Ruth Barker

Octagon Upon Octagon (Text)

2008
Tramway, Glasgow
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Once upon a time.
She said:
In a dark dark town was a dark dark street. In the dark dark street was a dark dark house. In the dark, dark house was a dark dark room. In the dark dark room was a dark dark chair. In the dark dark chair a dark dark woman told a story. She said,  

In a dark dark town was a dark dark street. In the dark dark street was a dark dark house. In the dark dark house was a dark dark room. In the dark dark room was a dark dark chair. In the dark dark chair a dark dark woman told a story. She said,

A structure is built, octagon upon octagon, until it contains within itself the possibility of falling not through external impact, but through internal collapse. The structure waits, infinitely balanced against itself, until the octagons of its height reach resolution: to return to earth, or remain in the sky.

Art has a relationship to physical space. All art exists in relation to at least one location because art may be perceived by an audience in the first instance only through the information provided by our physica l sense: Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing.

Art breathes physical space in the same way that we do, even when it is purely an idea.


Once upon a time there was the idea of a girl called Galanthus.
Once upon an earlier time there was the idea of the Mother of Galanthus.
The Mother of Galanthus lived in a city, and at that Once Upon A Time all the men of the city had dark skin and dark hair and dark eyes, and all the women of the city had dark eyes and dark skin and dark hair.
The Mother of Galanthus had hair the colour of the parts of trees that weave together under the ground. She had two great clear eyes and if you want to see the colour they were you will see it in the feathers of a crow’s belly. Her skin was the colour of the strongest clay that bakes under your heel in the sun, that holds you up while you walk, that holds you down when you lie, that cradles you when you die and that covers you with its strong hand. The Mother of Galanthus was tall and she walked with a smile and a stride and she was light and fast and clever.

The Mother of Galanthus was tall and she smiled and she walked with a smile and a stride and she was light and fast and clever. And maybe that’s as good or maybe that’s as bad as being beautiful. And maybe that’s as good or maybe that’s as bad as being rich. Galanthus’ Mother worked as a maid in a rich woman’s house, where she made the bread and washed the floors and swept the step. But she was tall, and she smiled and she walked with a smile and a stride and she was light and fast and clever.

Now this is the story of how The Mother of Galanthus took the attention of the God Priapus, and how the Godhood of Priapus stood to attention when his attention was taken by Galanthus’ Mother. Priapus chose to call himself the God of Physical Love, but he was just the God of Insemination, whether Love was involved or not. Priapus was so masculine that he didn’t even have a mother. Or maybe he was just so much a man that he couldn’t tell one woman from another, but his father was Dionysus, God of Wine and Revelry, and Dionysus, God of Wine and Revelry, was conceived in the belly of a woman but that is not from where he was born. 

Was conceived in the belly of a woman but that is not from where he was born.

Was conceived in the belly of a woman but that is not from where he was born. 

This is how it happened:

Zeus was sleeping with a woman but the woman Zeus was sleeping with was not his wife. The wife of Zeus was Hera, Queen of all the Gods, and when she found out about her husband's infidelity;  when she found out about her husband's infidelity;  when she found out about her husband's infidelity and when she found out that there was a baby on the way, she was angry.

Hera was venomous in her jealousy. And she was revenged.

This is how it happened:

Hera went to see the woman who was sleeping with her husband, and she went disguised and she went unknown and she went with some advice.
“Ask this so-called God for proof of his identity” she counselled sagely. “After all, he could be anyone.”

Hera infected the woman with a sudden and compulsive doubt, and so she sent her to a doomed confrontation with Zeus’ Majesty.

“Prove your divinity to me.” The woman demanded..
“Anything.” He told her. “Anything.” And he was imagining golden fountains, or changing the seasons of this place from summer into winter, or moving the planets and the stars and the sun, or raising great armies with the raising of his hands.
“Then cast off your disguise. Show yourself to me as Hera sees you in your naked Godhood.”  Zeus was appalled by her words. He could not deny her eveb though he knew that to obey her request was to condemn her to an awful annihilation.
Zeus had given her his word and he was bound to it. ‘Anything’ he had said ‘Anything.’

