Come On In

An exploration of the ancient art of belly speaking, ventriloquism without the dummy, and the complex relationship humans have with the voice.

Hollywood may have trademarked the industry of star creation, but it learnt all its skills at the knee of P.T. Barnum and the great American circuses of the 19th Century. Barnum cultivated the role of the female soloist as siren — at once accessible and unobtainable, she embodied both the exotic and the banal. Women have always controlled their image, but Barnum (the original Svengali) commoditised the process. The great stars, however, could transcend their role of puppets to become the puppeteers — of these Marilyn is the undisputed master.

The practice of belly speaking, or talking without moving the lips, extends far back throughout various religious and spiritual practices. At its beginning, women were particularly associated with the practice. Their bodies were seen as supernatural vessels, a view that obscured the fact that these women were employing their beings as powerful performative instruments, capable of manipulating those around them.

Fascinated with the history of these lauded — yet often vilified —female performers, Sarah Duffy set out to learn this discipline for herself. In particular she wanted to learn how to sing the song ‘I wanna be loved by you’, made famous by Marilyn Monroe, without moving her lips. Duffy saw that Monroe had something in common with these female ventriloquists; she was electric and wild, a master of her body, but also somehow vulnerable and subject to the gaze of others.

Duffy performed Monroe’s famous song at the Circus private view. This performance was shown alongside other video pieces that further probed the connections between the ancient art of ventriloquism and Marilyn, the ultimate star performer. |@sarahcduffy

December 2014