Her name is Linder Sterling, they call her Linder and she’s a great artist

17 mins read

British artist Linder Sterling visited Greece and more specifically the former Pavilion Pikionis, now “Pi”, in Delphi for her performance “Cut To The Chace”, participating in the artistic hospitality program of PCAI. Linder is known for her photographic work, her radical feminist photomontage and her confrontational performance, but also as the former front-woman of the post-punk group Ludus. Linder’s works are held in international art collections and in Greece were recently featured in PCAI’s exhibition ”Sheltered Gardens” (2022-2023) at the Diomedes Botanic Garden, as well as at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (2024).

I was given the opportunity to chat with her and I have to admit I was enchanted and enjoyed every time she called me “darling”:

So, I’ve heard yesterday you been visiting the archaeological site of Delphi.

Yes. It’s a sort of a dream that finally come true.

Did the Oracle told you anything interesting?

She did. Pythia has been very generous in her response. In my dreams. I mean, I couldn’t get to sleep until 4 a.m., and then I had very psychedelic dreams. So I trust that those dreams were from Pythia. They were very informative.

From right to left: Linder with PCAI’s artistic director, Kika Kyriakakou, at the presentation of the performance “Cut to the Chase” at “Pi”, former Pikionis Pavillon, in Delphi, photo: Maria Tultsa & PCAI
Snapshot from Linder’s presentation at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, photo: Eftichia Vlachou & PCAI

In the beginning, I couldn’t connect the Linder Sterling with you because I started as a graphic designer as well and your album single cover for the 1977 Buzzcocks “Orgasm Addict” it’s in the bibliography you know.

So are you a lot younger than me. When were you born?

In 1979.

Oh, you’re a baby.

Yes you have my mom’s age.

Exactly darling. I’m the mother you never met. Hahaha I abandoned you first, but it was for a good reason.

My mother also, studied graphic designer, but she lived in Greece, you know It was a difficult stage for women to succeed here.

Exactly, exactly. It wasn’t easy in England either. But I guess that brief period of punk at its essence, suddenly all the gates opened up for women, queers, etc. Ιt’s like, quick, let’s make a mark before Thatcher came along and closed everything down again. So it was a very brief period, in the 70s, where there’s this moment of liberation that we all ran for.

But you made it look easy.

Yeah, well, I know. I think, of course, now there’s almost half a century of practice, and, I do like that economy of means. I think we’re all had very little money, and we didn’t have a studio, we didn’t think about. There was no arts funding. So we had yeah, we had very few resources to work with.

And I think that sort of economy comes into those early photomontages where I find a photograph of a naked woman, and I just add two mouths and iron, you know, I’m just adding the most minimal amount of extra visual information to completely transform.

But you made it “ironic”. You made the woman’s body iconic. And also you played with the housewife thing.

Yes, of course, because then, you know, a popular media for women, it was really just either fashion magazines or magazines that had to do with the home or looking after children, how to keep your house clean, how to bake the perfect cake. So media then was very, very narrow-minded for both men and women. For men it was magazines about cars or how to decorate your home. Yeah, it was very, very gendered on both sides.

Bra Rose, photomontage, 2024 © Linder

Do you feel like you were a pioneer in your way?

I do. I think the luxury of still being alive as I reached 70 this year. You know, there is that luxury of hindsight, as each decade goes by that I can look at not only myself, but others generationally and see us as pioneers and see how brave we were. It wasn’t easy doing the work that we did, and often it was very difficult to disseminate it. We couldn’t do it through a gallery.We could only do it via music. That was the way we were communicating. So we were very brave when we were. We were pioneers it took me a long time to think about that, because don’t forget, in the 80s, I and others completely fall off the map. We become invisible.

So I always believed that pioneers in their childhood either were charismatic or pain in the ass for their parents. What were you?

