Linder She/She 1981, printed 2007

Artwork details

Artist
Linder born 1954
Title
She/She
Date 1981, printed 2007
Medium 14 photographs, black and white, silver bromide print, on paper
Dimensions Frame: each 707 x 612 x 34 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased with funds provided by Wendy Fisher 2009
Reference
P79743
Not on display

Summary

She/She consists of fourteen black and white photographs, nine of which are portraits of Linder and the remaining five are photographs of short sections of text written in a typewriter font. The prints are presented in black frames, usually displayed in two horizontal rows of seven to be viewed in the sequence top row left to right, bottom row left to right, with the text pages interspersing the portraits. The photographs of Linder are by the Swiss photographer Christine Birrer, with whom Linder collaborated at this time on a number of different projects. The work was first produced in a booklet Pickpocket: SheShe 1981 to coincide with the release of a six-track cassette tape, Pickpocket, by the group Ludus, of which Linder was a member. The booklet format was slightly different to that originally conceived, and as it has now been printed and editioned. The fragments of text are written by Linder and taken from three of the songs on the cassette, Mutilate, The Fool and Mouthpiece. They refer to the themes of hiding, searching and finding evoked in the images.

The pictures show the artist, heavily made up in the New Romantic style fashionable in the early 1980s, wearing a black dress with lace shoulders and a several strings of pearls around her neck. In two of the images she ‘hides’ behind a torn photograph – the lower part of a model’s face taken from a magazine and substituting for the same part of her own face, creating live montages that she has referred to as ‘self montage’ and ‘myself as a found object’ (Linder: Works 1976–2006, p.84). The first of these – the first photograph in the displayed series – featured on the front cover of the Pickpocket booklet. The second image in the series shows her again covering the lower part of her face, this time with clingfilm which she pulls taut across her mouth and chin. In the following picture it features as a veil, covering her entire head, through which she gazes seductively at the viewer. Three subsequent images show her draping a length of bandage around her head and face, covering one or both eyes. Further references to fashion magazines feature in a side shot of her face, close up, emphasising the stark contrast between white skin and dark hair, eyes and mouth, and in the final image, which shows her wearing a different black dress, admiring her image in a hand mirror.

The deconstruction of the feminine ideal represented by the media, in the home as a housewife or as a consumer object of male desire, is a central theme in Linder’s collage work of the late 1970s. A further picture deriving from the same photoshoot but not included in the She/She edition includes collage elements – a fork over one eye, a spoon over the other and an outside mouth covering her lips – relating it directly to the Untitled photomontages that she made in 1976–8 using material taken from a combination of women’s magazines and pornographic publications (see Tate T12499–502). Living in Manchester, having just graduated from the Polytechnic where she studied Graphic Design (1974–7), Linder was intimately involved with the activities of the Manchester punk band, Buzzcocks, whose founding member Howard Devoto was her partner at that time. One of her photomontages, T12501, used as the basis for the Buzzcocks’ 1977 single Orgasm Addict, became an icon of pop culture. Linder herself formed the band Ludus in 1978 with three men, creating gritty, experimental sound to accompany her lyrics exploring sexual politics and cultural anxiety. Such words as ‘am I your death / behind my flesh / does my skull smile’, ‘I am messy’ and ‘life is too short / still we make a show / we are unhealthy and fragile’, which feature in She/She, embody the alienated spirit of punk, itself informed by the anti-establishment spirit of Dada. Speaking of this time, Linder has commented: ‘Punk was for me a form of transformative raiment ... I found that drawing on my face or paper were really one and the same thing’ (quoted in Wood, pp.5 and 6). The influence of Berlin Dada artists Hannah Höch (1889–1978), John Heartfield (1891–1968) and George Grosz (1893–1959), may be seen in Linder’s use of the politically subversive medium of photomontage. In She/She, the presentation of the performative photoshoot featuring the artist as subject and the covering of her face, particularly with bandages, recalls the work of Viennese actionist as Rudolph Schwarzkogler (1940–69) whose ‘actions’ of the mid 1960s were created specifically for the camera (T11846-8). Her heavy makeup and feminine dress relate to the celebrated essay ‘Womanliness as Masquerade’ (first published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol.10, 1929) in which Joan Riviere discusses the identity of woman as being dependent on a kind of costumed role play to conceal her threatening masculine attributes. During the early 1980s Linder abandoned collage, turning instead to her own identity examined through photography and performance explored in parallel with activities of Ludus.

She/She was produced in an edition of three of which Tate’s copy is the third.

Further reading:
Paul Bayley, Jon Savage and others, Linder: Works 1976–2006, Zurich 2006, reproduced pp.88–9.
Catherine Wood, ‘The Working Class Goes to Paradise: Linder interviewed by Catherine Wood’, Untitled, issue 40, spring 2006, pp.4–9.

Elizabeth Manchester
September 2008

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