with Jon Savage and made the iconic record cover for The Buzzcocks’ Orgasm Addict (1977); she even headed her own post-punk band, Ludus, and once played the Hacienda in bondage gloves and a dress made from offcut meat.
The Kettle’s Yard show follows a flurry of exhibitions in recent years, including solo shows at her main gallery, Modern Art. In 2018, she did a large billboard and performance project with Art on the Underground at London’s Southwark Station. That same year, she was artist-in-residence at the aristocratic enclave of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, England. Large solo exhibitions have taken place at Nottingham Contemporary, MoMA PS1, and Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris. These shows have seen Linder expand the range of her practice by incorporating new approaches: perhaps most notably, a series of ritualized performances, including aural collaborations with her son Maxwell. There is also a strong research basis to her work, with projects on historic female figures such as Barbara Hepworth and Ithell Colquhoun, as well as an exploration of the radical feminist archives of the Glasgow Women’s Library.
Nonetheless, photomontages are still central to what Linder does. Sometimes the results feel violent, a Lacanian slice of the human body. At other times, her combinations brim with humor, with eyes, breasts, mouths, and genitalia covered or simply replaced. This juxtaposition is the eureka moment in her work. As she once told me, “You get that kind of ‘click.’ It's almost like fighting to breathe, and then it's like, ‘Okay.’'’ Collage is arguably the media closest to human perception, reflecting how the mind captures the world in fragments and fuses unlikely things together. It is also an innately political medium, using media ephemera to criticize its own ideological makeup. Linder gets all of that, cutting up the world and serving it back to us with a smile.