Veritas Filia Temporis, Time Bringing Truth to Light, a magical truth of Hermetic, gnostic revelation. Sterling breaks down into three characters and we read Tarkovsky to help us grab the issue – ‘… the character image signifies the fullest possible expression of what is typical, and the more fully it expresses it, the more individual, the more original it becomes… Do the images of Leonardo or Bach mean anything in functional terms? No – they mean nothing at all beyond what they mean themselves; that is the measure of their autonomy.’ This is, I hardly need to say, an unfashionable critical space.
I was reading, just the other day, Matthew Collings having a go at the new art scene and in a bit on Michael Landy’s ‘Breakdown,’ an installation put on in the middle of Oxford Street in spring 2000 where the artist destroyed all his possessions in full view of everything, he writes ‘ Sympathetic psychiatric workers offered him free sessions. It doesn’t really seem to add up to Andrei Rublev (medieval Russian icon painter who was incredibly poor and spiritual; Andrei Tarkovsky made a very moving film about him in austere black and white.)’ Indeed Matthew Collins in his deviantly angry new book ‘Art Crazy Nation’ is arguing that critical talk that uses ideas like Tarkovsky does and wants art to measure up with Bach and Leonardo isn’t possible at the moment.
‘Upbringing has to be superseded by self-discipline otherwise he will only be capable of understanding his newly acquired liberty in terms of vulgar consumerism,’ Collins seems to be saying – only in a much lighter, poppier tone that is both attractive and shocking in a way Tarkovsky’s stuff isn’t. These days the mood is that we’ve got to be saying things like ‘ these are modern youth filled times and we’re much more fun, shocking, hip, relevant and so on and those guys – Bach, Leonardo, are just passé like old farts.’ Which is why the Collins tone, indeed the whole Collins style, is so wonderfully weird and suggestive.
Sterling bypasses this. It’s as if there isn’t any problem with being deep and profound and if ‘deep’ and ‘profound’ are jokes to people these days then she doesn’t talk to those people. Hmm. So there’s a motivation that is also ‘deep’ and ‘profound’. I feel shaky facing this stuff. Reach to poetry. ( Oh shit. Maybe Patti Smith… or Tarkovsky’s dad, himself a famous poet… )
‘It all came to pass,
All fell into my hands
Like a five petalled leaf,
But there has to be more.
Nothing evil was lost,
Nothing good was in vain,
All ablaze with clear light
But there has to be more... ‘ ( From ‘Now Summer Is Gone’ – Arseniy Tarkovsky, translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair in Tarkovsky, op cit p 191)
Arseniy in the photo of the dead Akhmatova, the great Russian poet in 1965. Funerals and monochrome historical force – a connection. St Petersburg, white nights, Dostoevsky – someone has been killed, twins sitting in a room, all behaving as if they’re Hamlet, a dead woman with an axe in her head – terrible significance in a city. Is this it? Motivation’s not the word I was looking for – provocation. Better. What was it provoked Sterling? Other than being born?
Manchester. Which is Dostoevsky’s city transposed. Manchester in the West. It’s Manchester that has burned into her mind and there’s no way she’s going to be superficial, even in an ironical way. Or at least, that’s what I’m thinking. Full of doubt, because this stuff is kind of hard, serious, austere, bothersome – each mise en scene (and the music does work like that, cinematically) carries a lodged psychological state of character, of soul, and when the sound and the words meet, at that point then the image is born, the observation image, absolute and specific. ‘Words, words, words, - in real life these are mostly so much water, and only rarely and for a brief while can you observe a perfect accord between word and gesture, word and deed, word and meaning.’ (Tarkovsky ‘Sculpting In Time’p75)
Is this it? ‘I want to be the wise virgin. I come out of the Godly conscience. I am deaf, dumb and blind.’
Like in Laughton where Martha Hatfield came with the wild trance-life of the Puritan child-prophet and the second coming spewing out of her mouth. ‘’Out of the mouths of Babes and Sucklings he hath ordained strength.’ Is this it? Sterling mouths these words silently, in the past, straight into my face. I’m making it up. She never spoke so much as a syllable about any of this. Not face to face anyway.
