‘A radical feminist and a well-known figure of the Manchester punk and post-punk scene, Linder Sterling was known for her montages, which often combined images taken from pornographic magazines with images from women’s fashion and domestic magazines, particularly those of domestic appliances, making a point about the cultural expectations of women and the treatment of female body as a commodity. Many of her works were published in the punk collage fanzine Secret Public, which she co-founded with Jon Savage. One of her best-known pieces of visual art is the single cover for Orgasm Addict by Buzzcocks (1977), showing a naked woman with an iron for a head and grinning mouths instead of nipples.
‘”At this point, men’s magazines were either DIY, cars or porn. Women’s magazines were fashion or domestic stuff,” Linder has said. “So, guess the common denominator – the female body. I took the female form from both sets of magazines and made these peculiar jigsaws highlighting these various cultural monstrosities that I felt there were at the time.” Linder was also a partner of Howard Devoto, a founding member of Buzzcocks, who left the group to form Magazine. She also designed the cover for Magazine’s debut album Real Life (1978) and was known for her ‘menstrual jewellery’ (beads and ear-rings made of broken coat hangers with absorbent lint dipped in translucent glue and painted red, in order to resemble bloodied tampons) and the mythical ‘menstrual egg-timer’ (a series of beads with different colours – red, white and purple – devised to chronicle the cycle from ovulation to menstruation) that she designed for Tony Wilson’s Factory Records (designated Fac 8), which never entered production. She also collaborated on a short film called Red Dress, a rare Factory/New Hormones project.
‘In addition to visual art, Linder has in recent years devoted herself to performance art, which includes photography, film, print and artefact. Centred around the themes of outsiderdom, religious non-conformism, ecstatic states and female divinity/sainthood, her performance art evokes mythical figures ranging from historical figures such as St. Clare of Assisi and the founder of Shakers, Mother Ann Lee, to the Man With No Name, Clint Eastwood’s character from Sergio Leone westerns. “I find glorious parallels between Leone’s portrayal of the heroic and the malign with that of legal and illegal activity in north Manchester – or ‘Gunchester’. Think of it as Lowry with guns.”
‘In 1997 she put on a one-woman exhibition in London’s Cleveland Gallery titled What Did You Do in the Punk War Mummy?, and the next year she performed a work called Salt Shrine – filling a room in a disused Widnes school with 42 tonnes of industrial salt. In 2000, her work in different media was exhibited in Cornerhouse, Manchester, under the title The Return of Linderland, featuring the short film Light the Fuse, which combined re-enactment of scenes from Leone films – with Linder performing in drag as Clint Eastwood – with images of modern day cowboys and young men from north Manchester. Her performance pieces in subsequent years have included The Working Class Goes to Paradise (2001) and Requiem: Clint Eastwood, Clare Offreduccio and Me (2001). A new instalment of Working Class Goes To Paradise was played on 1 April 2006 in the Tate Gallery, as a part of the Tate Triennial 2006. With the musical accompaniment provided by three indie rock bands playing simultaneously for four hours, a group of women re-enacted the ritualisic gestures of 19th century Shaker worship, while Linder performed assuming different roles, including that of a figure from one of her photomontages, that of Ann Lee, and of a fusion of Ann Lee, Christ and Man With No Name. Audience members were able to view the performance and to join in.’ — collaged
‘In 1978, Linder Sterling co-founded the post-punk group Ludus, and she remained its singer until the group split in 1983. She designed many of the band’s covers and sleeves, or posed for artistic photographs taken by photographer Birrer and used for Ludus sleeves and the SheShe booklet that accompanied Ludus’ 1981 cassette Pickpocket. Ludus produced material ranging from experimental avantgarde jazz to melodic pop and cocktail jazz, characterised by Linder’s voice and unorthodox vocal techniques (which occasionally included screaming, crying, hysterical laughter and other unusual sounds), as well as her uncompromising lyrics, centred around themes of gender roles, love and sexuality, female desire, and cultural alienation. Although critically acclaimed, they never achieved any significant commercial success. Most of their material, originally released between 1980 and 1983 on the independent labels New Hormones, Sordide Sentimentale and Crepuscule, was reissued on CD in 2002 by LTM.’ — collaged
‘Breaking The Rules’
‘Anatomy is Not Destiny’
Linder ‘Femme/Object’ @ Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
‘Linder Sterling, Femme/Object’ @ i-D
‘LINDER STERLING’S MANCHESTER VOODOO. “CLINT EASTWOOD, CLARE OFFREDUCCIO AND ME: REQUIEM”.’
