Ruth Barker

Mouth Open In An Open O

Cornerhouse, Manchester
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Mouth Open In An Open O

2012

Performance, 20 minutes approximately. The script was memorised, and recited as a spoken word performance by the artist. Photography by Jonathan Purcell. Garment design and production by Carmel O'Brien.

This performance was commissioned as part of the Between programme for Manchester Cornerhouse.

 

'Between' is a season of new performance art commissions taking place in Cornerhouse's empty gallery spaces in the time between exhibitions.

For Between 3, Ruth Barker will present Mouth Open In An Open O in Gallery 3. The artist has composed and memorised a richly poetic text, part epic, part personal mythology, which she recounts as a focused, charged, encounter with ritual storytelling. Ruth has worked with fashion designer Carmel O’Brien to produce a bespoke garment for the performance that will emphasise the physical, sculptural quality of the vocal work. As well as recent exhibitions in Scotland, London, Rotterdam, Tel Aviv, and New York, Barker’s performance works have been included in the ReMap festival, Athens; and Glasgow International festival of contemporary art (GI).

Between is presented in partnership with MIRIAD and The International3. Curated by Louise Adkins, associate curator The International 3. Funded by Arts Council England. 

(Cornerhouse website)


 

Mouth Open In An Open O

Lauren Amazeen

"The sand we stand upon is hollow. Shifting under our feet, like quick sand, like something alive in the birth of a story." – Mouth Open In An Open O

Ruth Barker stands elegantly, barefoot, reciting a poetic narrative that weaves the elusive 4,000 year-old Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh together with recollections of her own life. Mouth Open in A Open O is the most recent chapter in a three-year experimentation with text, voice and movement. Like an oracle, she solemnly enters the gallery space alone. At first accompanied only by the recording of her voice reciting a few words. As she reaches a point in the space where she begins to speak, the recording slowly fades. She is attired in couture designed for the artist as a biomorphic form– organic, a sleek pod-like shape, soft grey, with long, black shiny threads, faint and wispy flowing out from the round neckline and down the length of the dress, like elongated ostrich feathers delicately responding to the slightest movement or breath. There is very little movement made by the artist once she has entered the space and taken her stance. At times she may gesture with an arm or change the position of her head. Her voice is the medium with which she slowly sculpts this performance.

The only objects created for the performance besides the couture, are two large paper collages laid flat on the floor. Having used a copier machine to construct the paper works, the artist copied parts of her body on regular sized paper and pieced together two life size portraits. Throughout the performance she stands firmly between these two simple paper constructions. They could be a pair of shadows, one extending before her and one behind, simultaneously. They represent temporality. It brings to mind an excerpt from the Situationist Guy Debord writings in Internationale Situationist (no. 1, Paris, June 1958), " It [Making art] is a question of producing ourselves, not things that enslave us."

The spoken words of the piece address love, loss, longing and impermanence. Throughout, Nature becomes a constant metaphor for human emotions. The tone is dignified, elegiac, and sincere. At points within the recitation, the artist uses repetition almost as an incantation, building on the psychological thresholds between the artist and the public. And there are pauses. These serve as formal interludes, holding the tension between the past and present, dreaming and being awake, the body and the spirit, the performer and audience. The latter suspense is indeed an integral part of the piece, as the audience is not given a designated place to sit or stand – there is no clear delineation between the "stage" and the "public" – and the audience can only anticipate where the artist might enter to begin the piece. Yet, the rigour of her voice and her firm physical presence give the work a structure that holds the space for the audience. At the same time, the structure opens the experience up to the concept of chance. Lucy Lippard writes in her classic book, Overlay – Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory, " For all the formal beauties that are accessible today, the essence of life is elusive. Contemporary artists are looking to ancient forms both to restore that breath and also to take it for themselves. The animating element is often ritual . . ." She also states that, "The dominant alienation of maker from what is made, and the alienation of art and work from life, has led some contemporary artists to a conscious restoration of severed connections." Ruth Barker's work definitely can be placed in this lineage. By using her own voice to deliver the narrative, by performing a role somewhere between an ancient muse and a contemporary poetess, she is able to conjure both the personal and the collective memories so necessary for human wholeness.