In Andrey Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker,’the Holy fool who has to guide the writer and the scientist to the room in the Zone only took volunteers. But we all know that Tarkovsky planned at one stage to do a second Stalker where the Holy fool would force people to the Room. Is this it, this quality, where ‘fate was following in our tracks/Like a madman with a razor in his hand’?
Sterling is dealing with terror here, with things that have to be conquered. Personal demons mixed in with public one’s. As ever.
Will you wear a veil? Cover your face soas only your breathing says you’re alive?’ She told me of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, Nelly Long Arms and Awd Goggie, Black Parr and the low black sow who carries off kiddies. I’m making it up again. I’m feeling it’s making a kind of sense though, like I’m improvising out of the wacky spin of her own summons.
She comes in as Eastwood swaggering and glinting his bracken teeth and looking backwards and forwards surrounded by the other craps and soul mates like he was the King of Time, Lord of the Dance and all that fertility stuff. Even then you could see the slaughtered bits of him scattered all around the world and hear the trudge of his woman and sister and wife going after each slab, putting him back together again. Eastwood as Osiris as Humpty Dumpty as (maybe in the last few films) Falstaff. And then finally he’s also she, Sterling.
Whils’t this mythic American manliness keeps on, her spiritual women are reclaiming all those who have been gutted and dessicated on a bed of natron, basted in resins and gums, wrapped up, light as a blown egg, waiting for the movement of the stars and planets, taken out to the Saddleworth Moors by person or persons unknown and into the Underworld, the Black box, the burial chamber - sarcophagus of turd and muck and peat and water......Sterling then withdraws to Moss Side then moves easily towards the very spot where the first man died in the Peterloo massacre, and I read Keats, ‘Ode To Autumn’, a poem about the massacre, a political poem marking out a particular distance between the poem and the reader, as life-like as anything, using laws derived from life, but sticking to you in a strange way, like real life does, real emotions do, unlike the drinking of Coca Cola, say.
What does Sterling know? What is her problem? She knows all this.
That St George is the dragon disguised. Murders his old image. Gets the girl, the town, the kingdom. The lot. So what is St George? Druid priest. Magi in Persia. Philosopher in Greece. Chaldean amongst the Oriental. Brachmanni in India. Gymnosophist in Ethiopia. Turdetanes in Spain. Pope in Rome. These days Templers, Masons, Bankers, heretics, insolent spirits, impostors, false prophets, blind guides, figments, crotchets, sects, Pelagians, Manichees, Simon Magus, Cynops, peculiar churches in Amsterdam, Anabaptists, merry punks, St Ursula and her ten thousand virgins etc etc.
Linder Sterling is embodying this stuff in her work. The Golden legends. Something running through the world like a rib, which splays and splits and out of which arise greater terrors, horrors. The Egyptians tried to focus the powers of these death things, held them by water in vast stones designed just thus, peculiarly right, sinisterly right. It is common knowledge it’s been written about - think ...Hawksmoor, Alan Moore, From Hell, Sinclair, Joblard, Treves, Hinton, Gull, Jack the lad, murders and murders and murders and murders. Rituals locked into the bitter secrets which you can’t just build over. You can’t flatten by forgetting. They’ll rise up anyway. They will emerge.
Clint America of course. Anne Lee America of course. Destroying the people who might have remembered the architecture, the ways, the ceremonies of stone which might for certain times have left the death powers satisfied. But with nothing now to stop them. Son of Sam, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Richard Speck etc etc. The hundreds. The named. Worse, the nameless. The ones still out there. Torturers and killers, the sacrificial priests of the death powers. Spreading amongst the whole vast empire. Blood everywhere. The scarlet angels of death.
Peel back the skin on your tongue and just taste it, for example, in the desperate letters of Engels from Manchester to Marx in the London Library reading room, blood cutting loose from the designated arteries, system- builders sensing their nostrils filling up, caked with the stuff, frightened, seized, writing out ways to staunch the flow. Marxism as blood clot, as the dying century’s drowning sigh for help. Boiled in smoke and the grim funnels of the mills, the dispossessed, the grimy deaths suddenly gripping the world. Schlick revised hedonism to read,’Be ready for happiness’,and we ask in the face of universal anonymous panic, when are these our own deeds and not the mere happenings of history.
