“It’s essentially a huge collage – it’s the inside of my head,” says artist Linder, ahead of her newly opened exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, titled The House of Fame. The gloomily lit room in which we stand is named The House of Rest, and along with three further gallery spaces – The House of the Future, The House of Unrest and The Abode of Sound – form the show as a whole: an intricate web of artworks and objects, spanning a 400-year history, convened by Linder via her ability to make conceptual connections with seemingly disparate ephemera.
Linder is perhaps best known for being a central figure in Manchester’s post-punk scene during the 1970s and late 1980s. While she was a graphic design student at Manchester Polytechnic, the artist began to create feminist photomontages with scalpel and glue, re-purposing imagery from printed matter and soft-porn magazines. One such work would go on to become the cover for the Buzzcocks 1977 single Orgasm Addict – a bare-breasted woman with a Morphy Richards iron obscuring her head; toothy grins where nipples once were. “At this point, men’s magazines were either DIY, cars or porn,” Linder says. “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.”
For The House of Fame, Linder has continued to work with a similar technique of assemblage. Just as she might once have dissected a single image, merging it with another to form an entirely new meaning, here she has sliced apart the history of her own work – and that of 40 other artists and designers – bringing them together in a three-dimensional space. With such a breadth of material on display, narrowing down the objects – or, “pinning down the butterflies,” as Linder says, with a delightfully entomological turn of phrase – began with exploring the history of Nottingham’s lace industry. “It started from an email exchange between myself and Nottingham Contemporary’s director, Sam Thorne – pondering over the idea of the intricate weave,” she explains. “The gallery itself is located in Nottingham’s lace market; lace is made on a grid, and so the exhibition was the idea of a grid that you could weave all the ideas through.”
“The themes seem disparate at times but they are comfortable bedfellows,” Linder continues. Indeed, the amount of material is far from jarring. “We’ve put these objects in the room with a light touch – we want people to make the connections themselves.” The House of Rest contemplates remembrance and melancholy – “the Irish are obsessed with death, and I’m half Irish,” she remarks. Here, the work ranges from a death mask of archaeologist Gertrude Bell’s Persian tutor to early 19th-century photographs of female spirit mediums ‘vomiting’ lace. These pieces are mirrored by Mike Kelley’s Ectoplasm photo-series, alongside Linder’s Hiding but still not knowing, 1981-2010 and further memento mori loaned from the Derbyshire stately home Chatsworth House (where Linder has been the inaugural artist in residence over the past year).
The House of the Future takes its name from the 1956 project conceived by architects Alison and Peter Smithson for The Daily Mail’s Ideal Home Exhibition, and includes two of the original chairs designed by the duo. There are also further masks – including black lace iterations that Linder made for her graduate show in Manchester – alongside Inigo Jones’ drawings of Jacobean Masques from the 1600s, some of the oldest works acquired by Nottingham Contemporary. The House of Unrest holds her collaboration with the late Richard Nicoll; costumes designed for The Northern Ballet in 2013. Poignantly, there is also a piece by Judy Blame, who passed away last month. Blame was close friends with singer Neneh Cherry, whose mother and stepfather – jazz musicians Moki and Don Cherry – are also key players in the exhibition. The Abode of Sound is inspired by the couple’s mantra – “the stage as a home, and the home as a stage” – and incorporates psychedelic wall hangings and archival video from their estate, alongside sound art by Linder’s son, Max Sterling.
Returning to the white walls of Nottingham Contemporary was a shock to the system for Linder after her stint at the ornate Chatsworth, where she produced a sister exhibition Her Grace Land. “From my time there I’m also making a film for the Glasgow Women’s Library, showing at Glasgow International 2018 in April,” she says. “It explores the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned at Chatsworth for 15 years under the instruction of Elizabeth I. There was a bridge called Queen Mary’s Bower where she would exercise – under strict supervision, of course. A friend who has modelled for Gucci – and is the world champion northern soul dancer – is playing Mary.”
Whether another twist of fate – or one of Linder’s carefully considered connections – Chatsworth has been an infinite source of inspiration for Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele, too; another figure who takes great pleasure in amalgamating heterogeneous subject matter. In an era where we are bombarded with images mediated through a digital lens, the collage feels like an appropriate method with which to understand the world. After all, Instagram is a grid of images, congregating on a screen, much like Linder’s intricate weave of lace. As artist John Stezaker writes: “Collage allows the opening up of conscious, which is very direct… It is also a way of looking at what you are consuming all the time”. The House of Fame may be rooted in the past, but it feels prescient as ever.