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Linder Sterling (born 1954, Liverpool, UK) is a British artist known for her photography, radical feminist photomontage, and confrontational performance art. Emerging from the Manchester punk and post-punk scenes in the 1970s, Sterling focuses on questions of gender, commodity and display. Her highly recognisable photomontage practice combines everyday images from domestic or fashion magazines with images from pornography and other archival material. Cut and collaged by hand using a scalpel and glue, the juxtapositions recall a rich art history harking back to Hannah Hoch and the Dadaists.
For her solo shows at the Hepworth Wakefield and Tate St. Ives in 2013, Sterling collaborated with choreographer Kenneth Tindall of Northern Ballet for a performance piece, The Ultimate Form (2013), inspired by the artist’s research into the work of Barbara Hepworth. Her residency at Tate St. Ives, also in 2013, was recently followed by her appointment in 2017 as the inaugural artist-in-residence of Chatsworth House where Sterling created four installations that explored the female voice at Chatsworth in the centenary year of the Act of Representation. In 2018, Sterling was commissioned by Art on the Underground to create her first large-scale public commission consisting of an 85 metre long street-level billboard at Southwark station.
Recent solo exhibitions include Nottingham Contemporary, Kestnergesellschaft, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and Museum of Modern Art/PS1, and Sterling's work has been included in group exhibitions at Tate Modern, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Museum of Modern Art, Tate Britain, and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. In 2017, Sterling was awarded the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award.
Early life and education
Sterling is the daughter of the late Jean and Thomas Mulvey. She was educated at Upholland Grammar School and studied Graphic Design at Manchester Polytechnic from 1974 to 1977. From 1976 onwards, Sterling was a key figure within Manchester punk and post punk circles; one of her early photomontages was featured on the cover of the Buzzcocks 'Orgasm Addict' single, while other photomontages were published in The Secret Public magazine alongside those of Jon Savage. Sterling designed the cover for Magazine's Real Life album, using the monoprint. Sterling formed her own band, Ludus, in 1978; they disbanded in 1983.
A radical feminist and an active figure of the Manchester punk and post-punk scene, Sterling is known for her photomontages which combine images found in pornographic, fashion and interior design magazines, as well as from print documentation of ballet and film. Sterling's works often highlight the cultural expectations of women and the exploitation of the female body as pure commodity. When she first started creating these photomontages, many of her works were published in the post-punk photomontage fanzine 'The Secret Public' which was published by New Hormones records.
In one of her early works, the cover art for the 1977 single release of "Orgasm Addict" by the Buzzcocks, the collage depicts a naked woman with an iron for a head and grinning mouths instead of nipples. "At this point, men's magazines were either DIY, cars or porn. Women's magazines were fashion or domestic stuff. So, guess the common denominator – the female body. I took the female form from both sets of magazines and made these peculiar jigsaws highlighting these various cultural monstrosities that I felt there were at the time." Sterling also designed the cover for Magazine's 1978 debut album Real Life and was known for her 'menstrual jewellery' (beads and ear-rings made of broken coat hangers with absorbent lint dipped in translucent glue and painted red, in order to resemble bloodied tampons) and the mythical 'menstrual egg-timer' (a series of beads with different colours – red, white and purple – devised to chronicle the cycle from ovulation to menstruation) that she designed for Tony Wilson's Factory Records (designated Fac 8), which never entered production. She collaborated on a short film called Red Dress, a rare Factory/New Hormones project.
- The Bower of Bliss, Southwark Underground Station, London, November 2018
- Destination Moon. You must not look at her!, Duke of York Steps, London, 2016
- Donkey Skin, Art Night, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2016
- Children of the Mantic Stain, Leeds Art Gallery, 2015
- The Ultimate Form, Salle Matisse, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, 2013
- The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated from the House of FAME, produced by Sorcha Dallas for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, Glasgow, 2010
- The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated from the House of FAME, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2010
- The Working Class Goes To Paradise, Tate Triennial, Tate Britain, London, 2006
- The Working Class Goes To Paradise, north Manchester, 2000
- Ludus, Hacienda, Manchester, 1982
In 1978, she co-founded the post-punk group Ludus, and she remained its singer until the group split in 1983. She designed many of the band's covers and sleeves, or posed for artistic photographs taken by photographer Birrer and used for Ludus sleeves and the SheShe booklet that accompanied Ludus' 1981 cassette Pickpocket. Ludus produced material ranging from experimental avantgarde jazz to melodic pop and cocktail jazz, characterised by Sterling's voice and unorthodox vocal techniques (which occasionally included screaming, crying, hysterical laughter and other unusual sounds), as well as her uncompromising lyrics, centred on themes of gender roles, love and sexuality, female desire, and cultural alienation. Although critically acclaimed, they never achieved any significant commercial success. Most of their material, originally released between 1980 and 1983 on the independent labels New Hormones, Sordide Sentimentale and Crepuscule, was reissued on CD in 2002 by LTM.
