This is one of a group of Untitled collages the feminist artist and performer Linder created in 1976-8 using images from women’s fashion magazines. It shows a woman wearing a one-piece set of lacy underwear standing in an unnatural pose in a bedroom. The model’s body is curved to show off the undergarment and her physical form in a flattering manner. Her left arm bends awkwardly so that she can elegantly clasp her hip and upper thigh, while her right arm stretches upwards, raising her breasts in the classic modelling half-twist pose. Subverting the placid stereotype of a passive woman on display, Linder collaged a picture of an electric carpet sweeper over the model’s right forearm that is raised above her head. The brush on the end of the carpet-sweeper is angled towards a piece of textured brown carpet fixed on the bedroom ceiling, transforming the model’s static pose into a dynamic potential for movement. Linder fixed a pair of outsized eyes and large smiling mouth onto the carpet sweeper, doubling it as a surrogate head. Behind the woman, a giant camera sitting on the vanity chest, in the likely place of a mirror, is angled towards the woman’s back as though photographing her from behind. Her eyes look coquettishly to her right as though she is flirting with the camera’s gaze behind her. In the alcove to her left, a portable transistor radio appears to be coming out of the double bed, its aerial emerging from under the smartly designed fitted cupboards that surround and overhang the mattress.
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 ... 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 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.) In T12500, the camera angled towards the woman’s body emphasises the theme of scopophilia – the pleasure of looking at a body as an object. The theme of consumption is made even more explicit in another 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.
Photomontage as an art form was pioneered, for its powerfully subversive potential, by the Dada movement in the early years of the 20th Century in response to the First World War. In Berlin, the Dada artists, George Grosz (1893-1959), John Heartfield (1891-1968) – whose name simplification Linder self-consciously emulated – and, most significantly, Hannah Höch (1889-1978) created collages using printed images to attack the insanity of trench warfare. Höch, a lone female figure in the Berlin Dada group, created images presenting women whole, in parts, nude, in hybrids with masks and other ethnographic sculptures, challenging media presentation of stereotypes. In Das schöne Mädschen, 1919-20 (private collection) she replaced a woman’s head with an enlarged lightbulb and surrounded her with objects of the mechanical age. Linder shares with Höch the experience of being a woman in a group of men, although in 1977 the context was Manchester punk and the men were musicians in the band Buzzcocks. Linder used the iconography of Pop – women’s and men’s popular magazines – to deconstruct the role of women and the place of the female body in contemporary consumer culture.
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.69 in colour.
Beatrix Ruf and Clarrie Wallis, Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.80-81.