How do you like your woman? Well-done? Medium? Raw?
British artist Linder Sterling is currently showing her first retrospective exhibition at Paris’ Musée d’Art Moderne (MaM). Around 200 pieces are on display, selected from work produced over the last forty years.
Entitled “Femme/Objet” (Woman/Object), the clue is in the exhibition’s name – if you haven’t already heard of Linder, synonymous with feminism. She’s been hailed as a radical, but this description risks damaging the artist’s intentions and the efforts of equal-rights campaigners, regardless of her controversial style. There’s nothing radical in the observation of the notion of Woman, nor in the subsequent deconstruction of gender stereotyping. In fact, it’s very, very basic: dismantling the way we see things to uncover not simply their essence, but ours.
Linder predominantly uses the technique of collage to break down social gender codes, focusing on the notion of the sexualised woman. She uses print images from magazines, domestic as well as pornographic, as visual testimony to cultural expectations: the woman as both smiling domestic goddess and smouldering sex object.
If Linder sees herself as a “found object”, she then presents this metaphor through her choice of material: the collage and manipulation of “found” images from commercial media. From mid-twentieth century household advertisements to present-day pornography, she criticises not just male chauvinism (that would be Sixties’ territory) but society itself, constructed by both sexes. Women are just as much to blame as men for their duel domesticated-sexualised identity it seems – an odd equality supporting inequality.
“I always loved magazines. I had two separate piles, one of women’s magazines (fashion, romance, all that stuff) and the other of men’s magazines (cars, DIY, porm), another aspect of the female world. I wanted to get fitted kitchens and porn to ‘couple’ to see what kind of species this would engender.” (Quoted by Jon Savage in “Ne reste pas spectateur” in Europunk)
In particular, the treatment of the female body is placed under close scrutiny. Well-known pieces are the images of naked women with domestic appliances as heads. In the collage famously used as cover art for the Buzzcocks single “Orgasm Addict”, for example, the naked female torso has an iron for a face, and grinning mouths in the place of nipples. Linder deliberately juxtaposes her materials to shock, and oftens uses herself as model.
The exhibition takes place over a series of rooms and levels of varying dimensions to create intimacy and a narrative. As one would expect from MaM when presenting such an important artist, they have given Linder some serious space, putting thought into the overall presentation and atmosphere…and that can only be a good thing. From the subtle use of textiles, light, sound and colour to the the choice, variety and quantity of pieces, we are left certain of the artist’s statement, as well as appreciative of her oeuvre.
Here’s a fact for you to take home to your parents: Lady Gaga was not the first person to horrify the world by wearing a dress made from raw meat. Linder got there before her, performing in a dress made from discarded chicken meat for a concert in 1982…