Radio Ballads

Serpentine North Gallery 31 Mar — 29 May 2022 Free Donate today


The culmination of three years of work by artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar, Radio Ballads presents four bodies of work created through collaboration with social workers, carers, organisers and residents which explore stories of labour, and who cares for who and in what way.

Over three years, artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar have been embedded in social care services and community settings in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, facilitated through the council’s New Town Culture programme. On view at Serpentine (31 March – 29 May 2022) and Barking Town Hall and Learning Centre (2-17 April 2022), Radio Ballads presents new film commissions alongside paintings, drawings and contextual materials that share each project’s collaborative research process.

Radio Ballads takes its name from a revolutionary series of eight radio plays broadcast on the BBC between 1957-64. Focusing on workers’ experiences and struggles through a combination of song, music, sound effects and the voices of communities, each ballad presented lived experiences and stories of work and resistance in the UK, at a time of rapid growth and change. Building on this rich history, the four new ballads have been produced in the aftermath of twelve years of austerity and dismantling of the UK care sector. The projects were developed and sustained throughout multiple global crises, amid the compounding issues of systemic racism, ableism and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have shed light on the innumerable ways in which those who do the work of care are often unsupported and devalued.

Centering the voices and embodied experiences of social care workers, and those receiving and giving care in more informal networks, these artworks share complex and intimate stories of living and working in the current moment. Radio Ballads looks at how artistic collaboration can create spaces to reflect on, and process, experiences of mental health, domestic abuse, terminal illness, grief and end of life care, as well as interdependence, and healing. Working with questions such as ‘how can artistic processes support systemic change?’, ‘what resources do we need in moments of change and challenge?’ and ‘what keeps us connected?’, the four projects build their own unique worlds. Radio Ballads contemplates how to collectively imagine and navigate the future, demonstrating art’s capacity to create new possibilities for how to care, gather and govern together.

An Invitation to Take Care

The works in this exhibition explore vulnerability and brave resilience often in the face of deep pain and difficulty. It may awaken your own needs for care and courage in the context of journeys you have experienced, navigated, or witnessed. We encourage you to honour these needs as we share and celebrate this work together. This could look like: taking a deep breath; pausing to drink water; finding a comforting colour to focus on; stepping outside to sit on the benches at the front of the Serpentine North Gallery; taking a walk in Hyde Park or Barking Town Square. You can also find a grounding exercise in the exhibition guide and audio guide, to help orientate yourself within the exhibition or afterwards.

This invitation to care was developed through guidance from Meenadchi, a Decolonising Non-Violent Communication educator and Family Constellations facilitator.

Map of Radio Ballads Relationships

Helen Cammock

Explore Helen Cammock‘s Radio Ballads project here.

Helen Cammock works across moving image, photography, writing, poetry, spoken word, song, performance, printmaking and installation.

Cammock is interested in histories, authorship, storytelling and the excavation of lost, unheard and buried voices, often mapping her own writing, literature, poetry, philosophical and other found texts onto social and political situations. Her work has drawn on material from Nina Simone, Philip Larkin, James Baldwin, The Housemartins, Walter Benjamin, Franz Fanon and others to reveal the way in which we construct our own personal collage of influences and reference points to establish our own sense of self, context and history.

Cammock’s work has been screened as part of the Serpentine Cinema Series and Tate Artists Moving Image Screening Programme. She has exhibited at venues including Cubitt, London; Galerie Futura Alpha Nova, Berlin; The Tetley, Leeds; Open Source Contemporary Arts Festival; Hollybush Gardens, London; and 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning, London. She has written for Photoworks and Aperture magazine and was shortlisted for the Bridport poetry prize in 2015. Her work has been published in The Photographers’ Gallery journal Loose Associations and in an artist book and vinyl 12” Moveable Bridge with Bookworks, London. She has just finished a commission The Long Note with Void, Londonderry, which is soon to open as a solo presentation at IMMA, Dublin. She is making work for Novel as part of Reading International in 2018/19 and is beginning a new commission with Film and Video Umbrella/Touchstones/The Photographers Gallery. She will be artist-in-residence at Wysing in autumn 2019. Helen was awarded the 7th edition of the Max Mara Prize for Women 2018 and will have an exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, London in June this year and Maramotti Collection, Reggio Emilia in Oct.

