Sue Tompkins, 'My Kind Book', 2011, online book and reading.

At the end of last year, Sue Tompkins performed her 2010 work, ‘Hallo welcome to Keith Street‘ as part of the launch for her web-based book My Kind Book at Dia:Chelsea, New York. My Kind Book reveals Tompkins’ relationship towards word and voice. Her act of transposition, moving off the page and into performance, is displayed as a subject in its own right.

Read / Listen to the book.

And watch the performance.


Cara Tolmie will be performing as part of The Voice is a Language on May 4, but in the meantime, I’ve been considering her recent work as part of a forthcoming publication The Sensible Stage, edited by Bridget Crone and published by Picture This, London. The book comes out in May, and I’ll put up the book launch details soon. The following is extracted from the essay on Tolmie’s work, and focusing in particular on Tolmie’s ‘Myriad Mouth Line’, a piece Tolmie performed last October.

The artist notes with a certain wryness:

“Everyone likes to be sung to, and maybe you can play with those desires. The emotional dynamic of performance and the feeling of tension within that space can be subjected to a kind of dispersal, like a discharging of emotional tension that somehow also has the potential to shine a criticality on whatever has come before it. I felt this way about the use of Sinner Man by Nina Simone at the end of Inland Empire [directed by David Lynch].”

The insertion of an incongruous emotional component into the performance points not only to the salient limits of audience expectation, but also to the conditions through which meaning is made, as well as how meaning is (or is not) permitted. In other words, the acceptable flow of performance is unacceptable to Tolmie.

Meredith Monk’s film Book of Days (1988) is a full-length feature that follows the lives of medieval villagers beset by the plague. Drawing parallels between the black death and Monk’s observation of the AIDS crisis in New York contemporary to the making of the film, Book of Days dramatises archetypes in search of and in support of humanity.

You do exercises, you have certain kinds of awareness that you don’t have if you read books. So the films and some of the pieces that I did after that for videotapes were specifically about doing exercises in balance. I thought of them as dance-problems without being a dancer, being interested in the kinds of tension that arise when you try to balance and can’t. Or do something for a long time and get tired.

Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman’s Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square (1967-68) is one of a series of film works that depict the artist interacting with a grid, which is delineated with masking tape fastened to his studio floor. Walking in an Exaggerated Manner… was choreographed by Meredith Monk, who went on to collaborate with Nauman in a number of works including a performance at the Whitney in 1969. Rolling on his hips, Nauman’s campy movements show the threshold upon which gesture becomes content.

Sue Tompkins’ performance works are compilations of finely wrought phrases that skip, stutter and slide through the spoken word. Using repetition and rhythm as counterpoints to content, Tompkins builds richly patterned scenarios that shift between the quotidian and the abstract. Tompkins plays upon the two aspects of human sound production – use (words) and quality (voice) – creating points of rupture between the expectations of the word and its delivery.

As part of THE VOICE IS A LANGUAGE, Tompkins will present a new spoken word work My Dataday (2008/10), while the documentation video presented here is from her live performance ‘Grease’, performed at Tate Britain, London, 9 December 2006.

‘Grease’ appears courtesy the artist and Tate Britain.

Click for video

Meredith Monk was a teacher and performer at the Naropa Institute based in Boulder, Colorado in the late 1970s. Now called the Naropa University, the Institute was a liberal school founded by exiled Tibetan Chögyam Trungpa, and was home to Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetic.

In 1978 filmmaker Costanzo Allione made a short documentary about the activities of the Jack Kerouac School. Narrated by Ginsberg and featuring performances and readings by Monk, Peter Orlovsky, William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Amiri Baraka and many others, the film gently meanders through the daily activities of the school. Fried Shoes depicts the customary pedagogical format of lectures, seminars and crits while also reveling in the unabashed anarchism, enthusiasm, wit and posturing bravado of the school teachers.