URCHN Arkipelago Story


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A computer animated short based, like Elephants Dream, in libre software, the ‘Tube’ project is also a new experiment in distributed collaboration. It plays on the ancient Gilgamesh poem’s themes of mortality and civilization, in a variant of the hero’s progress that becomes the animation’s own frames.


The movie plays on the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which a Sumerian King – arrogant and violent – encounters death for the first time when his friend dies, and tries (unsuccessfully) to avoid it.

Gilgamesh – here a young woman bedraggled in jackboots – descends underground into a train station. She pursues the figure of immortality: a page marked with a plant/tree that has been ripped from a book of the Gilgamesh poem. The station is empty but for intermittent trains that pass without stopping.

As Gil searches on the tracks amongst the tattered book and other debris where the page has fallen, an insect microcosmos opens to subtly parallel the narrative in a time-slip. A cockroach [Gilga-roach] with a broken antenna repeats the geometry of Gil’s distinctive hair; and whereas the short begins with Gilgamesh distraught and alone in the middle of her story, here Gilga-roach is with its match in Enki. Gil scrambles through the papers, unthinkingly miming her former life as a soldier by strafing the insects with her detritus. Papers balled in frustration fall amongst them, and roaches scatter in explosions.

Gil runs short of time as the next train approaches. She is nearly retreating when she spots her desired page a way down the lighted median.

Emboldened by the object, Gil defies injury and, clutching the paper, stands in the path of the oncoming machine. She is struck by a train marked with a solar bull (a nod to the poem’s cataclysmic Bull of Heaven). In the train’s wake, Gilga-roach mourns over the damaged body of Enki, crushed in its passing.

Gilgamesh is seated slumped over on an empty train. Staring morosely toward the window, and the darkness of the tunnel beyond, she traces ‘Enki’ in her breath on the glass. It becomes suddenly apparent that her gaze is locked brooding on her own reflection. The train speeds through the brightly lit station and an object on the tracks whips by the window; Gil jumps up, craning to make it out where it recedes in the distance.

The train continues from dark tunnels into lit stations, but the stations are always the same, and each time the injured figure reappears, Gilgamesh (in the train) gets a glimpse of herself before being plunged into darkness. The train speeds up, making the succession of dark and light faster and faster until it resembles a flickering image projected onto a screen. Each successive ‘pass’ through the station becomes a frame of the animation.

The difference from ‘normal’ animation is that the time between the frames in terms of the station are no longer 1/24 of a second, even though they last that long on screen; instead they are longer periods, so years, maybe epochs pass before our eyes, at 24 fps, as in a timelapse. Gilgamesh, injured at first, heals before our eyes, while the station itself deteriorates and changes. The deterioration is not merely time taking its toll– a social corrosion appears in changes to the architecture of the space; imagine a repressive dictatorship, or some kind of control society. Propaganda images grow like fungus on the walls, as do security cameras, and barriers intended to control the motion of crowds. The trains – pictured as one frame streaks of light- become less and less frequent, the lights flicker and darken, and suddenly, a 1 second sample of gunfire is followed by a destroyed place with shafts of light coming in through bullet holes in the ceiling. Gilgamesh, fully healed now, takes stock of her surroundings; still holding the paper, she seems eternal, ‘out of phase’ from events. She moves to look around, but, as she does, new construction springs up around her, and gilgamesh finds herself in a cell of the station that has been repurposed as a prison.

She looks around her environs and back at the paper, still clutched in her hand, and then she lifts her arms in a gesture something between a benediction and a wail [see reference], and loosens her hand to let the paper fall. As it does, Gilgamesh is flung to the ground by an unseen force (the impact of the train), her injuries return this time fatal: she dies and begins to rot. Meanwhile, the prison is demolished, signs of life flash all around us, there is an explosion of change and activity. As this is happening the body is disappearing, and when it is finally gone, a train (in normal time) comes into the station, obscuring all from view.

Finally the train pulls into the station and stops there (as no other has done). Gilgamesh walks out into the station. She glances around and her eyes alight on the the paper, lying still where it had fallen. She smiles slightly, turns around, and makes her way up the escalator taking her up into the light. In the meantime, amongst the train tracks the Cockroach that resembles Gilgamesh goes down a hole….