The punk feminist icon who found her magic in Cornwall

Published 13 March 2018

The artist Linder Sterling went from designing notorious artwork for the Buzzcocks to conjuring mytho-poetic forces on a beach in St Ives. With a new show at Nottingham Contemporary, we explore the pioneering punk’s two very different defining moments.

    • I knew Linder’s work long before I knew who she was. I remember the yellow cover of the Buzzcocks punk classic Orgasm Addict (1977), which she designed (with Malcolm Garrett), from my father’s collection of 7-inch singles. It shows a pin-up girl’s naked torso with arms outstretched and an iron collaged over her head. Over her nipples are pasted wide Hollywood smiles. I used to wear it as a badge with my student indie-kid uniform of Converse and skinny jeans.

      For most of the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Linder (in her own words: “edited down to one name… no signatures, just a stamp”) was best known as a musician. As frontwoman of the avant-garde post-punk band Ludus, she was celebrated for performances that were as adventurous as her vocals: one legendary night at the Hacienda club involved her playing in a dress adorned with raw chicken offcuts, which she pulled aside to reveal a large black dildo.

      Linder has been using her scalpel blade to splice glossy Frankensteins from pictures culled from lads’ mags and women’s titles since her days as a student at Manchester Polytechnic in the early 1970s. A combination of X-rated titillation and aspirational domesticity, these images make a disarmingly succinct and relentlessly timely comment on desire, objectification, performance and power – and their violent acceleration thanks to the dynamics of consumer capitalism.

      Over the past decade, however, Linder’s method has become as much a process of excavation as of superimposition: digging down into the buried histories of people and places, attuned to the unseen forces operating beyond the worldly urges of sex and money.

      Spirituality, myth and folklore – in relation to individual subjectivity and collective identity – came fully to the fore in her 2009 piece Your Actions Are My Dreams. Performed on Hallowe’en, the work was commissioned by Tate St Ives as part of the show The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in British Art. Drawing on Cornish traditions of guise dancing, where masked musicians and mischief-makers parade through the streets during Christmastide, and of the skeleton-headed ’Obby ’Oss that appears during midsummer festivities, the work involved processions of musicians and dancers, including the artist swathed in gold lamé followed across the bay by a female dressage rider on a white horse.

      , A poster featuring Linder’s artwork for the Buzzock’s 1977 single Orgasm Addict

      A poster featuring Linder’s artwork for the Buzzock’s 1977 single Orgasm Addict

      Gift of Lawrence Benenson/Inv. no.: 199.2012.©.

    • The performance sparked another turning point in Linder’s practice. That night, she visited Barbara Hepworth’s studio and garden in St Ives where, encountering the sculptor’s pierced forms in complete darkness, she began to see them in a new light. Her subsequent research on Hepworth led her to create, in 2014, her first ballet, The Ultimate Form – a collaboration with the Northern Ballet and choreographer Kenneth Tindall.

      It was in The Dark Monarch catalogue that Linder came across the essay Children of the Mantic Stain (1952) an account of automatism and the unconscious written by the artist and occultist Ithell Colquhoun Expelled from the British Surrealists for her interest in witchcraft, Colquhoun lived in St Ives from 1957 until her death in 1988. Colquhoun’s work, as well as that of Hepworth and almost 50 others, will be included in Linder’s exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary. Titled after a 17th-century courtly masque, The House of Fame draws on Linder’s experience as artist in residence at Chatsworth House.

      Attuned to the double meaning of the word ‘glamour’ (etymologically linked with occult knowledge), Linder’s work exists in a constant pendulum swing between the otherworldly and the deliciously mondain.

      Linder, Untitled

      Linder, Untitled, 1977.

      photomontage. Copyright the artist and courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London.

    • See more exhibitions this April

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