Serpentine North Gallery Offsite Feb 2019 – Ongoing Free

On view at Serpentine (31 March – 29 May 2022) and Barking Town Hall and Learning Centre (2-17 April 2o22), Radio Ballads presented new film commissions alongside paintings, drawings and contextual materials that share each project’s collaborative research process.


What are the sounds of care, and how do we listen and hold them?

Radio Ballads, showing simultaneously at Serpentine and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD), shares a series of collaborative commissions which explore stories about labour and who cares for whom, and in what way. Over the past three years, artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim, and Ilona Sagar have collaborated with social workers, carers, organisers, and communities across LBBD. Four films and bodies of research have emerged from these long-term artistic processes.

Building on Serpentine’s ongoing critical investigation of the role of artists in political and civic life, Radio Ballads asks how art practices can become part of systemic transformation. The project is also part of LBBD’s New Town Culture programme: a ground-breaking initiative that aims to embed artists within core social care services and explores how artistic processes can reframe the work of social care.


Lineages of Listening

Radio Ballads takes its name from a revolutionary series of radio programmes, broadcast on the BBC from 1957-64: a time of rapid change across the UK. Created by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, and Charles Parker, these eight programmes combined song, music and sound effects with the stories of communities. Each original Ballad focussed on the lived experiences and resistance of workers and groups whose voices were rarely or never heard in the media. The four new Radio Ballads commissions build on this history. Produced in the wake of twelve years of austerity and amid the ongoing dismantling of the UK care sector, the projects were sustained through multiple national and global crises, and against the backdrop of continued systemic racism and ableism.

The urgency of the stories within Radio Ballads has only increased as the COVID-19 pandemic compounded social inequity and underlined how those who do the work of care are often undervalued and insufficiently supported. Centring the voices and experiences of social care workers – and of people receiving and giving care through more informal networks – the artworks in the Radio Ballads exhibition share complex and intimate stories of living and working in our current moment.

Developed in a time of ongoing recovery, Radio Ballads considers how artistic practices, and creating space for imagination and joy, can support people to reflect on and process lived experiences, including social care, mental health, domestic abuse, terminal illness, end of life care, trauma, and loss. The four projects work with questions of what resources we need and what keeps us connected. Radio Ballads listens to testimonies; reflects on complex issues involving trauma, accountability and systems that perpetuate harm; and contemplates new possibilities for us to navigate the future together with care.

Each project draws on the methods and technologies used in the original Radio Ballads; listening deeply to the testimony of those with lived experience, discerning different registers and qualities of voice, collaborative songwriting and storytelling, and techniques of audio stitching or montage.


Shared Stories, Shared Songs

Ballads can describe poems or narratives set to song, which were traditionally passed on from person to person, meaning they were usually changeable and lost individual authorship. Emerging in medieval Europe, for centuries ballads were a primary and highly accessible source of information, sharing newsworthy events across divisions of class, education, gender, and age. Ballads were closely linked to the process of grieving and sharing grief publicly. They were usually written or performed in the first-person, offering a framework for their singers to interpret the world around them.

Radio Ballads asks how we can again start to understand, listen, learn, and heal through collective storytelling. In a time of multiple crises, the project explores how voices – individual and collective – can illuminate structures of care and allow us to reflect on conditions of life and the effects of labour in our communities. Singing has transformed the experience of work and change since history began – but what kind of collective songs are needed now? Developed through years of relationship-building, and the generosity of many collaborators, the works in Radio Ballads feature the voices of the people whose work and care keeps many of us afloat.

Find out more about the Radio Ballads Exhibition here.


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, song writing , 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.


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