Piece of Cake


Left: Linder. (Photo: Jannica Honey) Right: Dealer Sorcha Dallas with Chisenhale director Polly Staple. (Photo: Steven Cairns)

TRAVELING ACROSS LONDON on the tube in sweltering heat might seem a challenge, but last Saturday it felt like nothing compared with the marathon thirteen-hour performance at Chisenhale by artist and cult icon Linder. On arrival at the space, located in the farthest reaches of the East End, I was greeted by gallery director Polly Staple, who gave me the rundown. By midday, The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated from the House of FAME, as the event was called, was already in motion, with two of the lead characters engaged in a meticulously choreographed dance sequence and the gallery peppered with a handful of attentive audience members.

The performance, promising highlights such as body shaving and “cake sex,” kicked off at a modest pace that was set to crank up as the day progressed. Although Linder is no stranger to durational work, this endeavor was surely her most ambitious to date. “When Linder was a punk in the 1970s and ’80s,” Staple noted, “she said there was pressure for spiky, frenetic output set against the slower pace of culture. Now that we live in different times, perhaps it’s most interesting to invest in slowing down.”

A large dance mat in the center of the darkened gallery formed the show’s focal point. At either end of the space, drum kits sat on top of temporary platforms, and a stage hosted other musical equipment and, at times, musicians. Colored lights bathed the gallery in a disco glow. Linder’s cut-and-paste aesthetic made up for the composition of much of the performance, with each of the twelve acts colliding in abstract ways: a living collage of relatively static tableaux and vigorous action.

Left: Design critic Alice Rawsthorn and dealer Maureen Paley. (Photo: Steven Cairns) Right: The Linder performance. (Photo: Jannica Honey)

After an hour or so of sitting on the gallery floor, I went backstage to check out the dressing room. Designer Richard Nicoll, who had previously collaborated with Linder on prints for his autumn/winter 2009/2010 collection (a London Fashion Week hit), was on hand to talk about the costumes he had designed for the performance: everything from elaborate catwalk-ready numbers to skimpy and provocative outfits. By the time I left, Studio Voltaire director Joe Scotland was being kitted out in gold hot pants for his cameo.

Throughout the day, we were treated to an array of contrasting dance and musical styles. The sound track, made in collaboration with Stuart McCallum, merged seamlessly with the performance. Linder herself also contributed to some of the memorable audible moments, a mic picking up her whispers and unnerving laughter as she moved around the stage. Outside the gallery, I chatted with dealer Maureen Paley about the event and the traffic it brought to the East End. I was surprised to learn from Frieze Projects curator Sarah McCrory that the day after this Ben-Hur of a performance, Linder and crew would be trotting off to shoot a film.

As the sun set, things began to pick up, the dancing gliding from tango to disco to tap to Northern Soul. At one point audience members (including design guru Alice Rawsthorn—sporting her own chic blue Richard Nicoll dress) joined in on the action. Many of the visitors who had dropped in throughout the day filtered in for the final hours. Linder returned to the stage in an all-black outfit and Minnie Mouse ears, a parade of slow-motion performers all waved out to the audience for the last time, and the event wound down to its conclusion to resounding applause.

Steven Cairns

Left: Studio Voltaire director Joe Scotland. Right: Linder with stylist Anthony Campbell. (Photos: Steven Cairns)