This is one of a group of Untitled collages the feminist artist and performer Linder created in 1977-8, combining images from women’s fashion magazines with pornography. The collage was used as the basis for the cover of the single Orgasm Addict, released in October 1977 by the Manchester punk band Buzzcocks and became an icon of punk culture. One of the simplest of Linder’s photomontages, the image is a frontal view of a naked woman standing in a seductive pose – right hip thrust out, arms above her head raising her breasts. The artist fixed an image of an iron over the model’s head and a smiling mouth over each of her nipples. The iron points upwards dramatically, transforming the woman’s head into a sharp hard object. The Buzzcocks’ single cover reproduced a cropped, inverted, two-tone version of the photographic image in blue printed on an acid yellow background. Angled diagonally across the square cover, the woman’s body was transformed into the muscular shaft of a phallic spear ending in the pointed tip of the domestic iron. In the Untitled colour collage, the curving pose of the woman’s body and the contrast between the textures of oiled flesh and shiny steel and plastic dominate the image.
Born Linda Mulvey in Liverpool, Linder grew up in Manchester, where she studied Graphic Design at the Polytechnic (1974-7). Following the precedent of the Berlin Dada artists George Grosz (1893-1959) and John Heartfield (1891-1968), in 1976 she altered and abbreviated her name. In the last weeks of that year she began making satirical collages using a surgeon’s scalpel, a sheet of glass, and a large pile of magazines. At this time she was living with Howard Devoto, one of the founding members of 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. When she made her photomontages in the late 1970s, Linder’s use of pornographic imagery was shocking and transgressive. She commented:
The late ‘70s were pre-style press, so the images of food, washing machines or record players came from mail order catalogues and mainstream women’s magazines such as Woman’s Own. In the British pornography I used – Fiesta, Men Only – the bodies weren’t toned or airbrushed and pubic hair wasn’t shaved, so there’s a real physicality to them. Now we’re fairly at ease with that kind of imagery, but back then women wouldn’t have been expected to know about porn, let alone look at it or make work with it.
(Quoted in Helen Sumpter, ‘Linder: Interview’, Time Out, 23 November 2007, www.timeout.com/london/art/features/3880/Linder-interview.html.)
Linder’s feminist appropriation and subversion of pornographic imagery recall the photomontages of another Dada artist from Berlin – Hannah Höch (1889-1978) – who in the late 1920s and early 1930s combined images of classical nudes with ethnographic monstrosities, challenging stereotypical ideas of feminine beauty at the same time as colonial notions of the exotic. In the photomontage Fremde Schönheit (Strange Beauty), 1929 (private collection), Höch surmounted a grotesquely wrinkled and possibly shrunken head on a photograph of a young naked woman lying in an alluring pose – the supine equivalent of that used by Linder in her 1977 Untitled collage. Höch’s montage is rendered more shocking by the further addition of a pair of skewed eyes, magnified by thick spectacles, that gaze back at the viewer and draw attention to the act of looking. While some of Linder’s photomontages deliberately refer to the gaze, such as her Untitled, 1977 (T12498), or highlight the model’s eyes in a comic way that emphasises her position as a desiring subject (T12502), this collage removes the possibility for the model to look back, instead transforming her head – the iron, which could be understood as a symbol of her domestic enslavement – into a sexy weapon. Linder has commented: ‘Pornography had its own debased codes, and my intention was to understand them. Not to “borrow” them, and never to collude with them. But to understand them seemed and seems important.’ (Quoted in Savage, p.27.) Linder’s photomontages empower the women whose bodies appear as passive objects of universal desire.
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, pp.4-5reproduced front cover and p.71 in colour.
Beatrix Ruf and Clarrie Wallis, Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.80-81.