I interviewed Linder for Girls Like Us magazine at the The Barbican Centre in London on a crisp March morning in 2013.
Linder is a British artist and performer who’s career spans from the 1970s Manchester punk scene to her current collaborations with Tate St. Ives and The Hepworth Centre in North-West England. She has worked with a variety of mediums from music (as singer, songwriter and guitarist for post-punk band Ludus) and collage (using a steady scalpel to splice pornographic images into feminist statements) to her current durational works such as the thirteen hour long dance improvised performance piece Darktown Cakewalk and her most current work, The Ultimate Form a performance ballet with dancers from Northern Ballet, costumes from Pam Hogg and inspired by Barbara Hepworth.
NE: First off, thank you for sending through the preperatory text about you and your work, it ended up being ten pages in ten point font!
LS: How strange, I don’t even enjoy writing!
NE: That’s so surprising because you write so well and you mention language and entymology quite a bit.
LS: Oh I LOVE language but I never felt that I had that mastery of it. When I was younger, I was always surrounded by people who had such amazing writing dexterity.
As a child I would always draw, each night. There weren’t many distractions in 1968 – two channels on the tv and not many books in the house – so I would draw all the time. Then when I went to art school, after about the third year I thought enough is enough. After eighteen years I was bored by my own mark-making and moved on to another medium. I was looking for a new language. But then if you use a scalpel it’s like using pencil, there is something similar physically. Except one is making a visible mark and the other has more to do with subtraction, cutting way to reveal something else.
NE: Do you ever listen to your old Ludus records anymore?
LS: Yes, I do sporadically. I just sit and really listen to them, almost quite forensically. When I hear my younger self, one part of me says – it was all so fast, so cheaply done, we could have done it better. But the thing is it isn’t about doing it better, it was just about doing it. I have to be kind to my younger self.
NE: What do you remember of that time and the feeling of what made it all happen?
LS: Around me there were a lot of intelligent people making very very intelligent music and so it seemed quite a natural thing to do. It seemed almost un-natural not to make music and it was easy to find musicians to play with. A small group of us – Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Morrissey, Barry Adamson – found ourselves in the right place at the right time. Picking up a guitar became a sort of National Service if you lived in Manchester then, it was almost compulsory for a while.
NE: For me, being born in 1976, there is such a fascination with that time that I will never get to experience. That DIY punk attitude that spured so much greatness.
LS: Yes, I used to have this fascination for the mid-fifties. People I know at every age seem to have this fascination about the culture that you were born into, climbed into. Its your etymology, you have to go back and work it out. It’s good detective work to do. It makes sense to want to go back, and great for you that it was such a great year, whereas 1954…
NE: Where did you grow up and spend your childhood?
LS: I lived in Liverpool until I was about nine or ten, then we moved twenty miles to Wiggen, which was a huge culture shock. It’s a mining town in the middle of nowhere but at the same time there was a Northern Soul scene there and a casino, so it was quite a strange mix.
Before we moved my family was living on a council estate and as it became more and more overcrowded and more and more run-down they began to build the new towns around Liverpool, and many other British cities at the time. So we were all migrated out to the new towns, ours being near Wiggen. My mother thought that is was such a big thing to have bought their house. It was huge to have that.
I then moved to Manchester when I was 18. I didn’t move very far – Liverpool, Wiggen, Manchester – not much travel distance between them. I stayed in Manchester for almost fifteen years. I often traveled out, but keep my base there.
NE: How does it compare to where you live now?
LS: It’s quite paradoxal. I now live in a tiny village on the North-West coast of England. I am the baby of the village, everybody else is ninety plus. People vaguely know I am an artist and say to me “I also do watercolors, dear” to which I vaguely shrug my shoulders. I like it there because it is very very isolated – there aren’t any centers of cultural production and I don’t have to talk about art. It’s almost like being a hermit. A lot of people from my generation have drifted out to the coasts. As if we are almost literalizing being marginalized – how far can we go before we fall off the land?
