Linderism at Kettle’s Yard

The Exhibition

Linderism explores the life and oeuvre of Liverpool artist Linder Sterling (b. 1954). The exhibition occupies two rooms of the new exhibition wing at Kettle’s Yard. Initially meant to stay open until April 26, it is currently on hold as the United Kingdom faces lockdown in light of the current pandemic. I hope that the display will be eventually prolonged for more people to see. In the meanwhile, this post will discuss some of the works on show, which encompass a variety of media from performance to collage and photography. For more up-to-date info, please refer to Kettle’s Yard’s website.

Subjects and Themes

Linder’s earliest works date back to the 1970s, when she began exploring issues of gender and sexuality through the lenses of display and commodification. Her collages and photomontages from that era show human bodies superimposed with food and other objects of consumption. Often, faces are covered or superimposed with items which give the characters a grotesque look. Depictions of sex and intimacy are abundant but made threatening by adding teeth, cutlery and other sharp tools which convey a sense of lingering danger. Magazines, advertisements and their familiar imagery are thus given a surreal revamp.

In one of the works, the tender embrace between a man and a woman turns into a violent act of self-harm, with the lady directing a fork into her own eyes. The association of the female body with food, the act of slashing the eyes open and the general representation of erotic tension as a source of danger and death all point towards Surrealist art as a source of inspiration for Linder. Think for example of the opening scene of Un chien andalou, a film co-produced by Salvador Dali and Louis Bunuel, where a man cuts a woman’s eye open with a razor. Linder’s art employs similar shock tactics, using the raw readymade imagery of commercial ads and pornographic magazines which she recombines in new, absurd scenes that forcibly catch the viewer’s attention.

Linderism portrays not only the artist’s career journey but also the times she lived in. Her photomontages evoke the ideas and aesthetics of second-wave Feminism as well as Manchester’s punk sub-culture. The body emerges as a key theme, juxtaposed to the dull, mass-produced objects that populated the lives of late-20th century consumers. Linder’s works hardly suggest any hierarchy between people and things, portraying them on the same level, elevating the objects and objectifying their users.

More info

Kettle’s Yard is one of England’s most peculiar museums. Set in the house of former Tate curator Jim Ede, it hosts the founder’s outstanding collection of modern art in its original, cottage-interior setting. If you are interested, please have a look at this post on my blog.

To learn more about Linderism, here‘s a talk by Kettle’s Yard curator (and former lecturer of mine) Dr Amy Tobin.

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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