Βoth, darling. Well, I don’t know. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s and in our home we didn’t have a television until I was ten years old. So there wasn’t a lot to do at home so I would just draw. I would just draw all the time. That’s the one thing I had. I had crayons, I had pencils, I had paper, not much else. So I would always draw this imaginary world. There’s a great quote by Brian Eno when he defines pop and he says “pop music is all about creating imaginary worlds and inviting others to join you”. And I think that Eno’s definition of pop applied to my childhood and my adolescence, where I create imaginary worlds on paper, and then I go on to like, cut up paper. I cut up photographs to create imaginary worlds.

And the scissors were were next to the crayons.

Oh yeah and glue and glue. And I was getting told off. You know, the glue was quite messy. Do you have the brand Pritt Stick here?

Yes we have it but it back then was the priced one. In Greece the famous cheap one was Logo which is still quite messy and sticky.

Pritt or Prick ? It’s an easy slip of the tongue, and it sounds, quite wild. But as a child, you know, glue was messy and some of them were in this bottle, I’d get told off and making a mess.

I know I’ve been there, at least you were sticking photos on papers not on the walls or your hands.

True I didn’t. Did you do that?

Yeah.

Oh, you’re.

Yeah guilty. I wanted a colorful room.

I think you had a good mother. Please give her my love.

I will, I will. So after the college and your life in Liverpool, you decided to become a rock star on the Ludus post-punk band. What was that?

Okay, well, so I think for a very brief period within music. At that point especially, I was living in Manchester. So as a student at Manchester Polytechnic and of course I became friends with Buzzcocks and that whole scene. And I think for a very brief period, the gap between the audience and the stage disappeared. And it became odd not to be on stage because suddenly it was a very casual thing. Anybody could wake up and think, oh, I want to play the guitar today. I don’t know how to play guitar, I’m going to play guitar. And likewise for me, I was really curious to, even though I actually could play guitar at that point. But I was really curious to experiment with my larynx to make sounds too, I wasn’t too off put that I couldn’t. I hadn’t had any training in singing.

No, but you had a good voice.

Then nobody could play the guitar, nobody could play the drums properly. So I just got up on stage it didn’t feel like that big a deal in the first. First gig was with the pop group at the Factory, (which then went on to become The Hacienda), and it just felt very, very natural. I think, you know, within even six months after that, all those groups became more professional. And suddenly that gap between the musicians and the audience, it widened again. So I was just there in that glorious period when it was like, yeah, I’m going to find a drummer, I’m going to look for a guitarist, we’re going to have a band. Ιt happened very, very quickly and it was really, deeply satisfying.

Fake Lips, photomontage, 2024 © Linder
Centaur, photomontage, 2024 © Linder

There will now be a retrospective exhibition about you in London.

It’s going to be the 11th of February next year at the Hayward Gallery.

When they are doing a retrospective exhibition for an artist it’s like an end or it’s a mark for a new beginning? How do you feel about that?

I feel like the Roman god Janus, the god that’s looking backwards and forwards at the same time. So I think that’s what it feels like. With the retrospective, it’s a really beautiful process of going back through almost half a century of work and deciding which narrative you’ll show. Υou know, deciding which photo montages I will show from 1976-77, which performance footage I’ll show. So it’s really, it’s quite a luxurious position, which not many artists are given. And I’m really enjoying this year. I’m going through drawers and cupboards and plant chests, looking at drawings from when I was 16 years of age and marveling just how the skills are there. The drawing skills are really, you know, tethered. By the time I get to 16, looking at those photo montages and thinking, wow, as you say that, that pioneer, that sense of throw those pencils away, throw those paints away. Let’s just work with a surgeon’s scalpel. Let’s really get very, very clean here. So the retrospective, it takes a lot of work because you’re making a narrative that then goes into a history book. So for that young generation coming through, I just want to make sure that even the dates are correct. We find out more about why I made different works at different times so that when I finally go up to heaven or down to hell, I’ve left a roadmap for the next generation. It’s like you don’t need to follow this roadmap, but this is my roadmap.

What did the Oracle told you? Hell on heaven?

I should have asked, I’m going to go back today and ask.

No need to ask I believe that there is a pot in hell waiting for you.