And so, this is how, in grief, Zeus came to the woman’s bed for the last time.
In grief, this is how Zeus came to the woman’s bed for the last time as her lover and her murderer.
In grief, this is how Zeus came to the woman’s bed for the last time as her lover and her murderer and as his true self.
In grief, this is how Zeus came to the woman’s bed for the last time as her lover and her murderer and as his true self and as an atom bomb; came as a sun-spot, came as a blast of superheated light and came as burning speed.
This is how Zeus came to the woman’s bed as an idea that incinerated her as she sought to kiss a burning nova.
Zeus turned thought itself to flaming obliteration in the arms of intention, folly, belief.
As towers fall and art becomes a folly in the darkness, lost without a place, the woman was reduced to Nothing, as Hera laughed chasms at her mortal ignorance and folly. But the story goes on: As Hera laughed, Zeus stooped.


Zeus pulled the wet foetus from his lover’s burning womb and stole it into an incision in his own thigh. Flesh in flesh, brain in thigh, infant arms encased in a father’s skin, hidden, the baby reached full term and so became twice born as Dionysus, God of Wine and Revelry.

And Dionysus, God of Wine and Revelry, when he was grown, although he himself was born of lies and murder, he chose to trick and rape again, and in doing so he begot Priapus, who made the act of insertion holy and devoutly re-enacted it as often as he could.


Towers are raised and belief becomes myth becomes story becomes art becomes speculation as the centuries truncate, and Galanthus’ Mother walked back to her mistress’s house, and the God Priapus saw her legs walking tall in the sun, beating the soil with a soft tread, turning the world on its axis through her paces. Priapus wanted to climb those legs and plant his flag at the top of them, and so he ran ahead of her to the kitchen and he turned himself into a tall chair. Galanthus’ Mother was tired when she got back and so she sat herself on the tall kitchen chair to rest a moment before she got back to work. Galanthus’ Mother had walked a long way to get home and so even though she found the seat a mite uncomfortable, she just sighed and closed her eyes and waited for her tiredness to leave her.

And after a time Galanthus’ Mother stood up to do her work and cook her mistress’ food. And she didn’t know it, but even as she stood she was already carrying Galanthus, a daughter, in her smooth belly.

And after a time Galanthus’ Mother stood up to do her work and her mistress’ food. And she didn’t know it, but even as she stood she was already carrying Galanthus, a daughter, in her smooth belly.

And after a time Galanthus’ Mother stood up to do her work and cook her mistress’ food. And she didn’t know it, but even as she stood she had already lost her own name. She has become only the Mother to one other, and not a woman herself at all. Now nobody knows her name.

And after a time Galanthus’ Mother stood up to do her work and her mistress’ food. She didn’t know it, but even as she stood she had already lost her own name. She has become only the Mother to one other, and not a woman herself at all. Now nobody knows her name.

And after a time Galanthus’ Mother began to swell and, as time passed, things in due course took their places. In good time the baby Galanthus was born. Although still no-one (least of all her mother) knew who was her male co-author, the birth was a long one, and Galanthus’ mother thought that she would die, but that was nothing to the shock when the baby was passed to her to hold. Beneath the blood and the blotches and the blanket and the basic metabolism: the baby did not closely resemble her.

This wriggling baby girl did not have hair the colour of darkness and her skin was not the colour of strong clay, but this hot bunch of life, still with her own birth-mess clinging, had skin as pale as the blind roots of marsh-plants and on her bald head was a clump of red hair. But her mother still loved her, because the baby’s eyes were as dark as a crow’s fat belly, and so she knew her and held her as her own.

