Ruth Barker

In The Beginning

Third floor, 57-61 St Vincent Street, Glasgow
In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning In The Beginning

Performance, running time 14 minutes.

the 1300 word text was memorised, and then performed as a spoken word event by the artist. 

In The Beginning was written for and performed in a third floor office space at 57 - 63 Saint Vincent Street, Glagsow. The offices can be hired by the week by anyone with a passport and a debit card. They are almost wholly anonymous. The work was performed on two consecutive nights to an invited audience on 30 people per night. Individuals were contacted by email by an assistant who asked them to attend at a given date and time. They were not told who else would be attending. Upon arrival the audience was shown through a small labyrinth of stairs and corridors to an office on the top floor of the building. They were then asked to wait. The artist entered only after the audience was fully seated and had waited some minutes.The text below had been memorised and was recalled in a controlled monotone with no expression of emotion or variation in tone.

See commentary by writer Martin Vincent, below.

All images by Kendall Koppe, with many thanks.



In The Beginning

In the beginning there were two, and one was blind and the other was hunting.

In the beginning the whole universe was a sea. Heaven on high had not been named, and nor the earth beneath. No plain was formed, no marsh was seen, no gods had their existence and nor had their fates been determined.

In the beginning
From the conception the increase
From the increase the swelling
From the swelling the thought
From the thought the remembrance
From the remembrance the consciousness, the desire.
The world was fruitful:
The world dwelt with the feeble glimmering
And the night;
Great night, long night,
Low night, lofty night,
Thick night, night to be felt,
Night touched, night unseen.
Night following on,
Night ending in death.

In the beginning a strong wind passed over the universe, still wrapped in gloom.

In the beginning the earth was formless, voidless, and dark hung over the waters.

In the beginning the haze
Rests always on the outer waste which skirts
Our realm; beyond, a nerveless mass lies cold
'Neath floods, which some malign unreason heaves.

In the beginning, before even chaos, there was nothing.

In the beginning were three genders: men, women and androgynes.

In the beginning the sun lay under the waters.

In the beginning there was sublime darkness, which vanished not until the Sun revealed the universal waters. The water and the sun were all that were.

In the beginning, darkness rested upon the heaven and upon the earth, and they both clave together. The divisions of time were then considered as beings, but light had never broken upon them and so they continued ever dark and ever only in darkness.

In the beginning the world was a waste of water.

In the beginning the ancient fathers lived in four caves in the four fold-containing-earth. The first cave was black like chimney-soot. The second cave was black like a storm at night; The third was black like the valley earth under the ground; the fourth cave was black like the moment before the dawn.

In the beginning there was smoke on the mountainside. There was a ringing noise like the striking together of metals. He was in the earth behind the inner house wall. Rotten pieces of wood were falling into his hands. Where they fell there were fires.

In the beginning there were six people on the dark Earth.
The first was the son of the Fire, whose mother is a Comet;
The second was the first man, whose mother is Night and whose father is the blue above the place where the Sun has set.
The third was the first woman, whose mother is the Daybreak and whose father is the yellow light after the Sun has set.
The fourth was the Coyote, whose mother is the Dawn Light.
The fifth has blue eyes and yellow-hair and his mother is a Ray of Sunshine and his father is the Daylight.
The sixth was the Salt Woman was there, whose mother is Water and whose father is the Mountain Man who looks like a woman but is a man.
These are the six who were on the dark earth in the beginning

In the beginning, Heaven and Earth were together like a chicken’s egg in which there was a lump of coiled up antiquity.

In the beginning, there was Time and Necessity. Time was indeterminate and limitless. Nothing existed and nothing aged or grew old.

In the beginning the earth was cast in a single mould. Inside the mould were the land, the sea, and the sky, all locked together.

In the beginning all was water and the sky was clear and unobstructed.

In the beginning was the Expanse and God alone. No sky, no country, no sea, no earth. But, in one place there was a rock.

In the beginning the world was nothing but a quagmire. No-one could live there.

