Linder Sterling is a fascinating character. In the mid-seventies, she edited herself down to one name, hung out with some of the biggest musicians of the decade and became one of the key artists in the British punk and post-punk movement, using her preferred technique of photomontage to create her politically charged artwork. The House of Fame has been convened by Linder and includes work of her own, work from those who have inspired her, and loans from Chatsworth House, where Linder resides as Artist in Residence.
As you enter the first gallery, you are met with perhaps the most striking image of the entire exhibition. Linder’s It’s the Buzz, Cock! first appeared on the sleeve of Buzzcocks’ 1977 single, Orgasm Addict, and has been described by the Guardian as a “two-fingered salute to the patriarchy.” This photomontage has been set against a lightbox to give a three dimensional effect, and depicts a naked woman whose head has been replaced by an iron, and her nipples replaced with mouths.
The image may be startling at first, but it’s intended to be an insight into stereotypical gender categorising; it’s almost as if the iron, an age-old symbol of domestic labour, has been placed on the woman like armour. This piece is similar to Linder’s Pretty Girl series which pops up throughout all four galleries. Censoring pornographic images with common household objects, such as cutlery, a watch or a kitchen table, seems to be a dig at negative attitudes towards public expressions of sexuality, and the ways in which women have been objectified.
Each gallery is strikingly different, but each named after works by artists, musicians and other individuals that have inspired Linder. Gallery one is named The House of the Future, inspired by the image created by architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1956 depicting a family home 25 years in the future, which takes up the entire back wall of the gallery.
Gallery two, The House of Death, focuses on the relationship between life and death. There’s minimal colour throughout the gallery, with a thin white sheet partitioning the room. While the drop in room temperature may just have been coincidental, it certainly added effect. As you enter, you’re confronted with a very precious item from Chatsworth: The Death Mask of Sanford Arthur Strong. This plaster cast was taken from the face of a former art historian and librarian at the stately home, created after his death in 1904. Death masks are highly intimate, usually taken from the corpse to act as a memento of the dead, or to be used for the creation of a portrait.
The inclusion of a deathbed photograph of Sanford allows the viewer to gauge how accurate death masks can be. This piece, alongside The Poltergeist photography series by Mike Kelly, trigger interesting thoughts about the living’s proximity to the dead. Kelly’s photographs depict the subject almost in a state of trance, with cotton wool fashioned to symbolise teleplasm or a similar psychic phenomena exiting their body. Both pieces seem to give a nod towards Linder’s believe in an afterlife, or a belief that the dead are never too far away from us.
Behind the white sheet you find photographs taken from Linder’s She/She collection, which are the only images in this exhibition which feature Linder as the model. Similarly to her photomontages, she has obscured her own face using household accessories such as bandages, magazine cut outs and cling film, and you come to learn that this manipulation is intentional; Linder’s fascination with masks began after her mother warned her that they were “too poor to be photographed.”
The third gallery, The House of Unrest, comes as a shock to the system after the eerie airs of The House of Death. As you swing open the door, you’re hit by the sound of trumpets, drums and other brass instruments through the speakers and bright images adorning the walls. Alongside costumes from Linder’s 2010 performance The Darktown Cakewalk and her latest photomontage work, this gallery includes works by surrealist writer and painter Ithell Colquhorn and a film courtesy of The Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music. The film, created in 2014, depicts a musical journey through the funeral rituals in Vietnam, using documentary footage of real funerals and dramatic reenactments. This work has been grouped together to express spiritualism, surrealism and political agitation.
The final gallery, The Abode of Sound, is quite different from the work we’ve seen in previous rooms. The walls are adorned with several embellished tapestry’s that bring colour to an otherwise minimalist space. Here you will find a solo presentation dedicated to visual artist and performer Moki Cherry, as Linder was particularly inspired by the motto that Moki and her husband, Don Cherry, lived by in the seventies: “the stage as a home and the home as a stage.”
The taus instrument sitting proudly in the center is a loan from Linder herself. From the northern Indian region of Punjab, the Persian bowed instrument resembles a peacock and is said to project a deep, full tone, which Linder uses as a part of her nad yoga practice. The space also includes further photomontages by Linder and some similar designs by Penny Slinger, an author whose book introduced eastern teachings on sexual mysticism to a wider, western audience.
Stretching from the 1600s to today, and including the work of some thirty artists, the exhibition packs a punch. These pieces have been chosen to reflect the many sources of influence for Linder’s own work, and due to this nature, the organisation of the work does not seem as structured a past exhibitions at the Nottingham Contemporary. But this is not a fault; in fact it gives an authentic look into the mind of Linder, her artistic process and cultural inspirations.
The House of Fame is at Nottingham Contemporary until Sunday 24 June.