Rory Pilgrim

Explore Rory Pilgrim‘s Radio Ballads project here.

Centred on emancipatory concerns, Rory Pilgrim’s work aims to challenge the very nature of how we come together, speak, listen and strive for social change through sharing and voicing personal experience.

Strongly influenced by the origins of activist, feminist and socially engaged art, Pilgrim works collaboratively with others through different methods of dialogue, collaboration and workshops. Creating connections between activism, spirituality, music, technology and community, Rory works in a wide range of media including sound, songwriting, film, music video and live performance. Recent Solo Shows include: Between Bridges, Berlin (2019) Andriesse-Eyck Gallery, Amsterdam NL (2018), South London Gallery (2018), Rowing, London (2017), Plymouth Art Centre, Plymouth (2017), Flat Time House, London (2016), Site Gallery, Sheffield (2016) and sic! Raum für Kunst, Luzern CH (2014).

Ilona Sagar

Explore Ilona Sagar‘s Radio Ballads project here.

Ilona Sagar lives and works in London UK. Using a diverse range of media spanning performance, film and assemblage, she has formed a body of work, which responds to the social and historical context found in the public and private spaces we inhabit.

Sagar’s practice is developed in a cross-disciplinary dialogue with a range of art and scientific disciplines; including dance, architecture and neurology. Her film ‘Correspondence O’ won an AHRC Research in Film Award 2018.

Recent projects include Living with Buildings, group exhibition, Wellcome Collection, London, UK (2018/2019); Self Service, publication and event series, CCA and GOMA, Glasgow as part of Glasgow International (2018); Correspondence O, solo exhibition at South London Gallery, London UK (2017/2018), GLORIA, Yinka Shonibare Guest Projects 10 year anniversary, London (2018) HereAfter: group show as part of the SPACE HereAfter residency, The White Building, London UK (2017); a solo project at Pump House Gallery, London as part of The Ground We Tread (2016).

Sonia Boyce

Explore Sonia Boyce‘s Radio Ballads project here.

Sonia Boyce (Born 1962, London. Lives and works in London) studied art at East Ham College and Stourbridge College of Art. Boyce emerged as one of the leading figures in the Black-British arts scene in the 1980s whose work explored issues around race and gender. Her work has been exhibited widely in the UK and Internationally and she has also been the recipient of several awards including most recently the Paul Hamlyn Award. Recent exhibitions include Speaking in Tongues, CCA-Glasgow (2014); S/N: Signal to Noise, Whitney Museum of Modern Art/The Kitchen, New York (2015); All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale (2015); and Paper Tiger Whisky Soap Theatre (Dada Nice), Villa Arson, Nice (2016). She is currently a professor and Chair of Black Art and Design at University of the Arts, London. In 2007 Sonia Boyce received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Radio Ballads is commissioned in partnership with New Town Culture, a Cultural Impact Award-winning project, part of London Borough of Culture, a Mayor of London initiative.

New Town Culture is a pioneering programme curated by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham to develop artistic and cultural activity as a core part of social care services. The programme explores how artistic and cultural experience can reframe the work of social care and support adults and children using these services. By embedding art and culture in the core business of local authority services, New Town Culture proposes systemic change. New Town Culture encompasses research, projects, exhibitions, publications, tools for practitioners, residencies, workshops, training and knowledge exchange to bring together creative and social practitioners in their work.

Radio Ballads is curated and produced by:

Amal Khalaf, Curator, Civic Projects
Elizabeth Graham, Associate Curator, Civic Projects
Layla Gatens, Assistant Curator, Civic Projects
Natalia Grabowska, Assistant Curator, Exhibitions


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