Serpentine and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham are partnering to present Radio Ballads, an exhibition showcasing a ground-breaking project that has embedded artists within core social care services and community settings across the borough, in an effort to drive change in society through listening, understanding and developing empathy towards others.

    Over the last three years, artists Helen Cammock (Turner Prize winner 2019), Rory Pilgrim (Prix de Rome 2020), Ilona Sagar (Stanley Picker Fellow 2021, Saastamoinen Foundation 2022) and Sonia Boyce (representing the UK at the Venice Biennale in 2022) have worked with social workers, carers, organisers and communities to produce four new films and bodies of research, facilitated through the council’s New Town Culture programme, which explores how artistic processes can reframe the work of social care and how embedding artists in local authority services can support systemic change.

    The commissions are shown alongside paintings, drawings and contextual materials. Developed and sustained throughout a period of multiple global crises, amid the compounding issues of austerity, systemic racism, ableism and the pandemic, the projects shed light on innumerable ways in which those who do the work of care are often unsupported and devalued.

    Radio Ballads builds on Serpentine’s ongoing critical investigation of the role of artists in politics and civic life. The show takes its name from a revolutionary series of eight radio plays that were broadcast on the BBC from 1957-64. Each Ballad presented lived experiences and stories of work and resistance in the UK at a time of rapid growth and change. The exhibition is an ode to this project, positioned as songs for the 21st century that amplify voices and largely unheard experiences of domestic abuse, mental health, terminal illness, isolation, austerity and end-of-life care.

    Sonia Boyce’s Yes I Hear You, traces domestic abuse through interviews recorded in partnership with Barking and Dagenham’s Domestic Abuse commission.

    With Flat Lines and Bass Notes: The Voice as a Site of Resistance. The Body as a Site of Resistance, Helen Cammock explores individual and collective power, asking viewers to consider where we sit within the social and political spaces we inhabit.

    RAFTS is Rory Pilgrim’s way to dig deep into the connections between work, mental health, home and care in a time of crisis, particularly the climate crisis, which is inducing the displacement of masses of the population. The project explores ideas around interdependence and what keeps us afloat, taking inspiration from a raft as a preserver of life whilst also being the most fragile vehicle of survival at sea or upon open water.

    Ilona Sagar opts for investigating the difficult, and until recently untold, the legacy of asbestos that is central to the history of work in the area. The Body Blow describes how those who suffer from asbestos exposure are stuck between layers of legal and bureaucratic paperwork.

    By embedding art and culture in the core business of local authority services, New Town Culture proposes systemic change. The programme encompasses research, projects, exhibitions, publications, residencies, workshops, training and knowledge exchange to bring together creative and social practitioners in their work.

    Words: Julia Pasarón

    Opening picture: Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Holly Smith.

    Second picture: Sonia Boyce, Yes, I Hear You, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Matthew Ritson.

    Laura Gosney, laurag@serpentinegalleries.org

    Rose Dempsey rosed@serpentinegalleries.org, +44 (0)7876 593 758

    Press images available at serpentinegalleries.org/press

    Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Matthew Ritson.

    Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Holly Smith.

    Barking Town Square

    2 April 2022 – 17 April 2022

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