Commuters bustling into London’s Southwark tube station can now experience the rapture of Art of the Underground’s latest commission. Linder has shrouded the station façade with an 85m long street-level billboard depicting a paradise of female pleasure, the result of a four-month immersion as the borough’s very own artist in residence.

Linder emerged from her research with a curious collection of objects and narratives to guide her complex installation for the station. These included a mislaid prosthetic limb unearthed in Transport for London (TfL) lost property and stories of Southwark women including the 19th-century globetrotting horticulturalist Marianne North and the sex workers of AD43 Londinium.

In The Bower of Bliss, Linder’s hand-cut collages are sourced from print media and advertising campaigns centred on the female body. Historical references, fragmented pornography and high fashion are fused into vibrant, ambiguous compositions – fleshy erotica tempered with flora and doused in sweet, sugary foodstuffs.

Courtesy of Linder and Modern Art / Stuart Shave

This apparent layering of feminist critique is not so much a protest as a means of liberating female pleasure for female pleasure’s sake, and in this case, seizing centuries of the male gaze through a woman’s lens. During its year-long tenure, the piece will develop as Linder adapts the work in tandem with London’s fluctuating sociopolitical landscape.

Linder is no stranger to liberating her work from gallery confines, but with 16.71 million journeys clocked annually through the station this commission will eclipse her typical reach. ‘The ephemera with which I work will be seen at its largest scale ever, in its most public arena ever, and for its longest duration,’ she says. Linder will also put her stamp on the 29th edition of the widely circulated TfL pocket Tube map.

The art-led initiative dates back to 1908, when then-British transport administrator Frank Pick was seeking to spice up commuter monotony. He commissioned artists to design posters to inject visual relief into the Tube’s tunnelled labyrinth. Murals, mosaics and graphic designs began burrowing their way into platforms and into ticket halls. Now known as Art on the Underground, the scheme boasts a star-studded lineage of artists that includes Brian Griffiths, Cindy Sherman and Sarah Morris.

Photography: Thierry Bal

The Bower of Bliss tackles a timely topic that not only nods to the progression of women’s rights, but also confronts a modern era in which gender inequality is still rife. A study conducted by the Freelands Foundation in 2017 revealed that women were responsible for just 13 per cent of the UK’s most notable public artworks since 2000. Art on the Underground seeks to improve those statistics. Linder’s commission is the latest addition to an all-female cast for #BehindEveryGreatCity, a major 2018 campaign by the Mayor of London coinciding with the centenary for the Representation of the People Act, which gave women the right to vote. 

Head westbound to Gloucester Road and Heather Phillipson’s commission My Name is Lettie Eggysrub still consumes a large portion of the disused platform four. The artist’s cartoon-like installation accompanied by disturbing video commentary on the ‘tortuous’ business of egg consumption is enough to make anyone consider veganism. Go southbound and Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s group portrait depicts family unity in a fictional home drawing on community life in Brixton and the wider diaspora in Britain.

‘Art on the Underground’s 2018 programme is bringing a broad range of female artist’s voices to London,’ says Eleanor Pinfield, who heads up the scheme, ‘questioning dominant power structures of the city.’ §