Yeah, I might pop back and see Pythia this afternoon and have another several more questions to ask. I think every question generates ten more questions, so I shall return to her.

From right to left: Linder with PCAI’s artistic director, Kika Kyriakakou, at the presentation of the performance “Cut to the Chase” at “Pi”, former Pikionis Pavillon, in Delphi, photo: Maria Tultsa & PCAI
Snapshot from Linder’s performance “Cut to the Chase” at “Pi”, former Pikionis tavillon, in Delphi, photo: Maria Tultsa & PCAI

The “Cut To The Chase” performance that you’re about to create, is about what?

Oh, it’s about many things. I mean, I chose that phrase because it’s an old Hollywood phrase, you know. Let’s just cut to the chase, the car chase. So in some ways, it reflects contemporary culture where we’re all in a rush and we want to see one image on Instagram and then we feel connected. It’s like that urgency, that impatience that we all suffer from right now. It’s like, just cut to the chase.

And also, you know, everything I do is to do with cutting and cutting up. So we’ve invited seven performers who I think is very brave. I always really admire people artists, performers when they volunteer, when they respond to invitations to come and create a performance.

Everybody wants a place in hell, in your hell specific.

Do you think so?

Yes, darling.

There’s a queue forming. So I’m immensely grateful to the seven performers that we only met virtually for the first time yesterday. So rather like the the car chase, we’re having to work really quickly. We’re having to exchange ideas very quickly. I’m giving them information about the characters they will play. My son, Maxwell Sterling, who’s a musician, has done the soundtrack.

A friend of mine, some fashion designers have made extraordinary brassieres, bras in homage to Caresse Crosby, who was the only mortal actually in the piece. She’s the only mortal. But, in her own way, she’s the kind of goddess. So, I have elevated Caresse Crosby we’re obsessed with her.

And I think the performance rather works like a montage that you have seven characters that have something in common with each other because they’re all gods anyway but there’s also a lot of differences. And, yeah, they’re very brave. They become like the performers, become like a moving montage, and it’s an improvization, so we can’t really rehearse. They turn up and very much like 1976, we make it happen. It’s in some ways amateur. You could say there isn’t a lot of technology.

There hasn’t been weeks of rehearsal. So it’s really going back to the spirit of those early years, in turn back to Dada, etc., where we just turn up and, you know, sort of cabaret.

Oh, you have big plans?

I always overly ambitious. And then often, you know, I think the more you raise the ambition, if you fall short, you’re still high. You know, you’ve had that high ambition. So I want to be Busby Berkeley Ideally, I would be the choreographer. Do you know Busby Berkeley in the 1940s, a Hollywood choreographer who had, like, a thousand women, all dancing extraordinary patterns on stage.

Snapshot from Linder’s presentation at the EMST with the artistic director of PCAI, Kika Kyriakakou, photo: Eftichia Vlachou & PCAI

So are you going to be bring Hollywood in Delphi?

I will try my best. I can’t promise. I think she’s the one, that character who really brings in that extraordinary sense of female liberation, both politically, artistically, sexually. So, yeah, Crosby is a cipher, is doing a lot of work on behalf of the mortals. Everybody else in the piece is a god or goddess of some kind.

You still live quite a life and you’ve met all these interesting people that some of us have never dreamed of meeting. Do you remember a good advice that you got from them?

A slogan from that time was “don’t get it right, get it written”.

I’ve already asked Kika Kyriakakou the artist director of PCAI and your currator for a picture of the iconic meat dress that you wore 28 years before Lady Gaga and you were pioneer adding a dildo as well.

Exactly. I think I have them on my laptop. I take ideas from art history, I do that, but I always try to be really responsible and always name check and name my sources rather than plagiarism because I think then it educates people. And it adds a kind of modesty to the artists. Artists need inspiration. We’re always looking at each other. We’re looking across media. So I do like to be transparent in interviews and say, yes, I was really inspired by this woman, this man, etc. So that’s my only criticism. I think of Gaga that she’s amazing. Lots of, predominantly women, but she rarely admits to that. And I think that impoverishes her fan base. Like her fan base, she’s not nurturing them, that it’s almost like she’s really, she’s using quite a masculine way that No, this is me. I am the artist. These are my ideas. When quite often, obviously they’re not. And, I just kind of think that’s a shame. She could be more generous with her appropriation of those who came before her.