Video: Meet Linder Sterling @ TateShots
Linder Sterling Discography
‘Linder Sterling pushes your buttons’
‘Fuck Morrissey, Here’s Linder’
Video: ‘Linder Sterling and insomnia’
Linder Sterling’s book ‘Morrissey Shot’
‘In Rehearsal: A Sneak Peek at Linder Sterling’s New Ballet’
‘Linder, the artist with the hex factor’
‘Linder Sterling and Jon Savage: The Secret Public’
‘Artist Linder Sterling’s short film Forgetful Green was surely the highlight of The Frieze Art Fair, for which she collaborated with Vogue photographer Tim Walker as well as designer Richard Nicoll. Set for the most-part in a Colchester rose field, the film documents the morning after the artist’s 13 hour improvisational performance The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated From The House of FAME at the Chisenhale Gallery A cast of memorable characters, including Linder herself, inhabit the film’s glaringly vivid surroundings, acting out as Walker describes “a display of human sexuality, lunacy and chaos.” With a pace that’s exhilarating to the point of nausea, ‘Forgetful Green’ is a cinematic version of a sugar-high.’ — glass
Interviewed by Morrissey
MORRISSEY: You and I first met at a Sex Pistols sound check in Manchester in 1976. You’ve been steadfast and constant in my life ever since. My main admiration of you, quite apart from your physical beauty, is the fact that you move at all times within your own laws. If I’m aware of this, then you must be. How do you define it to yourself as you gaze into your shaving mirror at 9 A.M.?
LINDER: We move in a world of too many myths. I have no desire to be Nico, who was as much a creature of mythology as the Minotaur is. My interest in mirrors belongs more to the world of Cocteau and Fellini—as gateways to an afterlife or as reminders that all reflection is a form of religion. If I move within my own laws, then I do so through the looking glass, where, as Alice discovered, all is the same yet reversed and that which is pretty becomes ugly. Hello, Nico.
MORRISSEY: Even though as an artist you regularly abandon your work to the appraisers, do you value what is said by those who are not artists?
LINDER: Artists make the worst critics. I lead a remarkably insular life. I’ve made a series of conscious decisions about how I want to live at 55 years of age, which probably doesn’t differ that radically from the decisions I made at 20. I like the disappearing act, and I like not knowing what people think about me.
MORRISSEY: At every stage, your work—recordings, photography, montages, etc.—reads as screams. For what reason would the screaming ever stop?
LINDER: Sometimes I glimpse Linder at 80 years old, still screaming. It’s the way that I was born and the way, no doubt, that I will die. I now meditate each day at dawn in order to find silence. Sometimes I’m successful. The screaming would only stop if the universe would see fit to remove the layers of overstuffed eiderdowns that I feel have been crushing me since childhood.
MORRISSEY: There have always been vibrations of menace in everything you produce. Yet your general demeanor is very correct and polite, and you are extremely witty. Is art a part of the naughtiness game, in that it excuses us from all adult obligations and we can run riot with the slapdash emulsion? Is it your own private graffiti? Or is your art your droppings?
LINDER: [Musician] Patti Palladin once said that I sounded like Julie Andrews, which, of course, I took as the greatest compliment. Call me Maria. If there are “vibrations of menace” in the work I make, then they resonate of their own accord. When artists set out to disturb—unless they happen to be Goya or Gina Pane—they tend to fail. The Australian critic Robert Hughes once wrote that American art schools began to fail in the ’60s because they taught “self-expression.” “At this,” he wrote, with bone-dry sarcasm, “no one could fail.” For me, art is the conversion of a personal experience into a universal truth—or making a trip to the chip shop sound cosmic. At this, you have never failed. “Loafing oafs in all-night chemists. . . .” [lyrics from Morrissey’s song “Now My Heart Is Full.”]
