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.
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, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North. Photo: George Darrell.