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Linder explores the 'ultimate form' in St Ives

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: January 23, 2014

By Lee Trewhela

  • Linder Superma 2013 Collage 27.6 x 20.5 cm Courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, USA © The artist

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WHEN I was 10 my little world was overthrown by the power and passion of punk, a couple of years late admittedly.

The provocation and politics meant nothing to me then, I just loved the instant hit of the music.

However, there was one 7" single cover that stunned my unformed mind – Buzzcocks' Orgasm Addict. It wasn't the sexual content, or the stark inversion of female form as product, it was purely the shock of the new. This style of modernist photomontage had never been seen before and it produced a lifelong love of confrontational art.

I was intrigued by the artist with the singular name, Linder. Even more so over the years, when she was so closely linked with my bedroom hero Morrissey, who famously wrote about their literary friendship in The Smiths' song Cemetry Gates. He speaks fondly of her in his recent bestselling autobiography, calling her "nine-parts sea creature".

Her radical feminist work has fascinated since – see her shells as hairstyle series for art that both challenges and beguiles. And, remember, she wore a meat dress before Lady Gaga was even born.

I finally had the chance to meet Linder last week as she is the first artist invited to take part in the pilot of the Tate St Ives' Artists Programme. Her residency is for six months but she is already planning on extending her stay such is the effect St Ives has had on her.

As she proclaimed: "I am an iPod and now I'm in St Ives, I'm completely downloaded."

Fittingly, as her work here has been based around Barbara Hepworth, she is inhabiting a space at Porthmeor Studios previously used by Hepworth's husband Ben Nicholson as well as Patrick Heron.

Of the vast, white, almost church-like studio, Linder told me: "You can still see their handwriting on the wall. It's an inspirational space, I'm more than aware of the ghosts."

It's the ghost of Hepworth that haunts her most though.

Tate St Ives first worked with Linder in 2009 at the now legendary The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in Britain 1900-2009. She visited the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden which began her interest in the sculptor.

As part of the Tate's Summer 2013 exhibition, Linder brought together a group of her own collages with Hepworth's sculptures. Linder drew on the aspects of performance in the sculpture as well as parallels with her own radical practice.

The end result was The Ultimate Form, a new ballet choreographed by Linder and Kenneth Tindell, of Northern Ballet, and performed by the company with music by Stuart McCallum of Cinematic Orchestra.

It has been staged in Paris and Wakefield, home of The Family Of Man, the Hepworth sculpture that inspired the ballet.

On Saturday, February 8, The Ultimate Form will return to its spiritual home with a performance at St Ives Theatre. Dancers from the Northern Ballet will take part and costumes, featuring Linder's gorgeous collages, have been designed by her longtime collaborator Richard Nichol.

Linder said: "When I did my performance piece, Allentide, here on Hallowe'en night 2009, I was invited to visit her sculpture garden. I was encouraged to feel every part and I made a connection with her through feeling rather than seeing.

"She spoke of the ultimate form and dancers are obsessed with creating the ultimate form, so I felt ballet was the right medium to bring The Family Of Man to life."

Linder is aware of St Ives' important place in art history: "Rothko came here from New York because he knew something was happening in St Ives – it had that international clout, but there's also an insularity here that is very comforting.

"There's a great oral history in the town. There are people here who still remember Barbara Hepworth and Patrick Heron and are keen to share their memories."

Linder is now working with Phil Barnett, of St Ives Theatre, and its archive of 20,000 costumes.

"I'm not sure many people know they have such an extensive collection," added Linder. "It could definitely lead to some interesting photographic collages, that's why I'm prolonging my stay.

"I'm aware that an artist cannot loot a community and leave, you have to give something back."

I had to take her back to those early years in Manchester, when her circle included Morrissey, Pete Shelley from Buzzcocks, Howard Devoto and Barry Adamson, of Magazine, writer Jon Savage and Joy Division's Ian Curtis.

"I took that astonishing time for granted. You've never been 18 and 19 before so you don't understand the dynamic as it's happening. You only think how extraordinary that circle of people was in hindsight.

"Back then we thought everyone across the country was doing this but, of course, they weren't."

Linder first met Buzzcocks at the legendary Sex Pistols concert at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. She jokes she was one of the 10,000 present.

"In fact, there weren't many people at all, so we all started talking to each other. The Buzzcocks were sat next to me and asked what I did. I told them I was a graphic designer and they told me they were a band. We weren't either really ... there was a lot of bluff going on, there was a lot of ambition."

That conversation led to the iconic sleeve which, she says, even now people are scared to show in its entirety.

"That work, like punk itself, was quick, like throwing darts – it hit its target."

The series of images is now part of the Tate collection "which I'm delighted about as they were almost literally under my bed.

"They're always on loan as there is always a retrospective about punk somewhere in the world – people are still fascinated by it. I'm still being interrogated by 16-year-olds about punk.

"It was the last British underground movement."

Punk went hand in hand with the feminist movement, with which Linder and her work are closely associated.

"I'm comfortable calling myself a feminist. I lived in a tiny village near Wigan when I was young – it was a tremendously macho area with mining and rugby at its core.

"When the Women's Liberation Movement broke through I thought 'sign me up'. The word 'movement' and its sense of upward trajectory for women had to be a good thing. Though feminists were quickly portrayed as man haters and bra burners. As happened with punk, the media have to trivialise to disempower."

She says, like Morrissey who she first met in the late summer of '76 at another Sex Pistols gig, she's not out to provoke.

"We both show life as we see it. If you're not toeing the line, you're seen as provocative.

"It's harder to shock these days – I'm known for using pornographic images in my work, but you can see those sorts of images so easily now. It provides such unrealistic expectations, for both females and males."

Hopefully, the staging of The Ultimate Form will be as memorable as her performance piece on Porthmeor beach five years ago as part of The Dark Monarch exhibition. Your Actions Are My Dreams coincided with the Cornish festival of Allentide, the beginning of the Celtic new year.

It assembled elaborate costumes, traditional Guise dancers, musicians and a magnificent white horse in a spectacular procession led by a veiled, antlered Linder. The event is still spoken of in awe by those who witnessed it.

"I was very aware that Damien Hirst's unicorn piece was part of The Dark Monarch and I have very clear feelings about Hirst's work with dead animals. So I wanted to work with a horse that was very much alive, plus I was aware of the Obby Oss and the use of skeletal horses in Cornish culture.

"I don't think there has been a Tate event that has used so many people and the geography of the town."

Returning to St Ives and especially No 5 Porthmeor Studios has invigorated the artist.

She added: "I love how sparse the studio is, the acoustics are fantastic. I will be holding a workshop with Northern Ballet's Kenneth Tindell here and with Wigan Young Souls, a group of Northern Soul revivalists aged 15 and 16, who will be working with local dancers of the same age – a social collage, if you like."

Linder also plans to screen a new film of her ballet juxtaposed with the Northern Soul dancers and images of her collages with a new soundtrack by her son, who is studying at film school. It's a mesmerising document.

An inspiring artist and one who, arguably, is under-appreciated in her own country, Linder concluded: "Working with photographs and collage is still seen as unconventional and there's a curiosity about it.

"I'm cheap really, I can travel the world to work without baggage. All I need is a scalpel, a glue stick and a magazine."

For tickets for The Ultimate Form and details of other Linder events at Tate St Ives see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-st-ives

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