(Supporting text commissioned by Cornerhouse, by Lauren Amazeen. With many thanks).


SCRIPT

 

 

Early Autumn

We are here in the late September,

Watching the weight of the year

Blow the lilac blooms to the low gutters, and dampen

Them with rain.

There is fat black earth under the paving

And the worms draw pink through black in the dark.

 

We are here in the late September,

Watching the elongation of the night

Light the compact fluorescents in high-rise kitchens, and dampen

The dreams in a thousand absent minds, with thoughts of Autumn.

And the TV news is on. And it whispers to us,

Low words of other’s worlds, condensed.

 

We are here in the late September,

Feeling that nothing has happened to us, yet, turning

Our Selves away from each other.

And the TV news is on. And today we are the multitude,

In Syria, Egypt, Uruk, Oman.

We are asking the Sand King Why?

And the Sand King says Why Not?

 

We turn our heads away from each other,

Mouth open in an open O.

Mouth Open.

 

And elsewhere: GILGAMESH.

On a beach at the edge of the world

The sand we stand upon is hollow. Shifting under our feet

Like quicksand, like something alive in the birth of a story.

(On the beach, you said, don’t step there. Or did you?

And did I remember? And have I never seen the sinking

Sand again there? And how did you know?

 

A black dog running on the white sand, with sand in her nails,

She runs in one breath out, out along the sand. Come, back.)

Manchester. The pale purple petals peel back into the black September sod

And the crown in the hand of a man with his hand outstretched and

Full of sinking sand, and the loved black barguest, running.

The axis of the year, turning, in a sacred sound shaped like September.

 


October, (and looking towards the Spring)

When I first kissed you

We tested our strength against one another.

I felt your teeth behind your lips.

We were tired and the sun had come up.

Your face was dry.

Your mouth was wet.

 

Lip met lip met lip met lip.

 

What do you say when the king takes a lover?

A mirror?

A brother?

A part of him self put out, put in?

What do you say when the Sand King?

What do you say to the Sand King?

What?

What do you say?

What?

What did you say?

 

‘In Greece we are in danger from the dawn.’

 

Hallowe’en, and we imagine springtime. Impossible.

We cannot remember a time both behind us, and still to come.

But we are both wearing masks. And in our forward recollection

A painted egg rests at the top of the hill, neither falling

Backward nor forward.

Backward nor forward.

Backward nor forward.

Begin again:

I  I   .Pause.   I  I

A hand outstretched, forefinger out,

Yours or mine,

Caught in time,

Not touching the egg, neither falling backward,

Nor forward.

Lip met lip met lip met lip.

 

The egg rolls. Has rolled. Will roll. Inexorable. Down.

We were both wearing masks. And it was Hallowe’en

When we first kissed, will kiss, the King.

 

 

Midwinter / January

 

In the darkness that is black as the soil underground,

We dream, together. I dream alone in the dreamhouse you made,

And you dream alone, outside.

 

Winter: sawn lilacs, and the king my father’s neck.

Feet like stumps. A black dog on the white frosted sand.

The lizard in the reptile glitter, blue and soft like the breast

It was, soft and blue under glass.

 

Dreaming and knowing / not knowing.

The dream of teeth, splinters, broken bone.

The dream of gold, and the shadows of cedar trees.

You sang me a song once, coming up as the sun goes down,

And I could not sing it with you and I’m sorry.

 

Winter. In the night-time bedroom

You hold up a match,

You say see, it’s all right.

You switch on the torch and trace boggarts in the darkness.

I turn on the light, see your coat on the chair.

Outside there are cats cutting sirens on the dark grass

Full of passion they pin out their throats

On the chlorophyll ice, where the daisies will grow.

 

Through our uncurtained window comes the scent of wet cedar,

Yesterday’s sleet, and the perfume of lilacs.

 

I never remember my dreams.

 

 

Springtime. April.