Galanthus grew up to be slight and pale and red-haired but she was quick and busy with her quick busy white hands and her quick busy black eyes. She was a red flame over her mother’s work, and she was red and white and black all over as she ran chattering her red and white and black thoughts through the streets of the city.

When Galanthus was old enough to work she gained a position in the great house of Alcmene and Amphitriton, and her quickness and nimble fingers were praised by the whole household. At times she seemed as though she filled the house with her speed and rattle, although her tongue was as sharp as her dexterity and not always quite so welcome.

Alcmene of Argolis was big with her own pregnancy when Galanthus went to work for her, and as the weeks moved on Galanthus became afraid at the size of her mistress’ belly. The maid soon became indispensable about the house, and was trusted to help her mistress with her closest tasks. For as Alcmene’s time grew near she swelled
bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger
until she could neither sit in a chair nor walk about her house in comfort. Imprisoned by her own flesh she began to fear the coming birth, and spoke to Galanthus with increasing dread of omens and of bad dreams. She was vast, and a nagging guilt that she did not admit even to her trusted maid made her offer a prayer to Lucina, the God’s midwife, asking her to help when the pains started.

“Lucina: You tend the most noble of the noble arts that keep us from the wrongs of death. Hear me now, and help me when this baby asks to know the world. Do not allow him to breathe my last breath with his first. Do not bequeath this house a time of mourning when it should have a time of joy. Lucina, I don’t want to die.”

Lucina heard Alcmene’s prayer.
Hera heard Alcmene’s prayer.

Hera: so often betrayed, so often revenging.
Hera: again she has been betrayed. Again: she will be revenging.

Hera told Lucina a story.
Hera told Lucina the story of the truth of Alcmene’s distress.
Hera told Lucina the story of the truth of Alcmene’s distress, and bought Lucina’s abeyance with threats.

Alcmene’s pains would be great, because there was not one baby within her, but two. Alcmene carried twins conceived in deceit by different fathers. Alcmene carried twins conceived in deceit by different fathers. Alcmene carried twins conceived in deceit by different fathers.

This is how it happened:

Nine months ago, Amphititon had been absent from his house, and Zeus had slipped his immortal deception into this appealing vacancy in the guise of a mortal man. In the guise of a mortal man Zeus had seduced the lovely Alcmene and conceived a child in secret. When Amphitriton had returned that evening, his guilty wife seeking to atone for her wrongdoing, took her husband to a marriage bed still warm from earlier occupation, and conceived the first child’s twin. Now. Carrying both inside her, she rightly feared the consequences of her actions.

Hera finished with instruction:

“Lucina, I forbid them from survival.”

As Hera spoke, Alcmene’s birth pangs started, and Lucina left Olympus to take her place in the city.

Lucina sat before the altar in Alcmene’s home.
Lucina sat before the altar in Alcmene’s home and was un-noticed.
Lucina sat before the altar in Alcmene’s home and was un-noticed though her legs, her arms, her fingers crossed over each other, and the twins could not be born no matter how hard Alcmene pushed and screamed and bled and tore and shouted and bled and lay and squatted and bled and sobbed and bled and groaned and bled and turned sick, pale and grey and bloody and weak in her labour.

For seven days and seven nights Alcmene and Lucina fought, the one using every part of her matter to force the first child out, the other using every matter of her part to keep it in the womb, stopped up with flesh and choking. Stopped up with flesh and choking

Throughout the bloody battle Alcmene’s maids brought her water and mopped her brow, and brought her water and mopped her brow and brought her water and mopped her brow and joined in beseeching the Gods, and brought new sheets for the bed that ran wet with blood and sweat. Neither eating nor sleeping Galanthus ran back and forth to try and ease Alcmene’s horror and her screaming.

