• Apr 06,2022
  • In Review
  • By Abundant Art

Radio Ballads – Serpentine North Gallery Review

Radio Ballads centers the ones most often ignored on mainstream platforms – those who receive care and those who give it. The works are difficult and raw, often touching on domestic violence, systemic racism, unemployment, disability and social care. Ultimately, Radio Ballads explores the relationship between art and care can art provide space for reflection, understanding, sharing experiences… maybe even, healing? 

Radio Ballads, presented by Serpentine and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, is the culmination of a three year project embedding artists within social care services within the borough. It focuses on the works of four artists; 2019 Turner Prize winner Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim, Ilona Sagar and Sonia Boyce, who will also be representing the UK at this year’s Venice Biennale. Facilitated through the council’s New Town Culture programme, the artists worked with social workers, carers, organisers and government services to produce four new video works and bodies of research. 

In Radio Ballads four moving image works are confined in their own unique rooms, the sounds drift out and talk over one another like in the living room of a large family gathering. This communal space, where the videos meet, is also where the contextual materials sit, showcasing the collaborative nature of the project. Inside, all four spaces feel very different although it takes a moment to settle into each of them. The videos are lengthy, sometimes over an hour. This isn’t an exhibition to pop into, but more one to invest time into. 

It is truly refreshing to see socially-engaged work platformed at such a large gallery enabling exploration of the role of artists and cultural institutions in civic and political life. However, although one part of the project is displayed at Barking Town Hall and Learning Centre, it’s worth questioning why the project has been removed from the community it focuses on, to be shown some 5 miles west in Hyde Park. Often, the difficulty with community-led projects is navigating the fine line between the community ‘collaborating’ in the making of the project and becoming the ‘subject’ of the work. The longevity of this project and the feelings evoked when watching the works, suggests it’s gone some way in achieving the former not an easy feat.

Radio Ballads was curated and produced by Amal Khalaf, Elizabeth Graham and Layla Gatens. The exhibition is co-curated with Natalia Grabowska. Entry is free and you can find out more information here: https://www.serpentinegalleries.org/. Radio Ballads will be showing at Serpentine North until 29 May and Barking Town Hall and Learning Centre until 17 April.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Sonia Boyce, Yes, I Hear You, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Reviewed by Amy Melling – Amy is a Curator and Creative Producer whose practice is centred around community-led arts projects. Her current research is focused on curatorial methods for exhibiting artworks outside. Amy has a keen interest in the arts and recently completed an MA in Curating and Collections at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL.


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