Midway through the Linder exhibition, a new show at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, four words in neon glow from behind a gauzy voile curtain: Anatomy is not destiny.
Borrowed from Freud, the notion as appropriated by British artist Linder Sterling (born Linda Mulvey) seems especially fitting within the context of her highly charged collages. With the precision of a plastic surgeon and the obsession of a stalker, she grafts new eyes and lips onto existing magazine images - and not necessarily to make them prettier. Anatomy, it seems, is in the hands of the one wielding the scalpel.
As the first retrospective on Linder, the show takes us through her gritty early days in Manchester capturing the transvestites at the local Dickens Bar through her involvement with the Buzzcocks. Next, it's onto her myriad manipulations of women from magazines whom she has disfigured, masked or violated with flowers, household appliances or pastry. Pornography with a side of key lime pie: this is how she serves up the images we are fed on a daily basis but that we often fail to digest.
All the while, Linder haunts the show, first in self-portraits and the infamous video from 1978 at the Haçienda (in which she wears a meat ensemble decades before Lady Gaga); later, a series by photographer Tim Walker.
To situate the collages - frequently no larger than a magazine page - within the larger narrative on Linder-style feminism required a well-conceived mise-en-scène. Enter British design studio A Practice for Everyday Life (APFEL) and architects Carmody Groarke, past Wallpaper* Handmade collaborators who also partnered up on the recent Bauhaus show at the V&A.
'It was very important that our approach not be too overtly sexualized or political as that would have detracted from the work,' says APFEL's Stephen Osman. 'We wanted the atmospheres to be fairly ambiguous but we still wanted to allude to them.'
To that effect, grey walls and neon evoke the grittiness of Linder's Manchester period. Once we arrive at her work since 2000, we progress through a spacious winding room divided by the aforementioned curtains, which apparently suggest a certain suburban voyeurism (and, more obliquely, her hometown's former reputation as a 'Cottonopolis'). The walls are provocatively pink - by turns fleshy and Pepto-Bismol. The final series of lightbox images - their juxtaposition of porn and pastry pushed even further - has been mounted in a gallery covered in black vinyl. Does this arouse the appetite or disgust?
To each her own.