On the evening of the seventh day Galanthus noticed Lucina seated at the altar.
On the evening of the seventh day Galanthus noticed Lucina seated at the altar, and saw Lucina doubled up with effort.
On the evening of the seventh day Galanthus noticed Lucina seated at the altar, and saw Lucina doubled up with effort and Recognised. The Execution. Of A Death Sentence.
On the evening of the seventh day, Galanthus noticed Lucina seated at the altar and saw Lucina doubled up with effort and Recognised the execution of a death sentence and tired as she was, Galanthus hailed Lucina with a hearty greeting that froze the midwife’s soul:

“You are blessed, stranger! Alcmene of Argolis is just delivered of a beautiful baby boy, and you can be the first to offer your congratulations!”

?

“You are blessed, stranger! Alcmene of Argolis is just delivered of a beautiful baby boy, and you can be the first to offer your congratulations!”

Lucina stood in shock at the news and she uncrossed her toes, she uncrossed her legs, she uncrossed her arms, she uncrossed her hands and she uncrossed her fingers and she raised herself in sheer incomprehension. As the limbs of the Goddess straightened, first one child and then another slid easily from Alcmene into the joyous cries of her women. The first child, the demigod son of Zeus, was Heracles. His brother, the mortal son of Amphitriton, was Iphicles.

Lucina was appalled at Galanthus’ trick, and more appalled when the maid grinned and even laughed see that death had been averted and life brought into the world. Then the Goddess Lucina raised her hand to the smile that so abused her, and struck Galanthus with a single blow that broke her slim neck and sent her crushed and dying to the floor.

The floor was cold. Galanthus lay still and broken and small, and her red hair hung over her face like a bloody caul or a fallen leaf or the blood flower of a gun-shot, or a torn veil or a dark red shadow made of hair. Priapus, looking down from Olympus, noticed his daughter for the first time, and pitied her.

Down on the floor of the birthroom, Galanthus’ red hair grew to cover her thin body, and her white skin became a blazing white bib at her chest and her sad broken neck stretched out as her arms and legs shrank to tiny claws.

Down on the floor of the birthroom, Galanthus’ red hair grew to cover her thin body, and her white skin became a blazing white bib at her chest. Her broken neck stretched out as her arms and legs shrank to tiny claws.

Down on the floor of the birthroom, Galanthus’ red hair grew to cover her thin body, and her white skin became a blazing white bib at her chest. Her broken neck stretched out as her arms and legs shrank to tiny claws.


The dead body of Galanthus became the live body of a quick and sharp-tongued small carnivorous mammal with a long body and long tail and short legs - to save her from her mother's fate - and red fur that in northern species may turn white in winter, genus Mustela, the weasel. And so she stayed – always busy, always running like a tiny flame, and this is why the life of a weasel is so slight and pale and red-haired and quick and busy with quick busy white claws and quick busy black eyes; and why they are red flames over their work, and why they are red and white and black all over and why they run chattering their red and white and black thoughts through the city, and why their black eyes always notice the world and the place of things within it.

And because Galanthus owes her form to a lie, and we have weasel words that weasel out a sly or underhanded person, so Lucina has decreed that weasels will give birth through their tiny mouths, as you can see they still do, though they are sly and underhanded and try to mislead.





Then the tower stopped growing for nearly a month, but broke instead into a series of pinnacles, twelve of them, with a master pinnacle at the centre of each group. Two hundred and fifty feet up in the air, slots were made in every projection so that a steel ribbon could fit against the stone. As the pinnacles rose octagon upon octagon, the unnecessary scaffolding was removed from the walls, and the holes were filled with stone.


Art has a relationship to physical space. All art exists in relation to at least one place, because art may be perceived by an audience in the first instance only as objects, images, scents, sounds, or sensations governed by our physical senses.

Art breathes physical space in the same way that we do, even when it is purely an idea.


Once Upon A Time

In the dark dark chair in the dark dark room, in the dark dark house in the dark dark street in the dark dark city, the dark dark woman shifts in her chair, and crosses her arms, to show that the story is over.