Ludus' concert in the Haçienda club in Manchester on 5 November 1982, filmed by Factory Ikon, showed Sterling's confrontational tactics in expressing her sexual politics. Before the concert, Sterling and her associates/managers, Cath Carroll and Liz Naylor, a.k.a. "The Crones", Manchester scenesters and creators of the City Life magazine, had decorated every table in the club with a paper plate with a red-stained tampon and a stubbed cigarette. Sterling performed in a dress made of discarded chicken meat sewn into layers of black net, while the Crones handed out packages of leftover raw meat wrapped up in pornography. During "Too Hot to Handle", Sterling whipped the dress aside to reveal a large black dildo. "Bucks Fizz had just won the Eurovision Song contest. At the end of their song the men pulled up girls' skirts, and that ticked off an outrage in me. Oh no, I thought, it's still going on. At the same time at the Haçienda they were showing lots of soft porn and they thought it was really cool. I took my revenge. I was a vegetarian, I got meat from the Chinese restaurant, all the discarded entrails. I went to a sex shop and bought a large dildo. I didn't tell anybody about it." Meat and tampons were supposed to represent "the reality of womanhood" and the dildo "Here's manhood, the invisible male of pornography. That it can be reduced to this, a thing that sticks out like a toy." "I remember the audience going back about three foot. There was hardly any applause at the end. And that was a crowd who thought: nothing can shock us, we see porn all the time, we're cool. When that happened, when they stepped back, I thought, that's it. Where do you go from here?"
Sterling and her former Ludus bandmate Ian Devine have re-established their collaboration in the 2000s. He contributed the soundtrack to the short film Light and Fuse, as well as the soundtrack (consisting of atmospheric, mostly electronic music) to her performance piece Requiem: Clint Eastwood, Clare Offreduccio and Me, which they released as Devine & Sterling as a limited edition CD in 2002. In June 2004, Sterling and Devine reunited for two shows at the London Royal Festival Hall, as a part of Morrissey-curated Meltdown Festival, playing a set of rearranged Ludus songs, as well as other material.
In 1997 she put on a one-woman exhibition in London's Cleveland Gallery titled What Did You Do in the Punk War Mummy?, and the next year she performed a work called Salt Shrine – filling a room in a disused Widnes school with 42 tonnes of industrial salt. In 2000, her work in different media was exhibited in Cornerhouse, Manchester, under the title The Return of Linderland, featuring the short film Light the Fuse, which combined re-enactment of scenes from Leone films – with Sterling performing in drag as Clint Eastwood – with images of modern-day cowboys and young men from North Manchester. Her performance pieces in subsequent years have included The Working Class Goes to Paradise (2001) and Requiem: Clint Eastwood, Clare Offreduccio and Me (2001). A new instalment of Working Class Goes to Paradise was played on 1 April 2006 in the Tate Gallery, as a part of the Tate Triennial 2006. With the musical accompaniment provided by three indie rock bands playing simultaneously for four hours, a group of women re-enacted the ritualisic gestures of 19th century Shaker worship, while Sterling performed assuming different roles, including that of a figure from one of her photomontages, that of Ann Lee, and of a fusion of Ann Lee, Christ and Man With No Name. Audience members were able to view the performance and to join in.
Solo exhibitions of her work include Bower of Bliss, Glasgow Women's Library, Glasgow, Scotland (2018); The House of Fame, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham (2018); Her Grace Land, Chatsworth House, Derbyshire (2018); Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm, Sweden (2017); An Absence, A Presence, A Mood, A Mantle, dépendance, Brussels, Belgium (2015); Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CA, USA (2013); The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield (2013); Tate St. Ives, Cornwall (2013); Femme/Objet, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France, travelling to: Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover, Germany (2013); Daughters of the Promised Land, The Goss-Michael Foundation, Dallas, TX, USA (2012); Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London (2011, 2007); The Darktown Cakewalk, Celebrated House of Fame, Chisenhale Gallery, London, travelling to : The Arches, Glasgow, Scotland (2010); MoMA PS1, New York, NY, USA (2007); Let me go where my pictures go, dépendance, Brussels (2006);The Lives of Women Dreaming, Futura Gallery, British Council, Prague, Czech Republic (2004) and We who are her hero in Galerie LH, Paris (2006).
Her work has been featured in group exhibitions such as Actions. The image of the world can be different (part 1), Kettle's Yard, Cambridge (2018); Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings, Tate St. Ives, Cornwall; travelling to: Pallant House Gallery, Chichester; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (2018); Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender, and Identity, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2017); Artistic Differences, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2016); Nude: Art from the Tate Collection, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2016); British Art Show 8, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland (2016); Performing for the Camera, Tate Modern, London (2016); Primal Architecture, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2014); Designing Modern Women 1890–1990, MoMA, New York, NY, USA (2013); Flowers & Mushrooms, Museum Der Moderne Mönchsberg, Salzburg, Austria (2013); IN THE CUT: COLLAGE AS IDEA, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia (2013); Les Paris Sent Ouverts, Freud Museum, London (2011); Art for Whom?, Tate Britain, London (2010); Another Music, Kunsthall Oslo, Oslo, Norway (2010); I am a cliché, punk aesthetic echoes, Les Rencontres d'Arles Photographie, Arles, France (2010); Punk. No One is Innocent, Kunsthalle Vienna, Vienna, Austria (2008); doART, Beijing, China (2008); Panic Attack! Art in the Punk Years, Barbican, London; travelling to: Le Magasin, Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Grenoble, France (2006) and Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain, Royal Festival Hall, London (1998). Collective exhibitions of her work include "I am a cliché, punk aesthetic echoes", Les Rencontres d'Arles, France (2010). She has also collaborated with her former partner, novelist and pop critic Michael Bracewell, on the book I Know Where I'm Going.
Linder'', published by Ridinghouse 2015
Femme/Objet, published by Musée d'Art moderne de la ville de Paris, 2013, on the occasion of Linder's solo exhibition
Morrissey Shot, published by Secker & Warburg, 1992
Sterling has a son, Maxwell Sterling.
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- Sorcha Dallas Sorchadallas
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