Advertisement

Luke Fowler and Sue Tompkins

The Modern Institute, Glasgow, UK

In Sue Tompkins’s text-based performances, words bob, weave and reverberate, their sounds and meanings stretched and remade. For Luke Fowler’s film Country Grammar (with Sue Tompkins), (2017), we see and hear Tompkins as she reads the 2003 piece from which the film takes its title but, just as a literal understanding of the words can sometimes slip from our grasp in a flurry of repetition, Fowler’s visual grammar strays from its subject too. While the 18-minute film, transferred to digital from 16mm, includes every word and nuance of Country Grammar, this is no straightforward documentation of the work.

It begins with Tompkins in a recording studio, a pink microphone in one hand, a fixed mic in front of her, as she reads from individual sheets of A4 paper, their corners curled slightly with age. The camera scans the space, flitting and shaking, coming to rest on Tompkins as she rocks and rolls, her gently rhythmic movements suggestive of some kind of word-induced trance. She is filmed from the front, the side, behind, below, her words out of sync with the pictures as she smiles and talks.

web_7.-tmi-fowll-43346-still.jpg

Luke Fowler, Country Grammar (with Sue Tompkins), 2017, film still, 16mm film transferred to digital, 18 mins 29 secs. Courtesy: the artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow, UK; photograph: Patrick Jameson  

Luke Fowler, Country Grammar (with Sue Tompkins), 2017, 16mm film still transferred to digital. Courtesy: the artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow, UK; photograph: Patrick Jameson

 

We’re told in the accompanying gallery text that ‘Fowler’s main intent was to record Tompkins from a variety of aural and visual perspectives,’ and the use of multiple microphones – they were also installed around the studio – is reflected in the film’s performative presentation. With the screen positioned on the gallery’s back wall, two speakers to the left and right provide a forensic, multi-channel soundtrack that shifts from back to front and side to side. This attention to sonic detail can be seen in the wider installation, too – the concrete floor of the gallery’s Aird’s Lane space has been carpeted and each of the painted orange side walls features an acoustic panel. Spot-lit on the back wall are four of Tompkins’s small abstract paintings (all 2017).

From one of two simple wooden benches, the effect of this considered presentation is a clean, resonant sound – the different channels of sound rise and fall as we hear pages turning, the wind in the trees, a motorcycle passing by. All this while Tompkins’s words keep pulling the viewer in, even as Fowler’s camera cuts away from her performance, his visual roving taking us from close-ups of her restless, almost dancing feet in yellow and pink trainers to the faux countryside of a Glasgow park. It’s this latter footage – a collection of unrelated scenes providing a contemplative echo to Tompkins’s insistent delivery – that makes up the largest part of the film’s imagery. We roam from street to domestic setting, a children’s play area to the inside of a crammed fridge – prosaic sequences with seemingly no direct link to Tompkins’s text.

web_11.-2017-st-countrygrammar-tmi-bricksspace-install.jpg

Sue Tompkins, ‘Country Grammar’, 2017, installation view, The Modern Institute, Glasgow, UK. Courtesy: the artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow; photograph: Patrick Jameson

Sue Tompkins, ‘Country Grammar’, 2017, installation view, The Modern Institute, Glasgow, UK. Courtesy: the artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow; photograph: Patrick Jameson

Since Country Grammar was first performed nearly 15 years ago, our relationship to both words and images has clearly shifted. Listening and watching in 2017 – and also reading each page of the text in the accompanying A5 pamphlet – it’s difficult not to think of social media threads and status updates; Instagram feeds and Snapchat filters. Such developments could, on the one hand, prompt us to ask of the film, ‘Why now?’ Is this, to repeat a term used by Tompkins, simply ‘a reminisce’, an attempt to capture ‘The faded page / Like a dream’ (Tompkins again). Yet, rather than just a reaffirming of memory, Fowler’s treatment foregrounds the urgency and fluidness of the spoken word; crucially, its presentation lends the film a performative, live feel, even though for much of it Tompkins is visually absent. In the battle of words versus time, language has it.

Main image: Luke Fowler, Country Grammar (with Sue Tompkins), 2017, film still, 16mm film transferred to digital. Courtesy: the artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow, UK; photograph: Patrick Jameson

Chris Sharratt is a freelance writer and editor based in Glasgow. 

Advertisement

Most Read

Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
The disconnect between public museum programming and private hire couldn’t be starker – it’s time for the arts to...
In further news: Angela Gulbenkian sued over Kusama pumpkin; and Pussy Riot re-arrested immediately after release from...
With Art Week in town, a guide to the best exhibitions to see, from sonic surveillance to Ronnie van Hout’s showdown...
Moving between figuration and abstraction, the New York-based painter and teacher made work about in-between spaces and...
Trump’s State Department is more than 3 months late in announcing its national pavilion – testament to the chaos...
The continued dominance of UK-US writers makes a mockery of the Man Booker’s ‘global outlook’
The fashion photographer has been accused on Twitter of ripping off another artist – with both represented by the same...
Katharina Cibulka has stitched ‘As long as the art market is a boys’ club, I will be a feminist,’ across her alma mater...
The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018