‘What is the mark which distinguishes our actions?’asks Sterling here. Some things we do, others befall us. Surely, surely, surely? Practise the freedom to act out of history, out of mere history. Sharpen the knives, cut out the hearts of history. Yet what if the doubt remains, niggles, what if it still comes back into our heads - we didn’t cause our actions, but history, using some completely weirdo double-bluff and feedback, history did it after all?
This stuff reminds you of Gordon Burn’s brilliant writing on Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper (‘Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son’), and you want to go on holiday in Manchester, well, in the old days, the 70’s, you’d go to Blackpool, the well-known holiday resort on the coast not far away.
The dummy anatomies of Nicholson’s Tussaud Show in the old Whitehall Theatre in the west of Blackpool worm around the skull; Burn tells us that that the waxworks exhibition had been set up in 1956, had been developed to include by the mid 70’s a Chamber Of Horrors section with Dr. Crippen, Reginald Christie, Neville Heath, Ruth Ellis and assorted set-pieces of lurid, grotesque and badly constructed (and therefore more effective) set-pieces. Patti Smith starts to sing, Peter Sutcliffe’s visiting, Linder Sterling’s growing up with these charms. A little girl in a man’s world. Manchester to the East from here, and men threatening to define the whole world through his own vulgar degradation. ‘It’s a man’s world.’
Quote from Burns: ‘ “The Museum Of Anatomy” was discretely situated on the upper floor of Mr. Nicholson’s sea-front premises, its entrance no more than a hole in the wall between two of the big display cabinets”...(p 156)
‘The nine stages of pregnancy...Time has eroded definition and basted the developing fetuses and the glistening ropes of internal organs to a uniform oxe-blood colour; the impression is of gaping wounds around the umbilicus, growing progressively bigger, gorier and more congealed. Their antiquity is highlighted by the paleness of the simulated flesh and the freshness of the butcher’s muslin which provides a ‘bed’”... “Four babies faces are obliterated by the sort of green scabs and horrible running sores... filling the room with images of feculence and pus. A hand is thrust deep into the womb, its fingers closed around a deformed foetus.”’
‘In these models you see the awful results of men leading immoral lives before marriage,’ You could imagine Sterling speaking in a deliberate Geordie into a tape recorder, ‘I’m not quite sure when I’ll strike again, but it will definitely be sometime this year, maybe September, October or even sooner if I get the chance. I’m not sure where, maybe Manchester; I like it there, there’s plenty of them knocking about.’ Sterling ventriloquising the source of the power, like someone drawing her enemy in rough charcoal on a piece of paper and then setting fire to it. Voodoo power. She wants to defeat it. Spook up her own magic.
She can hear the soundless terrors entering the world’s ends of London, Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford, and wishes to confront them, obliterate them – find the technology to do this. Anonymous. Out there, closing in, moving out of Ox Rake Brow, Wildcat Moor, Raven Stone Brow, Hollin Brown Knoll; age-old Saxon names, names with devils, history, death-gods and angels attached; Lesley Ann Downey, little lass, gone missing since Boxing day, Saturday, December 26th 1964, aged 10 years and 4 months. Pauline Reade unfound.
And now William Blake sounds off in my ear; between the tiny length between the cup of the ear and the wind-pipe a text ends with,’Note! This Angel , who is now become a devil, is my particular friend: we often read the Bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense, which the world shall have if they behave well. I have the Bible of Hell, which the world shall have whether they will or no.’ Purse lips, to stop words flying. Each movement of the body will pulse and explode the need for words. Muscles separate into doubles, multiply again, again.
Each silence fills the room, 1788, 1789, 14 designs, price, 7s. 6d., 25 plates, 6 by 4 inches, 22 further plates. Marriage. A Song To Liberty. Nocturnal Visions in the desolate, desperate
Preludium to the first book of Urizen/ Of the primeval Priest’s assumed power,/When the eternals spurn’d back his religion,/And gave him a place in the North,/Obscure, shadowy, void, solitary.’
The shaman spurns all the current glissades into pastiche, revivalism, the twitch of style, or the campy spin of reputation.’ Her muscles ease into a physical body of prayer. The last game. Redemption. This was where love was hiding.
Bollock’s gall, valerian, sal ammoniac, brimstone, moonwart, quicklime, clay, piss, saltpetre, tartar, he smelled the things . Oil and petrol, butcher’s swing , the fibres of his brain tearing, as if snagged on a wire. The Flavian age understood the word ‘limes’ to signify a frontier road, ‘ that strip with everything which it contains’ running transversely to mark the limit. Boundary walks; with Sterling you feel she’s reinvented them, reclaimed them. Her head is a mercury phial.
