I am sitting in our office at Battersea Arts Centre overlooking the Grand Hall roof. There is also a stained glass cupola covering the Octagonal Hall, and further away between the concrete and the bricks, some green grass and little spring flowers have blossomed. Nature always finds its way, I think, overcoming man-made structures, obstacles and even fires like the one this building suffered not many years ago. Sitting here, I think the fact that we have collectively made it this far in these current wild times should be no surprise either. We, like nature, have the power to transcend and shine.
This is one of the handful of times I have been in the office with the programming team in the last 18 months of relentless work. I still find it strange to come south of the river, to re-connect physically with a space and with faces outside a frame. A part of me forgot what it was to travel to work, and even if it might feel that boundaries between our lives and working spaces have dissipated by working from home, I finally managed to separate my work and my personal life. This, I remind myself daily, is a success and my way of overcoming the uncertainty and anxiety that 2020 brought to us. A treasure I have discovered last year and that is the key to staying sane, afloat and going forward. Here we are, in the flesh, ready to launch our new season of live and digital work, platforming incredible examples of overcoming and transcending obstacles in many different ways.
This is why we called it OVERCOME. The season will run from September through to Christmas, presenting an array of work which reflects on our unique ability to power through, learn, grow and expand in the face of uncertainty, challenges and hardship. We start the season by opening up the building entirely with a takeover by James Cousins Company, featuring collaborations with over 70 dance and music artists and texts by Sabrina Mahfouz pushing us to think consciously about how we want to re-build the world we live in. I am excited about this piece, and even more so to see how art can act as a catalyst for real change in our lives. We need change. We can be that change.
After a sold out digital run, Hofesh Shechter Company presents POLITICAL MOTHER: UNPLUGGED live for a limited run. This new take on one of the company’s classic pieces will occupy the Grand Hall and invite us to push our limits and expand in ways which we have not been able to do in the last 18 months. It is thrilling to even imagine this.
The womb of the programme is an exciting micro-season in itself, a beating heart of resilient inspiration, endurance and activist charm. An iconic line-up of female and queer artists will present work that not only tackles inequality, harassment and survival, but which also has in its soul a song of resistance and fight. From the way this work is dreamt, made and presented, we are hoping it will go from our hearts straight to yours. A mix of digital and in-person, performances by Figs in Wigs, Jennifer Jackson, Heather Agyepong and Rachael Young are the perfect example of overcoming and transcending, which we are deeply proud to support and present. We will also present an all-female panel of thinkers with some of our season artists reflecting on their own practice and how violence is channelled through art.
Opening spaces for reflection around the themes of our work feels needed now more than ever. We have done this in the last two seasons and we intend to keep this public programming strand. Why are we presenting this? Why do audiences need this work? How can we make sure it reaches them? The way in which we showcase artists and how shows are experienced is as important to us as the pieces themselves, and this has been crystallized in the last few months as we collaborate with artists and with teams across BAC to make sure everyone has a safe, pleasant and inspiring time when they engage with us or come through our building. If we are to OVERCOME this moment in time collectively, we need everyone on board. I have been held by friends close and far during these pandemic times and have re-discovered the power of connecting and remembering that, with time, we can always heal. I hope you feel inspired and activated by this season and the artists in it, their stories are testimonies of strength.
We remain rooted in our commitment as a Relaxed Venue, and to providing experiences which are accessible to as many people as possible. We are excited to present the interactive audio and video piece The Interrogation by Access All Areas, in partnership with Rich Mix, offering audiences the chance to experience this show outside, in public spaces around Wandsworth and Shoreditch whichever venue is closer to them or they feel most comfortable getting to. We will also partner with Heart n Soul to showcase their Lockdown Mixtape 2, digitally for audiences to enjoy at home, as well presenting the premiere of Rachael Young’s new film PLOUGH.
Part of our commitment to you, our audiences, means we will also keep running socially distanced shows for those who feel they need a bit more reassurance and space to feel safe in our building. This was a collective decision by everyone at BAC. Pay What You Can has been the most amazing experiment during our spring season and exceeded all our expectations, so we are also extending this across autumn and Christmas as well to make sure there are no monetary obstacles between our work and you. This, for us, is a radical act of love to our audiences. We want you to know we got you, and that we will always do our best to have something for you.
COME OVER for Christmas and experience one of our 3 offers, spanning from a specially commissioned panto mash-up by Sleeping Trees, Sleeping Beauty & The Beast, to the wonderful Jonny Woo and his All Star Christmas Cabaret and the unbeatable Mark Thomas presenting his own Christmas stories. A packed festive season to make up for last year’s too!
We, as an organisation and as individuals as well, have had time to look back and look ahead, to learn and to process what have been our achievements and challenges in this past 18 month period… to hear our audiences, participants and artists and to really push ourselves in our thinking and aims. I really believe that if we are truly ready to overcome this global challenge and resurface with purpose, clarity and strength as an open civic space, as an industry, as a nation … as the human race… we need to come together first.
COME OVER, our doors are open.
By Malú Ansaldo, Interim Programming Director at Battersea Arts Centre