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Life and career
Born Linda Mulvey in Liverpool, Lancashire, in 1954, she spent her adolescence and most of her adult life in Manchester. She studied art at Manchester Polytechnic from 1974 to 1977. She now lives and works in Lancashire.
A radical feminist and a well-known figure of the Manchester punk and post-punk scene, Sterling was known for her montages, which often combined images taken from pornographic magazines with images from women's fashion and domestic magazines, particularly those of domestic appliances, making a point about the cultural expectations of women and the treatment of female body as a commodity. Many of her works were published in the punk collage fanzine Secret Public, which she co-founded with Jon Savage.
One of her best-known pieces of visual art is the collage in the cover art for the single release of "Orgasm Addict" by the Buzzcocks (1977). The central image in a record sleeve designed by Malcolm Garrett, the collage shows 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." Linder was also a partner of Howard Devoto, a founding member of Buzzcocks, who left the group to form Magazine. She also designed the cover for Magazine's debut album Real Life (1978) 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 also collaborated on a short film called Red Dress, a rare Factory/New Hormones project.
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 Linder'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 Linder's confrontational tactics in expressing her sexual politics. Before the concert, Linder 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. Linder 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", Linder 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?"
From 1978, Linder resided in a house in the bohemian Manchester district of Whalley Range, which became a mecca for many musicians and artists. It is claimed[who?] that she had a considerable influence over many men from her circle, that Pete Shelley wrote the Buzzcocks' song "What Do I Get?" as an expression of unrequited love for her, and that she inspired most of Howard Devoto's early work.
Linder is one of Morrissey's few close friends. The two have known each other since 1976. He was one of the regular visitors to her house in Whalley Range, and she used to accompany him on walks through Manchester graveyards, as immortalised in the Smiths song "Cemetry Gates". Linder also appears in the 1987 South Bank Show episode on the Smiths as well as the 2002 documentary The Importance of Being Morrissey. She has taken many photographs of him, including the sleeve photographs for his 1992 album Your Arsenal and 1993 live album Beethoven Was Deaf, as well as several singles, and she also worked on the video footage for his 2004 DVD Who Put the M in Manchester? In 1992 she published a book of photographs of Morrissey, taken during his 1991 UK, US and Japan tours, entitled Morrissey Shot. In 2001, she produced the silkscreen diptych series Morrissey Shot/Linder Live, and in 2003 she contributed to the Diamond Dust Volume One Portfolio, published by the Paul Stolper Gallery, a screenprint on paper with diamond dust of a photograph of Morrissey she took in 1991, entitled Mon coeur ne bat que pour Morrissey.
In addition to visual art, Linder has in recent years devoted herself to performance art, which includes photography, film, print and artefact. Centred on the themes of outsiderdom, religious non-conformism, ecstatic states and female divinity/sainthood, her performance art evokes mythical figures ranging from historical figures such as St. Clare of Assisi and the founder of Shakers, Mother Ann Lee, to the Man With No Name, Clint Eastwood's character from Sergio Leone westerns. "I find glorious parallels between Leone's portrayal of the heroic and the malign with that of legal and illegal activity in North Manchester – or 'Gunchester'. Think of it as Lowry with guns."
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 Linder 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 Linder 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 LINDER at Stuart Shave/Modern Art (November 2007), Let me go where my pictures go at dépendance gallery in Brussels (2006),The Lives of Women Dreaming at the British Council, Prague (2004) and We who are her hero in Galerie LH, Paris (2006), and her work has been featured in group exhibitions such as Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain, Royal Festival Hall, London (1998), DEAD, the Roundhouse, London (2001), Glamour, British Council, Prague (2003), Plunder, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2003), Audio, Cabinet des Estampes, Geneva (2006), Replay – sphere punk, Le Magasin, Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Grenoble (2006) and Dereconstruction, Barbara Gladstone, New York (2006). 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 partner, novelist and pop critic Michael Bracewell, on the book I Know Where I'm Going.
Linder 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, Linder 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.
A monograph of her work to date, entitled Linder Works 1976–2006 (with essays written by Jon Savage, Philip Hoare, Lynne Tillman, Paul Bayley, Andrew Renton and Morrissey) was published by Jrp/Ringier in June 2006.
Linder won the third Latitude Contemporary Art prize in July 2012 with her Stringed Figure (Octobass for the 21st Century) (Version I) (2012), a sculptural instrument inspired in part by Barbara Hepworth and Hector Berlioz.
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