Down by Hanging Ditch, the Byrom House, where by accident were found ‘clandestine histories , plans for the original Globe Theatre, the Rose and five other Elizabethan playhouses…deigns of medieaval Templar churches, early precision instruments, a hidden mystical numerology in the layout of Westminster Abbey…’ Byrom – a Jacobite sympathiser, formed the Cabala Club in 1725 looking for a new model for the Universe…
…Sterling, she forces the flavour of Byrom’s song onto her tongue; she becomes a dream of Christmas, of dark blizzard snow collapsing onto the city from the Snake Pass, hissing Jacobites and shorthand inventions into his brained-out wanderings; a suture of the skull calcified at the crisp moment ; a postnatal expansion wearily concluding. Dreaming of Jemmy Dawson, the blood in her eyes dripped onto the stubble road outside The Old Wellington Inn in the old market place. Linderland is a frightening place. She becomes a man in the world, becomes a way through to another world, where it’s her world, Linder’s world. Or at least, she is trying to blast her way through to the other side of the man’s world.
Long night’s journey; the body moving towards another definition; foramen magnum repositioning, that vital hole where the spinal cord rises up like a flute sound into the skull. The embryonic location changes as the foramen sinks to a place behind the skull facing in reverse, backwards. The head mounts in front of the vertebrae and the eyes snap forward. Glandular inequilibrium.
Mutation. ‘The vaginal canal points forward in mammalian embryos but it rotates back in adults and males mount from the rear.’ Chemicals spilling out onto the unwashed pavements from the anus, glandular development in crimson, orange, blue, pink, crimson, scarlet. Neotenic evolution. Embryonic gill slits, altricial, helpless, down on all fours in the swill gutters, the brown waters, puddles of bracken pools on the corner of Cross Street and John Dalton Street, birthplace under the new rubble of Thomas De Quincey, 15th August 1785, who was to later at a distance write of the Marr baby murder, the little skull first smashed, the windpipe then cut through, missing only the smaller detail, the runt fire…
De Quincey who was baptised in the font of the St Anne Church, meek power centre vaguely linked to lint white flame trails which the Romans had tried to use to stitch up the empire, those failing limes.
Desperate, I’m visiting Dumble of ‘Cranford’, ‘Doomington’of Golding’s ‘Magnolia Street’. Mucus membranes in my mouth, I spat, watched the stuff like foetal balls splatter to the street. Wheezed, gasped for breath. Overwhelmed by nausea. Central Public library in Mosely Street, important source of the transformation, De Quincey with Moss Side behind him, knew enough to understand the power of meeting places; Mamucium between Coccium and Anvio, between Deval and Eburacum, between Bremetennacurn and Aquae (devious, broken legged). Lowland zoneland; the Romanised western reaches; from thebase of the Devonshire-Cornwall peninsula up to the Pennines by way of Manchester, Derby, Sheffield up to the the broken teeth of the Tees. Palaeozoic rock limits, Mendips, Malverns, the Pennines never conquered in its entirety, like a row of knuckles , York, Chester and Caerleon on Usk as focal points…
…here in Manchester, the words whispered on the wind, ‘Where did you come from, baby dear?’ Over and over. Down in Lower Broughton dreaming of ‘At The Back Of The North Wind’ and ‘The Princess and The Goblin’ and half awake, thinking of the crimes within the ‘E’ Wing at Strangeways in the eighties, for example...’
Reading out loud. Manchester’s Turner Street where the fictional death of Harry in Gaskell’s ‘A Tale Of Manchester Life’ truthfully takes place; as close to Sterling’s visions as anywhere else in any writings about that city. ‘The men who had brought it in were sitting near the fire, while several of the servants stood round the table, gazing at the remains. The remains!’
The remains!. Sterling sceances an unknown Manchester buried beneath its Imperial and post-Imperial monoliths, the cross-ways stump location which marked a place between places, which was where routes and journeys began and ended and yet were not resolved. Manchester’s power had always been like that. An overgrown village, even the founding of Lord Delaware’s college had done nothing against this verdict for many centuries, and before that old Mamucium between Coccium and Anvio, between Deval and Eburacum, between Bremetennacurn and Aquae (called devious, called broken legged).
