This is one of a group of Untitled photomontages Linder created in 1976-8 from women’s fashion magazines. It shows a sepia-toned couple locked in a romantic embrace. The man’s arms are round the woman’s waist and his forehead pressed to hers. His eyes look deeply into her eyes, but instead of encountering the reciprocal gaze of his beloved he looks into burnt out holes containing an inverted pair of grey eyes that stare away from him, out of the picture. The burnt edges of the holes, doubling as lids, are being held open by an oversized fork: where the woman’s clasped right hand formerly rested tenderly against her lover’s cheek, it now appears to be gripping the fork in front of his face. Two prongs disappear behind the bridge of her nose into her left eye, forcing it open, while the other two seem to pierce her right eye. A narrow section of flesh-coloured skin visible between the edge of the burnt socket and the eyeball emphasises the violence of the image.
Born Linda Mulvey in Liverpool, Linder grew up in Manchester, where she studied Graphic Design at the Polytechnic (1974-7). Living with Howard Devoto, one of the founding members of the Manchester punk band, Buzzcocks, Linder’s activities of the mid 1970s are intimately bound up with the activities of Buzzcocks and the spirit of punk which itself drew on the anti-establishment politics of Dada. She explained:
In 1976, the advent of punk in Britain simultaneously saved and severed my lifeline. I edited myself down to one name, Linder. I still have my sketchbook from 1977, and there I describe myself – with youthful certainty – as a ‘monteur’. My thought was to follow faithfully in the footsteps of George Grosz, John Heartfield, et al, who renounced the title of artist and preferred to describe themselves as assemblers and engineers. They anglicised their names, and I adopted a European spelling for mine. One name seemed sufficient.
When I began to work solely in photomontage, during the last weeks of 1976 and through into what felt like a very New Year, I used simply a surgeon’s scalpel as my paintbrush and magazines became my new palette. A sheet of glass was the bed for the blade, and all the magazine cutouts were carefully stored in boxes labelled ‘Mouths’, ‘Eyes’, ‘Domestic Utensils’, etc.
(Quoted in Savage, p.17.)
Displaced mouths and eyes are a particular feature of Linder’s collages of this period, which often combined images of naked women from pornographic magazines with elements from domestic interiors and the world of fashion. Several montages show women with eyes surrounded by charred edges – the replacement eyes (as in T12501) are often inverted. The violence of the gaze is implied in a related Untitled (1977) image of a couple nose to nose in which his eye has been wholly replaced by a picture of a ciné camera and her blue eye in a burnt-out hole is surrounded by smaller holes all showing flesh tones under the sepia colour of the black-and-white reproduction which forms the basis of the montage. The techniques of burning out eyes – possibly with a cigarette – and tearing a well as slicing the paper embody the style tactics of punk which was characterised by a home made, diy aesthetic and aggressive physical actions (often directed against the self).
Linder’s focus on the gaze as a political tool recalls a photomontage by the Berlin Dada artist Hannah Höch (1889-1978). In Fremde Schönheit (Strange Beauty), 1929 (private collection), Höch mounted a grotesquely wrinkled and possibly shrunken head on a photograph of a naked young woman lying in an alluring pose – a slightly more supine position than that of one the most shocking nudes in the history of painting: the portrait of the courtesan Olympia, painted by Edouard Manet (1832-83) in 1863-5 (Musee d’Orsay, Paris). Like Manet’s nude, Höch’s naked lady looks back at the viewer, but through a pair of skewed eyes, magnified by thick spectacles, that draw attention to the very act of looking that the beautiful naked body invites. In Linder’s image, the emblem of domesticity – the shining fork – appears to be the tool that prevents the woman from returning the embrace of her lover or from looking back at him – because of it, her gaze is redirected elsewhere.
Mark Sladen and Ariella Yedgar, Panic Attack!: Art in the Punk Years, exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, London 2007, pp.13, 88-93 and 174-5.
Paul Bayley, Jon Savage, et al, Linder: Works 1976-2006, Zurich 2006, reproduced p.61 in colour.
Beatrix Ruf and Clarrie Wallis, Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.80-81.