The Witches of Oz
Seminal 60s underground publication Oz – grab your collector’s copies in our books section – is back in the culture news this month, courtesy of new work by influential feminist graphic artist Linder Sterling at the Liverpool Biennial, inspired by Germaine Greer.
Working under her surname in Dada-esque style Linder, a born Liverpudlian, burst to notoriety with her record sleeve for The Buzzcocks’ 1977 single Orgasm Addict. When Tate galleries purchased the original artwork Linder based the sleeve on in 2007, she told Time Out: “The late ‘70s were pre-style press, so the images of food, washing machines or record players came from mail order catalogues and mainstream women’s magazines such as Woman’s Own. In the British pornography I used – Fiesta, Men Only – the bodies weren’t toned or airbrushed and pubic hair wasn’t shaved, so there’s a real physicality to them. Now we’re fairly at ease with that kind of imagery, but back then women wouldn’t have been expected to know about porn, let alone look at it or make work with it.” The Tate catalogue cites Linder using an iron, a ‘symbol of female displacement’ as ‘a sexy weapon’.
Linder's art for The Buzzcocks' Orgasm Addict, 1977.
Linder would go on to become Morrisey’s muse (the song Cemetery Gates is apparently about her and she photographed the portrait on the cover of The Very Best of Morrisey), play The Hacienda with her band Ludus while wearing a meat dress almost 30 years before Lady Gaga did at the 2010 MTV Awards, and, recently, depict Mary Queen of Scots ‘Northern Soul dancing’ in a video installation for Chatham House. Critic Amy Tobin says of Linder, “Her work excites all six senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight and the pyschic, and it moves from the expected locales of contemporary art—the gallery—through to the magazine or zine page, the book cover, the stately home, the runway and the stage.”
Mary Queen of Scots dancing to northern soul, for Chatham House.
At this year’s Liverpool Biennial arts festival though she has returned to a pet subject – Oz magazine, and not only the collage style used by both Sharp and Linder herself, but in particular the March 1969 Women’s Lib edition guest edited by first wave feminist icon Germaine Greer.
Oz is viewed as the ultimate counter culture title, although arty, cheeky fanzines can be traced much further back to Wyndham Lewis’ and his futurist bible Blast! in the early 20th Century. Begun in early 1960s Australia, its manifesto was to be a “magazine of dissent”, be that racy psychedelic illustrations by co-founder Martin Sharp or a detailed guide to the Sydney criminal underground.
Bob Dylan cover by Martin Sharp, 1967, available now.
Issue three: Mona Lisa smoking a spliff was considered a triumph of collage at the time, and highly controversial. Available now.
Greer had written for Oz under the name ‘Dr G’ while a postgrad in Sydney. Upon travelling to study at Cambridge and live in London, she took up the mantle again, writing characteristically provocative articles about, for example, how to knit a willy warmer, lampooning the seriousness of post-war feminism. She was also writing her defining work The Female Eunuch while sharing a flat with John Peel. In the run-up to launch Greer was given a whole issue of Oz to make her own, the Women’s Lib Issue. Linder found a copy at an antiques market in 1972, and says it has inspired her ongoing Bower of Bliss series that forms part of Liverpool Biennale.
Video guide to a major Bower of Bliss installation at Southwark Tube station, London in 2019.
While discussing the subject is out of this writer’s pay grade, feminism has for obvious reasons often been uncomfortable with its leading lights expressing overt sexuality. Indeed, big hitters like author Angela Carter attacked Greer after The Female Eunuch was published, and Oz gave women’s liberation firebrand Michelene Wandor the chance to rejoinder in print. So I can only turn to esteemed Observer design critic Caroline Roux, who says of the Bower of Bliss series: “women do not only need safe spaces, but joyful ones too.”
The topic of the Biennale is ‘The Stomach and the Port’ and it intends to profile ‘non western modes of thinking’. Linder, and Greer’s, work challenges the very ideology that they are responsible for sculpting, and is often intended to provoke. But it provides a more deftly communicated manifesto for change than any set of tired orthodoxies.
See Linder's latest Bower of Bliss at College Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BN at least until May 19, most likely much longer. Buy vintage copies of Oz in our books section now.