In her creations there’s a Donne-like obduracy, repeating the St Pauls’ Easter Day in the Evening sermon of March 28, 1624, ‘What a death is this life! What a resurrection this death! For though this world be a sea ...’ etc. etc. - and as in a mirror she sees her sleeping self draped in black raiments in a wooden box, the pungent smell of cedar muffling over the sweat and salt of her own fleshy grime – it’s a kind of drag show method-acting to ‘The Smiths’ dog-camp Morrissey/Marr high-art gob.
Remember the 70’s/80’s. Gooch St. on Moss Side where the snake queues for Crack and Special K proved the craving in many of the cities underground populous for the Augustinian separation of mind from body.
Sterling’s fragmented thoughts sweep out of the crimson sky of the setting North Western sun, the interpenetration of Blakean wonder and horror as darkness rolls in quickly. She is speaking out the Hebrew words ‘sani’, ‘karmil’ and ‘tola’ and then whispered with awe ‘Ciccus ilicis’, the ‘scarlet worm’, before breaking into ‘The Sick Rose’ with a knowing scowl.
‘Sterling as Uccello?’ I’m taking too many chemicals here.
‘ 1397 to 1475. Named Paolo Doni. Painter. Italian, of whom his dear friend but damned betrayer Donatello said, ‘Ah, Paolo, this perspective of yours leads you to abandon the certain for the uncertain; such things are only useful for marquetry, in which chips and oddments, both round and square, and other things, are necessary.’ Judas words. Sterling is nodding, seeing the post industrial city fleshing out her inner experience as social experience. A class act. Working class.
Sterling’s been around for a hundred years. She’s older than she looks. The old road from Manchester through Glossop to Sheffield and the old coaching inn at Ashopton in which she had harried and argued in her youth with the likes of the labouring lads from Shutts, Tinwood and Ding Bank farms as well as caught a pint with the Woodlands preacher John Longdon and the assistant keeper of the toll-bar road Eber Marshall who became the last man to take a toll in the village on the 16th September 1875.
On Crook Hill she ruminated, with the chilling remains of Derwent to her left and Ashopton to her right. Both villages were underwater, drowned, hidden and there was a reek of desolation, of ghost town, of sombre gloom which hummed through the Urnes, Coynes and Monuments of the late afternoon.
In 1975 it had been possible to see the village ruins rise above the waters as drought brought the damn to its lowest ebb since construction; but the weird emblems of a dead age and spirit rudely destroyed by willpower and nothing else shivered the confidence of those who still agreed to talk about the benefits of Progress and the benign possibilities of the future. Do this to early punk. Madchester coming on.
Sterling plays out the Lileth story, she who was Adam’s wife before Eve but who was thrown out of the Garden for refusing to cow-tow to male authority and who later on had sex with Adam after he’d been kicked out of Eden too. Her children were the spirits of rebellion and she was known to have eaten some of Eve’s children out of everlasting spite.
Anthrax bacilli breed-convention within the intestine-walls of the Bible-black innards of free-thinkers, Rousseauists, antinomians and Class Warrists; the rebellion of the Bilharzian parasites which resulted in the eternal longing for earthly release and the quest for the southern lands in the twin valleys of the Yangtze and the Yellow River during the Sung Dynasty of 920 to 1279 AD; the wild Egyptian millenarian sea-farer ‘Yellow Jack’ who haunted the upper and lower decks of voyaging ships bringing the clam-hand of miserable death to all who would suck at the water-dribblings of the tumbler-caskets in a grim silence which left wide-eyed speculation and an hysterical raving in his grim wake; the enchanted virus of the Yellow church of Lamaistic Buddhism which dreamed people to death; the pig and the uncle deaths which echoed across a continent from Marseilles to Cracow and back again in a pendulum of parasitism, plague, pasteurella pestis and pork prohibitionism.
Religion’s where you go when you haven’t got any faith anymore.
Maybe we need to think in terms of voodoo, spirits, powers – and I’m thinking of Coleridge when he said we think we don’t need spooks at our own peril. Practical life gets tangled up with driving emotions but likes to erase these emotions from anything too explicitly acknowledged. It’s a pledge to silence, cowardly, or else determined to stay the course, hard and unsentimental. But when we do own up at last and ask ourselves strange questions – like, do you want to die alone? – then we travel, in desperation and relief mixed up, away from the centres of civilisation, looking to make an answer.