The village itself is very banal, the local vicar even described it as a “thin place.” But I wanted to live by the sea and explore this part of the North-West coast, so when I found this tiny village I fell in love with parts of the landscape. It was marketed as the Sunset Coast in the 1930s and it is like that, the sunsets are pre-Raphaelite. Crazy crazy light.
NE: Looking at the development of your work from the immediate sharp collages you created while part of the punk scene in Manchester compared to your work now which is more durational, do you see a connection between the shift in your surrounding landscape and the work you produce?
LS: Time just fascinates me more and more. Perhaps as I grow older, I have a more keen awareness that my time is finite and will run out. I do a lot of meditational practice and I am interested in how the concept of time can become playful. When meditating, you don’t know if you have been sitting still for three minutes or three hours. Long sustained periods of meditation over the last decade have altered my sense of time and that would parallel where I’ve lived the past ten years and the tidal nature of the landscape.
In ‘76 we had to make things spikey and quick. Now it has to be art that involves boredom. Boredom works in different ways, in ‘76 we were all so bored that interesting things happened and now we’re so terrifying of being bored that interesting things don’t happen.
Darktown Cake Walk had to be thirteen hours long. There is a huge old derelict music hall theatre near where I live and as I was doing research into music hall I discovered that a show always had thirteen acts. Ritualisticaly I thought The Cake Walk has to have thirteen structured acts that lasted one hour each. In the end I kept the thirteen hours but did away with the structure and just invited people to haphazardly come in and out over the thirteen hours. The Cake Walk was a way of saying this may at times be so damn boring, but will you stay? And most people did stay. People planned on coming for only an hour but then stayed eight hours and said it felt like an hour. Afterwards my sense of time was skewed for about a month. I couldn’t estimate my sense of time. It was great and disturbing in a good way.
NE: When you started your art practice way back when, how did you describe what you did?
LS: Well, I guess that’s where language failed me. I couldn’t find words to describe what I did. Hence I either was around people who could describe me far better than I could describe me, or who obviously could see me more clearly than I could. I never had that defined sense of what I was doing.
At the time, it was difficult to find models of women who had done what I wanted to do because the history was still being written. I subscribed to magazines like Spare Rib which was so important. Without that magazine I would be dead by now. I mean it was THAT important. I think Morrissey has all my back issues now, I must get them back from him!
NE: When you work, do you have a routine that you follow?
LS: I have a schedule I do together with meditation, I study Indian Classical music so I have that as a kind of teether, but otherwise no, not really.
However, I have been caring for my mother for the last two years so she has her routine that I fit my creativity around. It’s a good challenge because I can’t expect the muse to be there in the two hours I have to work!
NE: A good friend of mine was caring for her father for many years before he died and she ended up turning it into an art project, photographing their life together.
LS: Yeah you have to almost do that kind of trick so that it becomes a different sort of engagement. That’s so healthy if you can find that trick because otherwise it so difficult on both sides.
NE: Does your mum engage with your art practice? Does she understand what you do?
LS: Noooooo. I’m a real cuckoo. When she left hospital in 1954 she was given the wrong little carry cot. Obviously I should have been with that bohemian family down the road. My mother has zero understanding and zero interest in my work. But I can either stamp my feet and weep or I can take it as a given and live the role for her of being the beautiful daughter having a normal life.
NE: Has she seen any of your work or been to any of your performances?
LS: Nooooo, it’s would be like asking her if she wants to go to Mars – she’d probably say I’d rather not.
NE: In general do you think people understand what you do?
LS: I think that my work can be misunderstood by many. People often see the pornographic imagery and go no further, or they start to make pronouncements about the work without spending time getting underneath the half tone dot. Pornography is my deflector shield, the glitter at the foot of the ladder, if you become distracted by the shimmer, then you never ascend. This stuff – the static of pornography – crackles all around us, whether we are aware of it or not. Not looking at pornography doesn’t make it go away, holding oppositional banners against it hardly dents the industry, otherwise I’d be first in the queue with mine. I work with stealth, with the glamour and the grammar, like a very determined Mary Shelley sending in her monsters.
This is why the retrospective in Paris has been so valuable. The French have the audacity to say, we’ll take this artist that noone quite understands and make her more legible to everybody. A lot of time that has been difficult because I didn’t have a name for what I did. Even now I fall between certain labels or I overlap too many labels.
