Sue Tompkins @ The Modern Institute, Glasgow

The energetic and vital career and works of Sue Tompkins are the focal point of a new exhibition in The Modern Institute.

Review by Jonathan Coward | 02 Nov 2017

“This is a reminisce!” shouts Sue Tompkins in Country Grammar (2003), and indeed, this is. Despite being one of her earlier works, the performance piece is the focus of a new film by Luke Fowler, a previous collaborator and Derek Jarman Award winner.

For this, Tompkins’ fifth Modern Institute exhibition, the Aird’s Lane gallery space has been transformed into an auditorium, its walls covered in untidy orange emulsion and a selection of small paintings by the artist. Her wall-projected performance is a stream-of-consciousness game of word association, backed by an internal metronome that paces her distinctive ‘shout-sung’ delivery. Phrases are abstracted, but in series, and Tompkins’ textual process is always on display. Within ‘verses’ there is no jump in cognition that isn’t directly spoken: “for you faster/ four years later/ this is for you faster.”

Fowler’s collaged video runs parallel, though not in-sync, with Tompkins’ verbal unfolding. His 16mm camera shifts from recording studio, to domestic interior, to outdoors, each time presenting a procedural interrogation of the everyday: removing books from a shelf, peeling back a corn cob husk. There are moments when meaning almost accumulates, before being discarded in a kaleidoscopic flourish for a juicier fragment of word or image.

In the adjacent Brick Space Gallery, a new body of Tompkins’ painting is also on display. Her use of shop bought canvases and from-the-tube colour reflects the reworking of the commonplace found in her performance. Unlike recent exhibitions of her painted works, the use of text, here, is limited. Images tread a fine line between abstraction and representation, with thickly layered colour obscuring any semblance of fixed meaning: a toothbrush, sort of; maybe a glue-smeared horizon. This is wordplay reflected as paint-play. The art of transience and pure process.

Sue Tompkins, The Modern Institute, 3 Aird's Ln, Glasgow, until 4 Nov