In the beginning the world was a vast round ocean resting on the backbone of an enormous trout who sucked in the ocean and spat it out again to make the tides, and who made earthquakes every time it moved.

In the beginning the earth was a woman, and the sky was a man. The sky was down upon the earth. The world was a lake covered with waterplants.

In the beginning all was water, and the animals were crowded beyond the arch.

In the beginning there was nothing but Water and the Sun, and the sun hid his light under a grey fox skin.

In the beginning the earth was as black as black wool. It had four corners and on each corner was a cloud. They were black, white, blue, and yellow. The Black Cloud was the Female Being or Substance. As a child sleeps when being nursed, so life slept in the darkness of the Female Being. The White Cloud was the Male Being or Substance. He was the Dawn, the Light-Which-Does-Awaken.

In the beginning there was God.

In the beginning there was a white mountain in the east; a blue mountain in the south; a yellow mountain in the west, and a black mountain in the north. In the centre of the world was a red mountain.

In the beginning nothing existed. There was no earth, no sky, no sun, no moon. Only darkness was everywhere.

In the beginning the earth was a naked plain with no life and no death. The sun, the moon, and the stars slept beneath the earth.

In the beginning an extended fog lay over the earth, forever, lost in space, and everywhere.

In the beginning, two young men were travelling. They stopped in the middle of their journey, and they wondered how it would be if they tried it, right there, with the soot that they had. The world at that time was without land. Everything was covered with water.

In the beginning was a vast and empty gulf of nothing. There was no darkness and no light, no hot and no cold, no direction and no time. There was only the gulf of nothing in a breezeless twilight.

In the beginning was the Father, who was a phantasm.
Nothing else existed.
The Father touched an illusion, something mysterious.
Nothing else existed.
Through the agency of a dream, the father kept the illusion, and he thought deeply.
Nothing else existed.
There was nothing, not even a stick to support the illusion.
Nothing else existed.
The Father attached the illusion to the thread of a dream and kept it with his breath.
Nothing else existed.
The father sounded to reach the bottom of the illusion, but there was nothing.
Nothing else existed.

In the beginning two female human beings were born underground. As they grew up, they began to be aware of each other. There was no light and they could only feel each other. Being in the dark they grew slowly.

In the beginning there was no one at all. Always the sun came up; always he went in. No one in the morning gave him sacred meal; no one gave him prayer sticks. He was lonely. His children were in the fourth womb, and it was dark. They could not distinguish anything.

In the beginning there was a horse that did not neigh just at any time, but only on Fridays. If it neighed you would say it was a tornado. It was hidden away in a house.

In the beginning
Only a subject,
Only a mortal, was
A magician,
A terror,
A stirrer of strife,
A deceiver,
A maker of war,
An arranger of battles,
A lord of battles;

In the beginning there was nothing.




The first three notes just happen to be


This isn't the kind of work you casually observe and pass by, it demands the attention of your full being, for a period of time, after which all that remains is what you take away with you.

Ruth Barker memorises her monologues, taking cues from oral traditions of story-telling and epic poetry. She speaks them in a heightened monotone, a voice removed from the conversational, poetic not prosaic. The performances are simply but meticulously framed, the reiterations, revisitations and repetitions objectify the words, which are thereby delivered to the listener in the way that a gift might be, wrapped and posted through your door. Which is to say you can't ignore any one of them, and they come with the obligations that gifts do.

The present work draws on creation myths from many traditions. These primal stories all go back to a time before history, and hence before meaning. Barker does not tell the tales, she alludes to them, offers a taste but no satisfying dénouement. There is something going on with time here, we are caught in a single moment that stretches to the duration of the performance and beyond. Through involuted, Moebius-like structures Barker mines her words for every nuance of meaning, then goes further, squeezing out the meaning in an attempt to evoke a pre-articulate state.

What many creation myths have in common is that they are not the beginning - something already exists, if only a bird with black wings flying in the void.

Martin Vincent, May 2009.