A fragment cannot represent a performance. But there’s a technique, laid out even in the fragment, that’s a ritual, a technology almost. Linder Sterling’s CD ‘Clint Eastwood..’ is a weird ‘music of vowels’, a science fiction version of the past, a woman recreating her toil, a timeless myth, an historical past, a personal past, a loyalty to an emotional condition that hasn’t the slightest intention of being overheard. In this we are listening to a type of ‘waulking’ song, the kind of thing you get on remote Gaelic islands such as Barra. These are songs, according to Wilfred Mellars in his tremendous book ‘A darker shade of pale: a backdrop to Bob Dylan’ ( Faber and Faber 1984) ‘… sung by women as they pound away cloth, ‘waulking’ it round in a clockwise direction against a board. The melody is entirely monophonic, so there is no awareness of the duality – the tensions and dualities – of ‘Western’ harmony.’ Sterling powerfully articulates the idea that ‘You find your own vocabulary and when that finally happens , it doesn’t matter that you’re by yourself. You have what you’ve found.’
Maybe it’s Manchester that does this. Some kind of shredded civil engine that spawns dread and terror. Over to the East lours a great wild place where murdered children still lie buried in lost graves. Memories of Hindley and Brady still seem to waft in on the cold wet winds and everyone can be caught shivering undefined feelings even in bright sunshine.
‘Manchester. Too many times dead, annihilated moonlight rises over the Moors: Hindley and Brady are the shadows digging the turf. Anonymous - a giant inside the light in the murderous darkness plunging into abhorrent blue veins, limbs, loins. Children in splattered mud, makeshift graves, native accidents of desolation. The spades square and polish the task.
Knot by knot, day by day, the long string fastens up the little cadavers into slab meat. And the coin they put on each single eye is the single effort twins erect a dragon temple on the Pennines, backbone of England, Albion’s spine.’
Needle and thread. A small girl embroiders a sampler illustrating the facade of Manchester Infirmary. Rain like sludge outside, a single candle in her room turns her face into a mushroom. The girl has sepsis, erysepelas and pyaemia. The sampler is accompanied by the verse: ‘here too the sick their final doom receive’. Swan St, the cholera hospital, 1832, riots, a dead child’s head cut off substituted in it’s coffin by a brick. Needle and thread.
Rumours that the child had been murdered. The decapitated corpse was lifted over the heads of the angry crowd to drum up support. Bonfires were lit. A cholera van was destroyed. Dr. Lynch was attacked. Eventually the missing head was found in the apothecary’s lodgings after a Catholic had defied the riot and calmed it. The head was sewn back onto the body.
“... a decided proof that all was not right at the Swan Street hospital ...The law is not open to the people who may have their relatives carried away and cut up by surgeons.” [The Poor Man’s Advocate]
Upper Brook Street the interflow ceases. A yellow gigantic elephant stares towards the city centre from ‘The Happy Eater’ whilst almost hidden from it, across the road, a graveyard choked with wild flowers, litter, the hump of an extinct church seems to echo it in grey.
Sterling : ‘There’s a tendency to focus on the alter although I am intrigued by the rows of confessional booths with their no entry signs.’ Here’s another clue to what her seriousness is all about then – confronted by powerful resistance, signs of blockage, she wants hidden things to flow, to open up rivers. Manchester is riddled with subterranean rivers and tunnels, sewage systems that are remarkably huge, mysterious, wonderful.