MORRISSEY: I think art is a miracle, and I’m so relieved at those rare moments when someone gets it right. But how do you avoid being a copyist? After all, we all work with the same set of words and the same set of materials.
LINDER: I have always worked with found material—a photograph, a magazine, a film still, myself. I commence the creative act and I’m quite happily guilty of theft. The trick that follows is to find the gesture that returns newness to the familiar; my familiars are the inanimate objects I work with. I restore the implicit to the explicit. All of which brings me to the business of wordplay, which is vital to the way I work. I pore over my etymological dictionary with the same rapt excitement and saucer-sized eyes that a schoolboy from Eccles would have while poring over Razzle magazine.
MORRISSEY: Art is also the gluttony of the self-engrossed, isn’t it? Well, it needs to be. But are there not moments, mid-stroke, when you think to yourself, well, perhaps I’m a bit of a nutter? I hope not, of course.
LINDER: Being a bit of a nutter is included in the job description of any artist worth the price of admission. Most of the artists whose work I really love were completely bonkers—or, rather, had to appear to be completely bonkers and enter the realms of the truly mad in order to make an iota of impact on a generally obese and indifferent world. Think of Sun Ra. Even the ambulance crew who picked him up believed he was from Saturn. Gilbert & George paint their faces orange and stand outside the local mosque for a few hours, not even blinking. People come up to them and ask them hugely intimate questions about how they should run their lives. And Joseph Beuys lined a gallery with thick gray felt, which seemed to suck the air out of the world. . . . Most artists, by rights, should be unemployable and living in Hackney. Many are. But the artist is in many ways the village idiot, recast as a superhero. If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me by the pump. I’m trading stray wisps of straw with the idiot from the next village. . . .
MORRISSEY: I dislike the “use” of animals in art, such as in the work of Damien Hirst. But in your latest performance piece, “Your Actions Are My Dreams,” you have a woman serenely sitting atop a calmly satisfied horse, which is, of course, alive and healthy. Do you agree that Hirst’s head should be kept in a bag for the way he’s utilized—and sold—dead animals?
LINDER: Dead butterflies, cows, horses, humans, sheep, and sharks—it reads like the inventory of a funerary Noah. How many halved calves suspended in formaldehyde does the world need? To my way of thinking, none.
MORRISSEY: Do you place yourself inside your own art because, well, because you are art? Leigh -Bowery famously sat for hours behind glass—as “the object”—and the public queued up and scribbled lavish notes. Are you a step away from this, or does it all become too much of a diet of oneself?
LINDER: I have always treated myself as a found object.
MORRISSEY: So, you walk out of the Tate St. Ives [the Tate museum recently acquired several pieces of Linder’s work for its collection] having displayed your wares to the art hounds, and suddenly you see fat Christine Cowshed on the seafront tucking heartily into cod ’n’ chips. How do you relate it to your work at the Tate? How can both worlds possibly meet?
LINDER: I grew up on a council estate surrounded by fat Christine Cowsheds. Every town in the world has at least one Christine, with her head in a bag of chips. In some ways she’s my ultimate nemesis. The everyday and the commonplace put the fear of God in me. My whole childhood was spent waiting for a bus. Yes, it was raining. In Greek mythology, -Nemesis gave birth to Helen of Troy. But this Christine will probably give birth to a boy named Kai, meaning keeper of the keys, which is the chosen name of [soccer player] Wayne Rooney’s first child and forecasted to be the number one boy’s name in Britain by the end of the year. Imagine, Kai Cowshed may one day be your bank manager. The latchkey kids of Lancashire shall return renamed, but never to Tate St. Ives. You have to have good skin and at least one novel under your belt before they’ll let you in.
p.s. Hey. I’m indisposed this morning, but here’s a restored post from years ago whose rebirth was requested by its maker wARC herself. Happy to do so. Find enjoyment therein please. See you tomorrow.