Kettle's Yard, Castle St, Cambridge CB3 0AQ


Kettle’s Yard

15 February – 26 April 2020

Review by Clare Robson

Beyond the punk façade of the artist known just as ‘Linder’, there is an intricate weaver of narratives and miner of myths to be found. Kettle’s Yard’s sensory and expansive retrospective makes this apparent.

Kettle’s Yard was the home and site of the art collection of curator Jim Ede, preserved since he moved out in 1973. Ede lived there with his wife, Helen, but her trace in the house is negligible; only her bedroom escaped Jim’s curatorial control and it was here that she retreated when scores of students were invited to converse with Jim and visit his collection. It is Helen’s story that Linder uses as a springboard for the latest works in this show, as well as making her presence felt on the Kettle’s Yard website, where Linder has replaced Jim’s name with an emboldened ‘her’ and ‘Helen’ throughout.

The retrospective starts with Linder’s early photomontages from the 1970s: pornographic images cut with a scalpel from men’s magazines and precisely pasted together with images from women’s fashion and lifestyle magazines. Perhaps the most famous, ‘Untitled’ (1976), depicts a woman, naked and oil-slicked; her nipples replaced with perfectly lipsticked smiles, her head with an iron. In another, a young couple embrace while the woman gently pushes an oversized fork into her eyeball. Photomontage is central to Linder’s practice, but it soon becomes clear that she is not interested in political criticality for its own sake. More, Linder is drawn to the process of unveiling, through unexpected formal juxtapositions, that which is repressed or concealed.

Linder’s sprawling creativity becomes quickly evident in this retrospective. Her slick work as a photographer is a logical extension of her graphic work in print, drawing and illustration. The show dedicates a room to documentation of her performance pieces inspired by artists Barbara Hepworth and Ithell Colquhoun, and a corner in the nearby church to a meditative installation: a huge pile of soft, floury salt under a window, like something you might stumble across in a dream, or perhaps the setting for an ancient ritual.

Some interventions are less thoughtful – the launch of a range of products from the ‘House of Helen’, including scented candles and pin badges on sale in the shop, feels gimmicky and deadening compared to the vitality on display elsewhere. The energy of Linder’s eye is most abundantly obvious in the catalogue, featuring page upon page of echoing shapes and textures, scrapbook-style, from her own work, Hitchcock stills and Greek goddesses, to a plethora of shells, flowers and bodies. Linder’s fascination with the female figure and dark stories of marginalised women adds a certain richness to her work, not immediately apparent from the early photomontage works for which she is best known.

In Helen’s room, Linder has placed sculptures from the ‘Lives of Women Dreaming’ series (2004) featuring neatly plaited hair in a cabinet with a Naum Gabo work from Ede’s collection. Enhancing the atmosphere of hushed intimacy, Linder has created a sound piece that should play through the small hatch that connected Jim and Helen’s bedrooms, an intriguing idea but not working when I visited.

The introduction of her classic photomontages in the house feels itself like a kind of montage, a jarring disturbance to the chalky, tactile Modernism of Kettle’s Yard. Elsewhere her interventions are more difficult to spot: Linder has re-created Jim’s pot pourri recipe, and subtly added her own glasswork made with Jochen Holz to the collection in one of the house’s most luminous corners. ‘I get excited about what’s not on display’ Linder says about the house, and in this show we see the depth of her excavating eye, which remains as sharp as her scalpel.

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