Hayley Tompkins: Autobuilding

Article by Rebecca Pottinger | 01 Apr 2009
  • Data, 2009

The shells of old mobile phones guard the entrance and exit of Hayley Tompkins' first solo show in Scotland, transforming Inverleith House into a silent, tumbleweed eerie world, at once pre-linguistic and post-apocalyptic. This is no place for the discussion of lunch or cacophonies of hideous MGMT ringtones, thanks. Tompkins' approach to language makes any kind of textual address of this current collection seem an ignominy. Titled 'Autobuilding', semantic paradoxes are thrown up straight off the bat, positing surrealist automatism against connotations of planned, meticulously structured activity. This is the fibre of Tompkins' practice, ‘building’ as verb rather than noun.

The work itself grapples with defining that good old-fashioned split between subject and object that necessitates a being's entrance into language. The seven rooms of Inverleith are peppered with a modest awareness of Heidegger’s notions of the ready-to-hand, a primordial sense that everyday objects and tools are what connect us to the world. Discussing her work, Tompkins continually stresses this fascination of “the extension of hand to object” and the process of “thinking through touch”. It seems logical then that so many of the pieces would be centred on hand-held utensils, from spoons and pearlescent soap dispensers to derelict mobile phones.

‘Data’, an old school Nokia touch pad embedded in unfired clay, hangs by the entrance in place of a light switch. The automatic, almost motor-neurone actions involved in flicking a switch when you walk into a room are seconded by the subconscious choreography we adopt when we knock out text messages. In this sense the phone becomes Tompkins' iconic symbol for our physically mediated connection and resultant isolation from the world around us. The second handset upstairs is split in two, the battery removed. Titled ‘ Tele’ - Greek for distance - the conceptual separation of being and object required for entrance into a communicative linguistic order seems all the more paradoxical.

These bookends set the tone for the frustrated ghostly utterances that echo through the rest of the gallery in the form of unspoken prepositions. There is a definite sense that Tompkins utilises her work for a cathartic effect, attaching imaginary hyphens to the back of each piece in an attempt to bridge or delineate the perpetually indefinable territory between herself and the outside world. What begins as a calmly meditative, sparse collection of feminine pieces subsequently morphs into a pretty anxious, ongoing struggle to define the self against language, personal memory against historical time, and physical space against phenomenological experience. [Rebecca Pottinger]

Until 19 Apr

Open Tue - Sun 10am - 5.30pm. Admission free.

http://www.rbge.org.uk/inverleith-house