Many people know me for nothing else but having done The Buzzcocks “Orgasm Addict” album cover. Which is great, but sometimes within myself over the years internally I had to splitter myself. Over the last ten years or so I have been able to stop that splittering. Which looking back, probably has something to do with the collages when I was continuously trying to glue everything together. I suppose it’s all just art therapy really! So the Retrospective has helped me and will help others see the breadth of practice. I am very happy with it, so if I die tomorrow…
NE: Tell me about your relationship to Barbara Hepworth.
LS: Barbara Hepworth for most of my life was firmly in my blind spot. I didn’t care about her, I wasn’t interested in her. She was always there, but I’d look past her, she was just too close. I probaby knew more about female artists in Pakistan in 1973 through Spare Rib than I did about her.
Then a few years ago I did a performance piece at Tate St Ives, I was so tired afterwards but I was invited to an evening performance which I went along to. I was in this peculiar post-performance, dreamy dreamy state and suddenly I’m in this garden on Halloween, its raining and moist and there are Hepworth’s pierced sculptural forms. Then there in the dark leafy moistness I suddenly got Hepworth. It was almost like falling in love. The prodigal daughter came home and it was like -wow- how could I have ever turned my back on her.
After that I became fascinated by her work. I’ve just now been offered a residency at Tate St. Ives so it feels like the connection will go on.
At the moment I’m working with Northern Ballet on The Ultimate Form, removing myself completely from the picture, it’s very liberating. It’s collage at one remove and is an homage to Barbara Hepworth so it’s a layered act of ventriloquism – the artist talking through an artist and then through the ballet. It takes as its starting point Barbara Hepworth’s The Family of Man from 1970. I’ve taken Hepworth’s figures as tabula rasa, in order “to say what I really believe about my life instead of what I’ve always been told to say.” Within the ballet I introduce motifs from my own biography as well as Hepworth’s.
NE: I’m curious about your engagement with perfume and scents.
LS: I’ve always been fascinated with perfume. Even when I was a tiny tiny child, although my mother and father were quite poor my mother had this tiny vase of perfume. So even then just to open this tiny bottle and the profound change it could affect. It was all rather glamourous and that for me was the smell of glamour.
The last few years have been quite demanding, I was doing several solo shows, my father got ill, my father died I had to take care for my mother. At times the pressure was so immense and I found really the only two senses that would immediately pacify me was to use perfume and sound. These last two years especially this has became important. The right eau’d is like a black hole of scent, you fall into it.
NE: Does that tie in with your meditation practice?
LS: Yes, sounds does obviously. In ‘77 I started yoga, when nobody was doing it. When I went to my first yoga class, the other students there were probably in their late 50’s early 60’s-70’s and their doctors had told them to study this thing called yoga because they had arthritis. But they had the most amazing and different body shapes and what they could do with their bodies – even at eighteen I couldn’t do that.
Ten years ago I started doing Kandelini yoga which involves a lot of mantras. Then three years ago I decided to study Naad yoga, the yoga of sound – these yogis two thousand, three thousand years ago had worked out the whole science of sound. So I became interested in studying that.
NE: Do you still have a body building practice?
LS: I’m quite good at knowing what my body needs at any time. I suppose again since I am caring for somebody else’s physical body, my mother, then I have to find ways of keeping myself healthy too. I have a sense of a palette of techniques that I can dip into, whether it’s a certain essential oil, a dumbell squat, it will just do what I need it to do.
But what been quite hard for me is to have a lot of hair. Doing Naad yoga you should never cut your hair. The theory is that you can only handle that degree of sound with hair. I stopped cutting my hair when my father died and now I will probably never cut it again. Although I dream of cutting it and having really great short hair.
Hair has always been an issue – whether is had to do with feminism and not shaving or body building and shaving everything or now following Sikhism and Naad yoga which is all about not removing a hair from your body. The simplest things create the greatest fuss.
NE: How else has your relationship to your body changed over the years?
LS: The body is finite and can seem quite fragile, but if anything I am feeling more resilient than when I was younger.