Bau-bo-bad, March 2019

Performance, duration 10 mins

A place that fosters us, DePimlico Project, London


Told through many voices and mediated through the use of a ‘sock-puppet-mouth-orifice’, this lecture performance explored the figure of Baubo, often described as an old crone in Greek mythology(1).


To comfort the goddess Demeter's inconsolable grief, Baubo threw her skirts over her head, exposing her genitals and shouted lewd remarks and dirty jokes. In some versions of the story Baubo speaks through her sexual organs — an infinite echo between mouth & vagina — reflecting patriarchal (mis)interpretations of feminised identity as closed circuit between sex & sound(2).


Bau-bo-bad claims Baubo & others like her as a defiant feminist symbol, an un-youthful body unashamed of its sexuality, echoing back experiences, using ‘unacceptable’ sounds & behaviours as a tool to express that which we feel we cannot.


The full performance text is edited below as a short essay.


This performance forms part of an ongoing body of research entitled Harmonic Anatomies.


1) My reading of Baubo comes via Anne Carson's essay, The Gender of Sound, 1995, footnote as below

2) Carson, Anne, The Gender of Sound, p136 in ‘Glass, irony and God’ (New Directions Publishing Co: New York) 1992.





Text for performance revised into essay format





B —

Demeter was wandering the Earth mourning the loss of her daughter, Persephone, who was violently abducted by Hades, god of the underworld. Abandoning her goddess duties, she took refuge in the city of Eleusis. Disguised as an old woman, she was welcomed into the home of the king.

Demeter was inconsolable; everyone in the king's household tried to comfort her, but to no avail. Enter into the story, Baubo, an old crone. With no warning, Baubo pulled her skirts up over her head, exposed her genitals and belly and shouted lewd remarks and dirty jokes.


Her act worked, and Demeter laughed, momentarily forgetting her loss.


A —

In some versions of the story Baubo is alleged to have spoken through her sexual organs —or perhaps the covering of her face acts as ventriloquism.


There are terracotta statues recovered from Asia Minor from the fourth century BC, possibly based on Baubo, depicting a collapsed female body, two mouths or orifices and sometimes no head at all, just a torso with a vulva with a face above on its belly. These statues may illustrate the Greeks’ belief that women had two mouths, and this Baubo presents us with one simple chaotic diagram of an outrageously manipulable female identity. The doubling and interchangeability of mouth engenders a creature in whom sex is cancelled out by sound and sound is cancelled out by sex. (1)


B —

A closed circuit, a neat way to tie up these unacceptable sounds, eternally interchanged and silenced. But our Baubo’s circuit is not closed.


Our Baubo is not a mouth-vagina paradigm; our Baubo is feminized sound, many orifices and aural organs, or a configuration of parts that don’t rely on essentialist ideas of biology. Our Baubo is mouth-vagina-asshole-earhole-intestine-armpit, a crone, an unspeakably un-youthful body, speaking through desire, laughing through sexual organs, wet at both ends, a sticky, screeching, cackling voice that will not be silenced.



A —

I wonder about the liquidity of these leakages, these emissions, the slippery uncontainable nature of a body and voice that says what should not be said, lets out what shouldn’t come out.


Like the subversive aspects of bodily fluids they seep, infiltrate; their control is a matter of vigilance, never guaranteed. (2)


Female sound, bad sound, turns the body inside out.



These ejaculations, this jolt, this shock of bad sound has a potential to heal, to act as catharsis. An overlapping and conflicted space of comedy, desire, rage, vulgarity, perversion, and hysteria — these unacceptable behaviours are a tool to express that which we feel we cannot.






I was working a job I hated when my Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A colleague and close friend had lost her Dad around the same time. We found ourselves navigating our grief in a dysfunctional organisation that refused us paid leave for the meagre few weeks needed with our dying parents.


Our grief wasn’t wanted in the workplace and any mention was met with deep embarrassment. The organisation was floundering — with unclear roles and failing structures, leaving us both resentful and psychically adrift.


We made jokes about our shared predicament —the insensitivity of our parents for dying of cancer. The absurdity of watching someone’s body waste and rot as you try to find the right words to make them feel ok. Her Dad’s refusal to acknowledge his imminent death, my Mum’s delight at the weight she’d lost before realising it was because she was dying.


Our jokes made our colleagues uncomfortable. This made us do it more. There was agency in this act — we had the power to make everyone else feel excruciatingly awkward. Our hysterical laughter at the fucked-ness of losing our parents relatively young made this loss audible somehow, made it less easy for others to avoid it’s devouring gaze.


Our shit jokes were a call and response between two women in pain. A double act that only we could carry out. Baubo’s cries and Demeter’s laughter in return.


One woman exposes her flesh/voice to the other, a flesh/voice is echoed back. The laughter quells the pain of death and the ache of abjection while it celebrates the sharp tongue, the promise of mutability, the flux of sound. (3)





B —

You wake up in a house you don’t know and go to the en suite to pee.

You have bad eyesight but don’t like to put your glasses on at night.


A —

You have this mistaken confidence in your ability to navigate space with your other senses, that your terrible myopia in some way creates a heightened sense of spatial awareness through your body. Like you’re testing out how you’d do at being blind, even when you’re half asleep. Or otherwise it’s just extreme laziness; you can’t be bothered to find your glasses. The thing is, whether in darkness or daylight, wearing contacts or not, you seem to bump into things a lot.


B —

The room is very dark and the toilet darker still. There are no windows.

You take a few steps into the space, then, using your hands to find the wall, the toilet isn’t where it should be. Suddenly you are completely disorientated. You can’t tell where the doorway is, the light switch, your hands desperately slapping against cold walls, bits of bathroom suite that are unidentifiable.


Now you are panicked, dizzy, you’re heart is pounding and you might piss yourself. It’s so dark you start to doubt if you are even the right way up. Are you crawling or standing? It’s like one of those news stories when someone’s lost underground.


You could have been there for hours or seconds, you have no idea.



1) Anne Carson, The Gender of Sound, p136 in ‘Glass, irony and God’ (New Directions Publishing Co: New York) 1992.

2) Elizabeth Grosz p194 Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. (Bloomington: Indiana UP) 1994.

3) Julie Dawn Smith, Playing like a Girl: The Queer laughter of the Feminist Improvising Group, p110 in ‘Diva-Dogs: Sounding Women Improvising’, (University of British Columbia) 2001