Manchester – where the desolation myth Sterling re-enacts in her performances is a sort of resurrectionist bluff, a way of dealing with intense stuff – with real fear and real anger really felt from the inside – by bringing it all up again as if from the dead, to the surface, making it visible, naming it. The man with no name has a name we all know, and we know him for not having a name. The monstrous ludicrousness of Eastwood’s desolation king, and its power, is placed within this rude magic as if he might be transferred into something differently potent – fear, anger, save me from those things – protect me from them perhaps…
‘Are you going to die alone?’ then isn’t a whinge, and isn’t pitiful – distrust pity says Hitchens to his trainee contrarian in a recent book – no, it’s a threat. What it asks for is sexuality, is an offering, a come-on, a demand all mixed in. The fact that Sterling plays Clint Eastwood – in performing the piece she wears facial hair, cross-dresses, fags it – we are reminded of her performances with Ludus at the Hacienda in the late 70’s – for Philip Hoare these were ‘ confrontational affairs , in which she whipped aside a dress made of red meat (Sterling, like Morrisey is a vegetarian) to reveal an enormous dildo. Her riposte , she giggles, to Buck’s Fizz pulling off their skirts in the Eurovision Song Contest.’ (Philip Hoare ‘ The Woman Who Didn’t Sell Her Work To Saatchi) – in performing Eastwood herself she appropriates something of the myth’s energy, and by the crazy jamming together of Eastwood’s lines with those of the other two characters attempts to change meanings. As if maybe it’s the equivalent of the girl looking straight back and asking ‘What the fuck are you looking at?’ – an heroic fortitude against hazardess odds.
Hanging Ditch runs into Toad Lane in 1736 – now its Todd Lane. Its been Towd Lane, its been Crooked Lane, New Street, Tode Lane, and its where Anne Lee, founder member of the Shakers was born . ‘Simple sincere soul breathings/how greatly my spirit is blessed’ Sterling has her say in the requiem. ‘When I was but twenty four hours old I saw and knew what I saw,’ she also says. St Clare and Clint Eastwood are also voices, and we know that Hazlitt had it right when he said that the imagination can only be appealed to by ‘individual objects and personal interests.’ General and wide-extended consequences are for the public weal, public politics, the smooth. Sterling isn’t smooth.
What she avoids are direct kinetic emotions – it resists the pleasures of lunging, plunging, sousing physicality, and yet there is a polished disturbance in the overall effect, a vitreous fluid of breath, like, (again in Hazlitt this) the glass-blower, creating sentences and sense that are transparent, fermenting and overflowing. Hazlitt’s Manchester – the Peterloo Massacre. Inspiration for Keat ‘Ode To Autumn.’ Veritas Filia Temporis, Time Bringing Truth to Light, a magical truth of Hermetic, gnostic revelation. ‘Molton glass being blown, an always moving human eye – these are Hazlitt’s symbols for writing and publication as a single, unified , continuous act,’ says Tom Paulin somewhere. Listening to Sterling’s strange music, it’s as if she’s found a musical extension of the metaphor.
Eastwood appears as ‘the man with no name’ – but of course anonymity is a joke, a strange double take on erasure, on certainties of masculinity, mythical kings, the wild west and mortal fear – ‘Were you going to die alone?’ he asks in this work - it’s a joke because we all know what the man with no name’s name is. What we get in Leone’s films, the trapped landscape that can’t get away – which is Europe’s version of America, just as Manchester seems at times to be England’s California – God help us – and reason and rhyme make as much sense as Sterling’s iconic design for the cover of the first post- Howard Devoto Buzzcocks’ 1977 single ‘Orgasm Addict,’ and all the other photomontages that updated John Heartfield’s anti-fascist illustrations of 50 years before. You look at it until you’re eyes go blind. You listen to this sound until you’re ears no longer hear anything. Then, you sense, then you might get to join her St Clare and‘think about the boundaries of this mirror.’
There are of course references to America’s Civil War in this new work – and there’s nothing civil about this civic war she autopsies through these three magical contenders named in its title – but she’s more interested in bringing about a moment of heightened power, resonance, with a secret, secretive dance that’s like a negative print of the weird Shaker dance . The sexuality, and Linder’s repossessing of it in terms of gender politics, is a powerful, corrosive and clever twist on a universalised American self identity that is forever masculine. Baptising her three characters in terms of a kind of backwoodsman minimalist hoky – as if Brian Eno suddenly started doing Doc Boggs without changing a thing - there’s something wonderfully unexpected and opposite in this stuff. It’s a mysterious wacked up yet austere mysticism that opposes itself simultaneously in a fused, mocking hypnotic pop you don’t see much of these days in the art world. It’s as if Sterling, who refuses to sell her stuff to Charles Saatchi and is described in certain circles as ‘the missing link between Yoko Ono and Tracy Emin’, is still high serious about bringing something about.
This stuff might bring back the dead. So back again, we have to recall Manchester. Lindow man, found in Lindow moss, victim of a triple death - the knife, the noose, the pool.
