This is one of a group of Untitled collages the feminist artist and performer Linder created in 1976-8, combining images from women’s magazines and pornography. It shows a naked female body, bent as though on its knees, apparently emerging from a steel sink set in a modern interior space that could be a hotel lobby or the hallway of a large house. Linder fixed an image of an outsized, gilt-edged teapot over the model’s head. In the empty space below the sink, she collaged a picture of an oversized electrical light switch. Overlarge images of food float in the linoleum covered space: a plate with a butter knife and two halves of a crêpe emerges into the foreground, hovering over broad stairs leading up into the clean white space; a giant pastry filled with cream and apricot jam sits in the rounded area beneath a long flight of stairs that curves elegantly up and out of the picture. Behind the model, ruched white curtains hang over windows that lead out to tropical plants, evoking the exotic. A small cake of soap on the steel surface next to the anonymous woman’s legs is a reminder of the banal ritual of washing one’s hands and emphasises the surreal comedy of the image.
Born Linda Mulvey in Liverpool, Linder grew up in Manchester where she studied Graphic Design at the Polytechnic (1974-7). She began making montages with photographic material in December 1976. She recounts:
I remember the pure pleasure of photomontage. I had spent three years working with pencil, paint and pen trying to translate my lived experience into made marks. It was a moment of glorious liberation to work simply with a blade, glass and glue. Almost a scientific methodology. Sitting in a dark room in Salford, performing cultural postmortems and then reassembling the corpses badly, like a Mary Shelley trying to breathe life into the monster. For a short period I’d found a perfect mode of articulation ... I’d always loved magazines and I had two separate piles. One you might call women’s magazines, fashion, romance, then a pile of men’s mags: cars, DIY, pornography, which again was women, but another side. I wanted to mate the G-Plan kitchens with the pornography, see what strange breed came out. I did it all on a sheet of glass with a scalpel, very clean, like doing a jigsaw.
(Quoted in Savage, pp.10 and 12.)
Drawing from the fashion magazine, Woman’s Own, and the pornographic publications Fiesta and Men Only, Linder’s Untitled photomontages deconstruct media representations of women as ideals of femininity in the home, as housewives, or as consumer objects of male desire. They recall a series of photomontages created by American artist Martha Rosler (born 1943) in 1966-72, Body Beautiful or Beauty knows no Pain. Combining advertising images of women’s bodies with fridges stacked with meat, cookers, washing machines and other kitchen appliances, Rosler’s montages draw attention to the objectification of the female body in the idealising images of the media. In T12499, the juxtaposition of the giant cream cake with the naked female body emphasises the body’s status as consumable object. In another work from this series, T12502, the naked woman’s body appears in relation to a jar of German würst, although in this image she has eyes and a mouth that are smiling at the würst in a manner that suggests she is thinking about eating them. The theme of consumption is made even more explicit in a further Untitled collage of the same year in which, above the caption Romance, a man smiles delightedly at the cream cake substituting for the head of the woman pressed against him (illustrated Linder: Works 1976-2006, p.55). His comically enlarged eye and the mouth full of teeth appended to his crotch stage him as the visual and oral consumer of his objectified lover. Linder’s collages satirize the notion of the male gaze described by Laura Mulvey in her famous feminist essay of 1973, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (first published 1975 in Screen): ‘in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can said to be connote to-be-looked-at-ness.’ (Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures, Indianapolis 1989, p.19.)
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.75 in colour.
Beatrix Ruf and Clarrie Wallis, Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.80-81.