(selected by Sarah Lowndes)
'Performance poetry that moves from the page to the voice, from speech to song, from song to signal, from signal to pure sound.'
Sue Tompkins' object-based works include collages and sculptures formed from the pages of high fashion magazines, and assemblages using marginal, offbeat materials such as hessian, empty mineral water bottles and small gold earrings. The exhibition Sounds of Grass (held at Transmission in Glasgow in 1998) was a collaboration with Tompkins' twin sister, the painter Hayley Tompkins, and revealed the idiosyncratic processes that underpin her practice. Details such as a neon pink seam sewn along the edge of a sackcloth picnic blanket, or a cluster of footprints left unswept in a dusty corner reflected the way in which the performative is often implicated in her practice.
Her solo show at The Modern Institute in Glasgow in 2001 was comprised of a combination of works which foregrounded her disparate vocabulary of forms. The exhibition included naive felt tip pen on paper drawings, works such as 'The Advance' (2001) composed of scissored scraps of dark fabric and combinations of objects, such as a Meret Oppenheim-esque fur pompom placed in the mouth of an empty mineral water bottle. Tompkins has often worked collaboratively, notably within the cross-disciplinary artists collective Elizabeth Go (with Hayley Tompkins, Cathy Wilkes, Victoria Morton and Sarah Tripp), producing performances, installations and short films.
However, since the late 90s the majority of Tompkins' work has been in the field of live spoken word performances and musical recordings. Tompkins was lead singer in the acclaimed art-rock band Life Without Buildings from 1999-2002. The group's spiky, energetic sound was compared to various punk/new wave antecedents including The Fall, Patti Smith, PiL and Television, but it was Tompkins' unique vocals that set them apart from other contemporary bands revisiting the CBGBs era. Her stream of consciousness lyrics, moved from emotive first person statements ('you did what you had to do') to quotations from a wider range of influences, both musical and art historical. However, it was Tompkins' innate rhythmic sense that added an extra dimension to the sound of the band, whereby a simple phrase (such as 'looking in your eyes') would be repeated several times, each time with a different inflection, the various stresses used releasing different layers of meaning. The band released three double-A side singles and the album 'Any Other City' (Tugboat, 2001) before splitting up in 2002.
Subsequently Tompkins has worked collaboratively with a number of artists working with sound and/or performance, for example the R.D Laing inspired piece 'Be Dear Crazy Loud' (2003), which she developed with the Glasgow-based artist Luke Fowler. Tompkins has also given a number of solo performances, such as 'More Cola Wars' (2004), which showcased her technique of incorporating snatches of popular song and borrowed texts into a personal song/narrative. In this case, the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' provided the framework for an abstract confessional performance of unique intensity and humour.
As is characteristic of Tompkins, the emotional content of the piece was interrupted by the insertion of seemingly banal phrases such as 'I never stay in hotels' or 'I read it in a magazine', and half-sense fragments ('or / or / oror / or / hot countries / hot / or hot countries'). The audience works to hold in their mind the shifting frame of references. The rhythmic effects wrought through Tompkins' breath control, foot movements, pauses and smashed punctuation render the allusive content of the work more difficult to reach, but more ultimately far more memorable than in a standard narrative or pop song.
Sarah Lowndes 2005
Sue Tompkins (b. 1971) studied painting at Glasgow School of Art graduating in 1994, and since 1997 has worked collaboratively with the collective Elizabeth go (Victoria Morton, Sarah Tripp, Hayley Tompkins and Cathy Wilkes).
Tompkins recent projects include When it broke, a two-person show with Hayley Tompkins, Artforum Berlin, with Giti Nourbaksch Gallery, Berlin (September 2005), and a two person show/live performance with Hayely Tompkins, West London Projects, (October 2005).
Tompkins will be participating in In The Poem About Love You Dont Write The Word Love at CCA, Glasgow from 12 September to 28 January. This show takes the distinction the French critic Serge Daney made between the image and the visual as a starting point for a selection of works. Through various strategies of dislocation or slippage, these works stage an unsettling tension that challenges visual conventions in an increasingly mediated culture.
Participating artists and filmmakers include: Ayreen Anastas, Matthew Buckingham, Francois Bucher, Bruce Conner, Bernadette Corporation, Jeremy Deller, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Harun Farocki, Jean-Luc Godard, Sharon Hayes, Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, Gareth James, Emily Jacir, Alexander Kluge, Phillip Lai, David Lamelas, Simon Martin, John Menick, Avi Mograbi, Walid Raad, Lucas Ospina, Giulio Paolini, Mai-Thu Perret, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jose Alejandro Restrepo, Marc Robinson, Keith Sanborn, Allan Sekula, John Smith, and Andy Warhol.
Sue Tompkins lives and works in Glasgow and is represented by The Modern Institute, Glasgow.
> See Hayley Tompkins on Open Frequency.
Michelle Cotton, 'No More Cola Wars' (Review of Sue Tompkins' performance)
Passing a billboard for Dasani water on the outskirts of Glasgow city centre a friend shared a theory that Coca Cola's controversial bottled tap water, recently recalled from shop shelves, was the... read on
Moira Jeffrey, ‘When a picture paints’ (Review of Country Grammar)
Country Grammar (Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, 2004) takes its name from a work by Sue Tompkins. Tompkins is a wonderful shape-shifting artist whose work is impossible to pigeonhole. She is an... read on