Linder is equally interested in consumerism, being consumed and getting ‘Short Changed’, the title of a 2011 photomontage reading ‘Men Only offer you ‘The Clap’’. The artist’s work is no bed of roses – yet the figure of the rose reappears throughout her oeuvre and is put to far more work than a Medieval fig leaf. ‘I like to see how far I can ramp up desire within one image until it becomes grotesquely comic…’ she says. Packed with all of the rosiness from Aphrodite to an English Rose, Linder’s rose is flattened, basically the peach emoji emitting meaning like nuclear fallout.
More or Less Vulvas?
I’m not easily provoked by art, but Alison Jacques’ Linder and Hannah Wilke exhibition made me feel icky, and yet it stuck with me – a bit like the chewing gum scattered about the gallery. Wilke used gum ‘because it’s the perfect metaphor the American woman’ she said – ‘chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece’.
"basically the peach emoji emitting meaning like nuclear fallout"
Undoubtedly, Linder’s photomontages of 70s and 80s pornographic magazines achieve their effect of pushing desire to the point of absurdity – but half a century later, the porn industry has ramped up its production of grotesque images to a cry-sobbingly absurd, tentacular Pikachu place, too. In 2023, these Linder works seem extra exhausting. The viewer might well wonder whether it is even possible to subvert the objectifying narratives of pornographic magazines without simply creating work that reproduces them – especially when the work itself reproduces pornographic magazines. On the other hand, the artist might argue, as she told The Guardian, her practice is not merely an up yours to the status quo, ‘not just provocation’, but about audacity. ‘To be audacious requires a certain style also. I think it's ultimately about making one's mark’.
"pushing narratives of desire to the point of absurdity'
Both Wilke and Linder have certainly done that. Pioneers of feminism’s second wave, Wilke was the first to make vaginal artworks. Beginning in the late 1950s, her labia were in galleries long before the gesture became synonymous with ‘essentialist’ feminist art. Meanwhile, Linder appeared on stage at Manchester’s legendary club The Haçienda in a meat suit decades before Lady Gaga wore one to the Video Music Awards in 2010.
"a lot to chew over"
Now Gaga’s beefy gown has been preserved in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for over a decade, as a sort of jerky, and together with Linder’s roses and Wilke’s gum, it’s a lot to chew over. On the one hand, brightly coloured chewing gum in the shape of a vulva feels a bit loud? On the nose? A bit I-know-you-were-the-first-ones-to-do-it-but-I’ve-seen-it-a-bazillion-times-since-then? Even Gaga’s at it, and she’s also done the Marie Antoinette pompadour lewk, and even invented a male alter-ego called Jo Calderone – did you-? What’s that? You revised Freud’s famous dictum that anatomy is not destiny by transforming yourself into Clint Eastwood in 2000? Gotcha.
Anyway, the UK government recently blocked Scotland’s gender recognition bill; TikTok is providing young feminists a space to be brave, vulnerable – audacious, even – in ever more clever and engaging ways, while the same platform gives rise to the likes of Andrew Tate; meanwhile, 40% of Britons still aren’t entirely clear on the clitoris. So perhaps it is time to goad ourselves again with a few globules of invaginated gum. We could all stand to come a little more unstuck, and these works are nothing if not malleable.
By Sammi Gale