The body in a glass case, the clean dark I have to leave as the noises of the secret Gods seep up out of the ground, the head of the child in Swan Street, the cult of the severed head of the celts; history half memorialised, half seen.
Sterling ‘Two years ago I had a car crash. I should have died instantly, but I was saved as two cars stopped to shield me. This woman took me into her car and, as we waited for the police, she took hold of me and said, ‘It’s a man’s world. That man nearly killed you. Be angry.’
Romans couldn’t drive out the old Gods, so Esus became identified with Mercury, Brigantia with Minerva - born out of the head of Zeus. Heads held the spirit and soul. Control your enemy - cut off the head. It’s in the skull. It’s all here.
Carved heads from Glossop, Cheedle, Taxal, Ribchester, Chapel-en-le-Frith, from the site of Roman Mithraeum at Hulme. The dead man in the museum found on Lindow Moss between Mobberly and Winslow in the peat layers, 1st August 1984.
Not the first either - a woman was found up there in ‘83 - when the head was found some man came forward confessing the murder of his wife. They put him away but never found the wife - she’s still out there. When the legs of this new, 1500 year old man’s body was found they reckoned it to being her but it turned out to be this Druid. Ritual murderee .Triple death. ‘It’s a man’s world.’ And it’s pretty fucked over.
Saddleworth Moor - peat and desolation, beauty and horror. Hindley out with the Manchester police trying to find the graves of the murdered children but nothing remembered accurately, nothing found. The dead don’t stay still in these parts.
Sterling : ‘… north Manchester was a place where there was nothing worth fighting for except the prize. So in ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ their money is never spent. We can’t imagine Clint settling down on a nice little farm with his ill-gotten gains.’
13a Denmark Street Moss Side where Ian Brady was inside smelling the disease and drink in ‘54, then Cannel Street, then Cuttell street, then Bannock Street Gorton where Myra Hindley had once been and end up outside number 16 Wandle Brook Avenue Hattersley to feel the power of the silly Greek and Latin slaves of the sword, of those who would deny Heaven and God and Love. Hence the need for St. Clare and Anne.
Sterling, ‘For so long all I ever did was work about how my experience as a woman fitted in with the cultural expectation of women. Unpicking that was a huge moment of liberation and the beginning of Linderland.’
Southern Cemetery in Chorlton, hawthorne hedges and weeds.
We are left bathing in a plethora of psychic mess; Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire ripper, who was arrested in Manchester, killed someone here with a hammer and the ability to leave that alone had become impossible. You listen to the tranced out metallic sounds and you’re again reminded of a primitive magic – draw your enemy, make a doll, and take control. What is there to control? Lippard street and the pornographic Monk Club housed in one of the upper rooms over the Spiritualist bookshop next to number 46, Usher Row and Scarlet Street and Cereno Avenue and Screw Lane and Absalom end and the Grand Old Lurids who ruled the various underworld empires of Venus and furs ,the whirlpools, hideous precipices and fiery torments, the Schykill River Philadelphian self-combustionary messianic delusions which feed all this.
Philip Hoare, when discussing Sterling’s ‘The Working Class Go To Paradise’ which she performed at the Cornerhouse in Manchester in July this year, and at London’s ICA in April, calls Manchester ‘bleak as Nebraska’s prairies,’ as well as ‘looking and acting more like New York every day.’ In Sterling’s primitivist, sensual and severe industrial folk music we are being confronted with recollection, strained and implausible but for all that actual, of Bacon’s comment about the Cimabue Crucifix in Sante Croce in Florence to the effect that it was like ‘a worm crawling down the cross.’ A weird, incredible and personal Veritas Filia Temporis, Time Bringing Truth to Light, a magical truth of Hermetic, gnostic revelation linking her to the kind of sensibility you’ll find in writers Iain Sinclair, Michael Moorcock, Stewart Home and Alan Moore rather than her art contemporaries.
You listen to this stuff and it’s like listening to some completed patience – against all the received wisdoms it seems to suggest that history has been too terrible to learn from and that the catastrophies suggest that our ideas of civilisation are misconceived. In a sense then, what she presents is an imitation of the possession of absolute truth in the form of a sound, ‘…obviating the long – perhaps, indeed endless, path of history.’ (Tarkovsky, op cit p 240)