Leave Gaga in her own hell.

Yeah. I mean, you know, she’s well, famous Gaga, and I’m not. So whatever she’s doing, she’s doing very, very well. But the meat dress It was in conversation suddenly. So I can definitely send you some photographs although when we took the photos my meat dress was already decomposing but the didlo was still there.

You have already educated me about Caresse Crosby. What inspires you nowadays?

I have so much. Greek mythology, actually you know, from being a young child, like literally five years old. And then as a 12 year old watching Jason and the Argonauts and all those Hollywood guys.

Oh I remember all those hot guys in the Jason and Argonauts movie.

Oh, yes, darling, they were gorgeous, so the English film stars like Honor Blackman, who was in The Avengers TV series. So those made a deep deep impression upon me, those now kitsch Hollywood films about Greek mythology.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

I’m a morning person. 5 a.m..

That’s why you’re still beautiful?

I hope so, but no. Literally wide awake. I think often because my psyche is, “oh, what about this? And what about that?” So I have to go to write everything down. And once everything’s written down, I’m wide. Not just wide awake, but also really eager to start the day and to start to. Yeah.

You know, I’m so aware of so many of my generation who are no longer with us. So I really, you know, give thanks to the gods that I’ll be 70 this year.

But you’re not feeling alone.

No, no, I don’t feel alone. And I feel a lot of the friends I’ve lost are often very present.

You know, I feel they are. Now they’re going to tap me on the shoulder and it’s like, come on, you know, do this, do that. Or they give me reminders or I look through, I don’t know, folio or photo montage. And I’ll find a little note, a post-it note from somebody or they. Yeah, they prompt me those that are now in punk heaven or whatever. Yeah, they do send me little, little messages every now and again.

But being a feminist you’ve been heated now with the fifth wave or the fourth wave.

I’ve lost count. I mean, there’s so many ways and there’s a lot more waves to come, you know, I hope it goes on forever.

But The waves have to stop at some point. You will win the patriarchy or not?

Exactly Then, Only then will the will the wave stop. And I love how each generation comes through and they critique the generation of feminists that came before them, not only critique, but obviously also educated by them So I love that. It’s quite, we could use the word, you know, metamorphosis is always happening within feminism. It’s always changing. It’s critiquing it’s responding to world events. It’s not static. It’s not written in a stone like way. After having been to the Temple of Apollo and Pythia, the beauty of things literally being carved into stone. And how now, all these centuries later, we can go and see what was important then, so I think feminism is not written in stone. It’s fluid, it’s beautiful, it’s moving all the time. It’s, self-destructing. Sometimes it is, rather like, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to put your finger on Mercury. And all kind of balls of mercury go off in different directions. So I think that’s the beauty often of not just feminism, I mean lots of other sort of, movements too, that you can’t quite pin them down. They’re really moving very, very quickly. And each new generation comes along and puts their finger on the mercury, the mercury of feminism, and takes it somewhere else again.

Ok, I will be a bastard now and I will ask you which goddess you are choosing to be.

Oh, that’s a very good question, maybe in this times it has to be Artemis. Maybe, you know, we prepared to sort of go into battle if it’s just, you know, vocal. Maybe there is something about these times of armoring all of us have to be so careful now because of social media. It’s no longer a spontaneous, life, Sorry. Being spontaneous that sense of liberation has gone.

And we have all this political correctness.

Yeah. And it was inevitable, It’s fine. But then right now it feels wearing a straitjacket and all too soon. Of course, that straitjacket will then fall off. But right now the times we’re in are so incredibly, incredibly sensitive. So maybe we all have to have a kind of armor right now just so we feel safe. We feel strong. We feel protected in some way. How we create that armor, I’m not sure that’s for each of us to decide the kind of.

