Ruth Barker

Of Gilgamesh, and Others (2013)

The Old Hairdresser's, Glasgow
Of Gilgamesh (2013) Of Gilgamesh (2013) Of Gilgamesh (2013) Of Gilgamesh (2013) Of Gilgamesh (2013)


Of Gilgamesh, and Others


Text with live reading, 6.5 hours approximately.

A 36 000 word text was written by the artist and then read, in a performance which lasted approximately 6.5 hours in total. This work was originally commissioned by Rose Lejeune as part of the Word of Mouth programme for Cartel, London. More information here.

During the performance I stood very still while I read the text from loose sheets on a music stand. The only movements were the turning of the pages, and occasional stoops to lift and drink from a glass of water that was placed beside me on the ground. Viewers were encouraged to arrive and leave whenever they wished during the reading. The performance features a bespoke garment and floorpiece, both produced from digitally printed fabric designed by the artist.


Extract from press release:

Of Gilgamesh, And Others is a voice/text work, originally composed for Cartel, London in 2012. We are invited to immerse ourselves in a story that is written and read to us by the artist. 

The story itself is an attempt to retell the epic of Gilgamesh, and begins and ends with a description of the fragile clay tablets on which the poem was inscribed 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Through the artist’s attempts to retell this ancient epic however, it becomes apparent that the story is in some ways ungraspable – an amorphous, ever changing narrative that has been re-imagined and re-shaped by every storyteller who has ever adopted it.  The story of Gilgamesh, as it appears in Of Gilgamesh, And Others, is too long to hear during one gallery sitting.

Running at around 7 hours, as visitors we dip in and out of its narrative.




Reply to an email from N.S., dated 11/02/13, requesting a copy of the performance script.

- I'm afraid that I'm not releasing the full text. The reason for this is that it's not a finite thing really. I will continue to let the script grow and to perform it every so often, but it is different, and older, each time I recite it. I can imagine being an old lady and performing it, and by then it might last a week or so. When I am dead it can be published, but not before. It is also written to be heard, rather than read, so it's composed for the ear rather than the eye. I hope that makes sense. It's better to hear it rather than to see it.

Thanks again for your email,






Of Gilgamesh, And Others, Saturday 9th February 2013.

Performance Schedule:



Chapter 1: Sit down and I will tell you the story of Gilgamesh. A description of the clay tablets on which the Epic of Gilgamesh was written.

Chapter 2: To sing of Gilgamesh. The King and his city of Uruk are introduced. We fall into a repetitive dream of the city walls.

Chapter 3: And the picture in my mind’s eye is coloured by another story. The goddess Ishtar creates a wild man, Enkidu. I return to the landscapes of my childhood, and while I am there I think of a gun.

Chapter 4: The hunters were angry. Gilgamesh wishes Enkidu to be brought to him.

Chapter 5: Shamhat is sacred her body is worshipped. The sexual initiation of Enkidu. The prophetic dream of Gilgamesh.

3.30 – 4pm BREAK.


Chapter 6: Enkidu listened and became angry. Gilgamesh’s dream is further interpreted. I tell you about my mother’s dreamtime city. Enkidu travels towards Uruk. Shamhat leaves the story.

Chapter 7: Like a wife you will love him, caress and embrace him. Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet, fight, and love. I find a piece of paper that traces similarity in art and myth, and I throw it away.

Chapter 8: And so the story surged like a stomach turning over. Gilgamesh and Enkidu decide to travel to the Cedar forest.

Chapter 9: In the morning they walked the hot land. The heroes walk to the cedar forest. Gilgamesh dreams.

Chapter 10: When we walk we are bound to the ground. Gilgamesh and Enkidu arrive at Humbaba’s home. I walk through Tel Aviv. The heroes fight, and Humbaba is killed. There are rabbits’ heads on my kitchen table. There is a short silence.

Chapter 11: Gilgamesh gleamed in glory. In Uruk, The goddess Ishtar courts Gilgamesh and is rejected. I wonder about the lost stories of pre-Roman-Britain.

Chapter 12: Ishtar’s rage filled heaven. The goddess sends the bull of heaven to the city of Uruk. Enkidu mocks the goddess, and he and Gilgamesh kill the sacred bull. I remember other bulls that I have seen.

Chapter 13: That night, Enkidu dreamed. Enkidu fortells his own death, sickens, and dies. Gilgamesh weeps.

Chapter 14: Thinking About A Lacuna or, a Digression on Death. We are most of us frightened of dying. A meditation on the moment of Enkidu’s death, and its relation to storytelling, and to thought, and to our own thoughts of dying.

6pm – 6.30 BREAK


Chapter 15: Enkidu, may the burnt-out cars mourn you. Gilgamesh is consumed by grief and walks away from the city of Uruk. I remember a conversation with an archaeologist about tombstones, and what they are for.

Chapter 16: I am mourning my friend and my love Enkidu. Gilgamesh seeks the only man who will never die, Uta-napishti, the survivor of the deluge. His quest is told in traditional form, with repeated phrases, questions, and answers.

Chapter 17: What is the voice on a record after all, but only a cast voice? I wonder about the relationship between speaking and casting. I walk through a museum looking for certainties in the glass cases.

Chapter 18: Uta-napishti was like something that had always been there. Gilgamesh reaches the home of Uta-napishti, who tells him that death is inevitable and cannot be escaped.

Chapter 19: We are standing on the sands at Scarborough, in the dusk. I imagine Gilgamesh and Uta-napishti standing on the beach in the evening. Scarborough becomes the place at the end of the world.

Chapter 20: Pare the earth. There is blood beneath the soil. Uta-napishti’s story of the deluge. He is a dark continent, a story within the story.

Chapter 21: Mouth open in an open O. The story is retold again, as a condensed series of personal mythic images.

Chapter 22: And then the restless heart of Gilgamesh was finally empty. Gilgamesh returns home to the city of Uruk. He reflects upon immortality. I remember a childhood vision.

Chapter 23: This story started a long long time ago. I return to the clay tablets of Uruk. We need to tell each other stories, after all.

8.30 (approximately) CLOSE.