Supporting Text for 'Mouth in an open O' by Lauren Dyer 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.