I don’t believe that your armor will be very tough because it will be made from papers and stickers.

Not, unfortunately, not stone, but paper. But as you know, paper can survive centuries, can’t it?

Εither way, you’re a goddess, so you will be protected in hell or in heaven.

Maybe I should be buried in Greece. Maybe I should have that in my will.

Well actually, please do so because we need corpses like you when the zombie land will come true.

That’s just a great line. Nobody’s ever said they need a corpse like mine. I took it as a great compliment.

Im not trying to do compliments, I’m incapable of doing that i grew up in patriarchy but i love your sense of black humor and that you are not afraid talking about death.

For quite a while I was very fascinated by Tibetan thigh bone trumpets. Do you know that tradition of when somebody dies? The flesh is taken off the thigh bones of the corpse. And the bone is then made into a really beautiful trumpet, I think mainly played by priests in Tibet. So I did give my son instructions that when I die my thigh bones be made into trumpets?

So you have to choose either you get buried in Greece with all the honors or become a trumpet.

But then you think of the goddess of fame, Pheme you know she had two trumpets. And when she was declaring fame, apparently it was quite random.

I think she only had one trumpet but you are Linder Sterling, i’m a groupie, i won’t disagree with you.

She had two trumpets. One meant that you were going to be famous, and one meant that you were going to be invisible.

You are aware that now you are creating your own new greek mythology.

You know, if my family had two trumpets, maybe my thigh bone trumpets could actually be quite useful. But now as we talk, I think, yeah, being buried in Delphi could be so beautiful.

A wise choice, we can recycle you as well.

You could. You could recycle my hair, couldn’t you?

We could also make a meat collage of your body parts.

Every bit, in Britain is a saying “waste not, want not”. So recycle me immaculately so there’s nothing left of me. Just my etheric spirit. I’d be very happy if the little beatles eat me and things like that and all little insects.

Snapshot from Linder’s performance “Cut to the Chase” at “Pi”, former Pikionis tavillon, in Delphi, photo: Maria Tultsa & PCAI
Snapshot from Linder’s performance “Cut to the Chase” at “Pi”, former Pikionis tavillon, in Delphi, photo: Maria Tultsa & PCAI

Have you met the actual Beatles?

You know, I was growing up in Liverpool and there was something so extraordinary as a young child being in a city and basically pop, pop, pop that then happened to me with punk was suddenly something is happening where I live. And up until that point, you know, the stars had been American or whatever, and suddenly it’s happening where I live. And even though I was very, very young, I still remember, like the thrill of my parents, the whole city. And it happens to me again, like I say in Manchester in 76, The gods and goddesses have been very kind, letting me be born in Liverpool in 1954, making me move to Manchester in 1976. I’ve been in the right place at the right time.

You’re a lucky goddess and now that the gods gave you a telly, are you watching?

No. Occasionally. Netflix. Yeah, but now, when I had the telly, it was a big moment in our home. We got a telly and a fridge at the same time. We didn’t have a fridge or a telly until I was about 10, and it’s a big moment. Having a fridge was a big moment and I know it sounds like I was born in Victorian times, but no.

No, but you made me depressed because your works are very colorful and bright and I couldn’t see that blackened point of yours.

That’s a very good point, actually Very, very good. But then we had the photocopier in the 70s and the joy of the photocopy, because suddenly, you know, you could disseminate one’s work very, very cheaply and quickly, as swiftly and making, we’d now say fliers.We didn’t say fliers there, but making fliers for concerts and gigs. So the photocopier for my generation was hugely liberating. And it was cheap It was affordable.

And i love you because i had the change to talk to you. You are a tick in my box of famous people that i wanted to interact with, You’re a very talented lady. I believe that you won’t die soon enough, so I will get the chance to meet you on your next trip to to Greece. Take good care and and keep cutting and sticking.

And you being a bastard.

I will obey to your will because you’re absolutely fabulous, darling.

Linder, portrait by Hasel Gaskin

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