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Linder, “The Goddess Who has Five Faces” (2019)
Linder, “The Goddess Who has Five Faces” (2019)Courtesy of the artist & Modern Art, London, © Linder

These radical artworks play with the conventions of pornography

A shared exhibition brings together the work of Hannah Wilke and Linder – two provocative artists exploring the commodification of women’s bodies and consumer desire

Radical feminist artists Hannah Wilke and Linder are both recognised for making provocative work interrogating the societal structures oppressing women. Despite working accross different generations and geographies (Linder was born in Liverpool in 1954 and Wilke was born in New York in 1940), the two artists share a conceptual and visual affinity for exploring the female body as a site of friction and struggle, unpicking how female identity and sexuality is perceived, performed, packaged and sold. Their bodies of work, spanning photography, performance, photomontage and, in Wilke’s case, sculpture and drawing, are harmoniously paired to oppose and reclaim what has been appropriated by male dominance and, as Laura Mulvey might argue, the male gaze. 

The first two-person exhibition at Alison Jacques in London’s Fitzrovia brings together artwork by the two mult-media artists, showcasing the intergenerational dialogue that dissembles the conventions of systemic misogyny. 

On display, Linder’s photomontages range from 2007 to the present day, and toy with deeply ingrained realities and inequalities surrounding the objectification and eroticisation of women and their bodies, perpetuated and normalised through pornographic magazines of the 70s and 80s. Humorously juxtaposing women with furniture, domestic appliances, shells, cakes and flowers, Linder mocks the sheer insanity of female domestication and gendered consumerism whilst Wilke’s featured work subverts the consumer fantasies that prospered in commercial advertising at that time, which often depicted women as objects devoid of desire and identity. 

“Seeing both artists in concert together is a process of reassessment and rediscovery. Lesser-known artistic pursuits and aspects of their practices are seen within their ‘signature’ style of works, sparring and playing off one another, illuminating new lines of questioning raised around their practices,” Hannah Robinson, the Senior Director at Alison Jacques, tells Dazed.

Subversion is critical to both artists’ artistic approaches. Wike and Linder investigate false consciousness and the paradoxical concept of what, as women, is ours and what is taken by men. Fascinated by the social and sexual attitudes, hierarchies and imbalances of the late 20th century – with a focus on pornography – Linder examines how female desire and sexual expression is objectified whilst simultaneously exposing its fragility through metaphorical symbolism. A richly symbollic rose recurs throughout as a multifaceted symbo for female genitalia and so-called sacred virginity; women’s conventionally, and artificially, assumed fragility; as well the pervasive cultural belief in ‘natural’ gendered behaviour.

For Wilke, it’s vaginal folds. A collection of unusual materials such as latex and gum form her signature sculptures, as she experimented with something so divinely female whilst highlighting its normalcy. Chewing gum was itself an object Wilke believed metaphorically encapsulated how American women are seen by men: “American Women - chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece.” 

Wilke and Linder also share an aptitude for humour and irony, powerfully enrolling a tongue-in-cheek lexicon – literally as well as visually – to approach a heavily weighted conversation. Linder’s “SheShe” (1981) shows fourteen images including photos of herself as taken by artist Christina Birrer alongside a collection of short prose that cryptically address the viewer: “am I your death, behind my flesh, does my skull smile”; “can I see me, I throw up my screens, I am messy”; “it is not I, who seeks the fool, it is the fool, who seeks I.” Language is central to the process of both artists, who both toy with the malleability of words – words which were once used in ther service of creating legislature and social sanction against women – to critique social, political and gendered conventionalities. 

Their work remains as pertinent as the themes they explored, which continue to dominate discourse around feminism, gender, identity and emancipation. Robinson reflects on the continued relevance of their subject matter: “Manifestations of [these ideas], as well as residual behaviours and attitudes, formed the basis of the #MeToo movement, which has had a tremendous effect across the globe. The breadth of Wilke’s artistic practice, her embrace and experimentation with unconventional materials, and the depth of meaning and interpretation present in her works means that Wilke’s art can speak to and inspire many different audiences in many different ways.”

The union is demonstrative of the phrase ‘there is power in numbers’, similarly to the #MeToo movement, which saw an unprecedented wave of bravery across conventional and social media channels, kickstarting the erosion of the two biggest barriers to sex and gender-related misconduct: disbelief and trivialisation.

Visit the gallery above for a closer look at some of the artworks on display.

Linder | Hannah Wilke is running at Alison Jacques, London, until 11 March 2023

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