Sue Tompkins explores wordplay at Midway Contemporary Art

Sue Tompkins

Sue Tompkins

Sue Tompkins's current show at Midway Contemporary Art, "Its chiming in Normaltown," is for the most part an exploration of words, symbols, and sounds. The Glasgow-based artist (and former lead singer of Life Without Buildings) investigates a series of banal phrases, using repetition and other devices to manipulate the words until they become sounds, images, and impulses.


The majority of the pieces are made with newsprint. Letters or symbols create shapes on the page, often with little poems hidden inside or else there's just a short poem printed alone. 

The poems read kind of like drunk text messages, or tweets sent in the middle of the night, maybe to a particular person, or, more often than not, simply aimed at the abyss. "I'm in Bed, Where are You?" reads one. "Can I get an a Earth drink with you?" reads another. 

Sometimes the words are misspelled. In one poem, she writes in a sea of random slash marks: "I////ACNT///GET///ACK////TO/////NPORMAL///////CAN///I." When you first read it, your mind automatically corrects the misspelled words. But then you realize that they are misspelled deliberately, in this case illustrating the sense of the poem itself.

She also uses quite a bit of word play. In one series, the first poem reads "I'm an American But," followed by the second poem that reads "Butt," followed by a third poem, "I can give you anything," and so on. It's all very stream of conscious. At times it feels a bit too personal, or at least too much like an inside joke, though they are intriguing.

In addition to the text-based works, there are also several textile pieces. Squares of fabric hang loosely on the wall, with safety pins holding up zippers. These pieces are oddly elegant and unfinished looking, as if they are the beginnings of an idea, or a demonstration of a project that was never completed. 

At the show's opening reception on September 7, Tompkins gave a performance as well, consisting of her reading her poem in a spastic manner as she kept an odd cheeky grin. The words were constructed like a word association game, filled with assonance, alliteration, and repetition, interspersed with percussive sounds and a strange hopping tick that the artist would do when she took a pause. Honestly, it was rather excruciating. After a while the performance, despite its quirkiness and intensity, all existed on the same plane, never wavering or offering a break from the personal and yet obtuse poetry. 


"Its chiming in Normaltown"

Through October 20

Midway Contemporary Arts

527 Second Ave. SE, Minneapolis