Linder’s “The Bower of Bliss” for Art on the Underground

This large-scale public project celebrates women and explores how they're represented

Every year, almost 17 million journeys are made via the Southwark Underground Station in south London. As of yesterday, instead of regular billboards, commuters are to be met by a new 85-meter-long artwork by Linder, who has been an artist in residence for Transport for London’s Art on the Underground project for the last four months. Her background as a part of the Manchester punk scene in the 1970s and her history of feminist artworks makes Linder an exciting choice. But it also makes sense—this year, the project celebrates the fact that it’s 100 years since women got the right to vote in the UK by only working with women artists, including Heather Phillipson and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

by Benedict Johnson

Linder’s vision for her artworks was inspired by Moki Cherry’s idea of “the stage as a home, and the home as a stage.” Here, the “station is a stage and the stage is a station,” she says. “We’re surrounded by billboards, often with mundane adverts and messages. This is such a unique opportunity to say something over 12 months and so many people will see it. My billboards are a stage of sorts, with various characters performing across them.”

Courtesy of Thierry Bal

Those depicted, the “characters,” are all women—eight in total, five of whom work for Transport for London. Two of the women, Jasvir Kaur and Lauren Fitzpatrick, are close friends of Linder’s and just happened to be in town. “I predominantly work with images of women—I always have—and this year we’re celebrating 100 years since women got the vote. But sometimes that’s been done in a way that was quite obvious or literal. I wanted to do something that’s a bit more oblique, but still very much about women’s voices and women being represented, politically and socially,” Linder explains. “It’s organic to work with friends rather than hiring models. And they let me do all sorts of things to them—including pouring custard and food coloring on them! So often media images of women are saccharine and sweet, and I suppose this is a way of commenting on that.”

The images with the food coloring were shot by a product photographer, and appear digital, but still realistic. Linder explains, “You can see nose hairs—not usually something you see in ads—and how the food coloring is melting in the pictures. I worked with a product photographer because I wanted the kind of objectivity that comes from shooting products, as that’s how women are often shown in advertising.“

Courtesy of Thierry Bal

Even though the billboards look like the photo montages that Linder is known for (including the “Orgasm Addict” cover for Buzzcocks that was her breakthrough) they’re made using a new technique. “It’s all created physically under a camera. The montage, if you want, is happening under the lens of camera, and I placed the cut-outs of the images on top of the models, who are lying down. It’s very exciting; I haven’t seen images like these before.”

The artworks also reference the local area—some of the cut-outs, for example, are mummy eyes from Southwark Council’s Cuming collection. “There’s also a foot from Londinium, Roman London, because as soon as you go down into the station, you’re parallel with Roman Britain. You’re walking on ground the Romans walked on, and that gives me a tingle down my spine,” Linder says. Other parts of the collage include roses by Marianne North, an artist who travelled the world and painted in the 19th century.

Courtesy of Benedict Johnson

Linder herself feels it’s easier to be a female artist now than it was when she started. “I think there’s a lot of work that still has to be done, but predominantly feminist historians are working diligently in the cold face of art history on our behalf. It’s a lot easier than it was in the 1970s, thank goodness.”

Courtesy of Thierry Bal

However, she points out that as artists go, she’s still not the obvious pick for public art. “That TfL is doing this is a credit to this new generation of curators at Art on the Underground. They’re willing to take risks; I’m not a safe choice, as my work is often seen as controversial, but they were willing for me to push against boundaries and limitations.” For Linder, it was also an opportunity to democratize art. “Art galleries are still rarefied spaces that most people don’t visit regularly. Showing the artworks in the underground puts them out there for everyone.”

The Bower of Bliss will be on view though October 2019, and a performance that is part of the show will take place tonight, 9 November, 2018. In February 2019, Linder will have a solo exhibition at Modern Art, London.