In the whiteness that is loud as noise

We dream of separation.  A cedar tree falls in the forest,

Let me live,

And do I know what it means to lose somebody? When

I am standing alone up here

Sometimes we are not in control

But there is no-one on the other side of me,

No-one walking there on the long road.

I carry my own drum

And I beat it,

Plant it under the sod and it will grow,

Pollarded and blooming like the lilac tree that grew

Outside my mother’s window.

In the summer the scent was fat and coloured,

Bee-filled and honey tinted.

We sat below the syringa: Syrinx, dreaming of panpipes.

 

Green grow the lilacs, sparkling with dew.

I'm lonely now, my darling, since I parted from you.

 

I never remember my dreams,

But I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

I am standing alone out here

And some times we are not in control.

 

 

June

Midsummer,

And we are children again,

And today, at the Great Yorkshire Show

She saw her first penis.

A great white bull, his balls hanging down

Like bagged planets,

Stood square, blotting out the light and air

In his sweet-smelling rosetted stall.

 

She stood and pointed, joyous,

Look at that! And I wanted to pull her away,

Out of the sight of the king’s cabled white backside,

Out into the open, away from the tent.

 

But the bulls of the mind are huge.

Heavenly slabs of muscle, hair, and horn,

Standing in mud, holding the world

Still, clamping the sod to their hooves,

Teaching gravity its edges, and their definition.

>

 In Uruk, the bull of heaven wears his wings

Not lightly, looking as unlikely

As a winged penis, or a butterfly hammer.

Garlanded with asphodel,

His holy bovine head is raised,

His holy bovine throat exposed,

And the bull is slain. Later, his hide dries flat

On a bloody wall. Flies creep in, under the iron white sun.

The dusty blood is washed away by working women.

The goddess shouts, her voice is hoarse and

Broken in the desert.

She shreds her eggs-and-bacon plant in rage.

>

And at the Great Yorkshire Show,

We squeeze tomato sauce

Onto our burgers,

And wash the sweet meat down with fizzy pop, and childish, titillated, laughter.

 

 

August

 

When Enkidu died they packed his body with lilac

At your instruction. You could not stand to see him rot.

Sand King, you filled his arms with silver,

And his mouth was filled with gold.

He could not speak, and you wept oceans across his salty skin.

 

Green grow the lilacs, sparkling with dew.

I'm lonely now, my darling, since I parted from you.

 

Tear off your head with your hands.

Tear off your arms with your fists.

Tear out your heart with your fingers.

How can you bury someone you love?

 

Sand King,

I’ll love you and leave you.

I’ll love you and leave you.

I’ll love you and leave you.

I’ll love you and leave you.

 

Love me. Lost you. Live.

 

 

September. The end-of it (and also the beginning)

 

The world has turned, and we are here

Together in a rush of congregation.

Rushes

Acanthus

Agrimony

Almond.

 

Mayflower

Oats

And Olive, always olive,

And the lilac and the cedar growing limb to limb

Cut them down and they will flourish, or else make way for something new.

A snake with its tail in its mouth still sloughs its skin.

 

You slept on the beach for seven days and six nights,

And on the seventh day you woke,

And saw the pastries I had left there.

You were the Sand King once, and tomorrow, and today

Broken and lonely,

Alone on the sand,

You are ready to go home.

 

 We are here in the late September, feeling

That something has happened to us now, turning

Our faces towards one another other. And today we are the mutlitude

And we have asked the Sand King why? And the Sand King has said why not?

 

We turn our heads towards each other.

Mouths open in an open O.

And Right Here: Gilgamesh,

 

On a beach at the edge of the world.

The sand we stand upon is hollow. Shifting under our feet

Like quicksand, and something alive in the blood of a story.

On the beach, you said, don’t step there.

And I have seen the sinking

Sand again there. How did you know?

 

A black dog running on the sand, with sand in her nails,

She runs in one breath out. Come, back.


The pale purple petals peel back into the black September sod

And the crown in the hand of a man with his hand outstretched and

Full of sinking sand, and the loved black barguest, running.

The axis of the year, turning, in a sacred sound shaped like September.