Artistic Director of Bermondsey based arts venue Deen Atger talks about the first summer edition of @Disturbance to take place this month

Courtesy of Yasmine Akim.

Committed to creating a safe, creative space for LGBTQIA+ artists, Ugly Duck is at the forefront of championing multidisciplinary live works that speak to the present day. Their annual @Disturbance festival, typically staged towards the end of each year, now set for an inaugural summer edition. The collaborative event seeing artists Alex Billingham, Samiir Saunders, Ace Rahman, Kobi Essah Ayensuo and Ella Frost inspired by Ugly Duck’s partnership with disabled led organisations Care-fuffle and Shape Arts to specifically create new pieces integrating captioning, audio description and BSL. Ahead of the event, to take place on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd June in Bermondsey, Ugly Duck’s Deen Atger tells us more about what to expect from this crucial, innovative event.

Hello Deen, @Disturbance returns to Ugly Duck on the 22nd and 23rd June in Bermondsey for its first summer edition. How are you feeling ahead of the event?

I’m pretty excited and proud of how far this small DIY project has come. We now have an incredible selection of artists, really strong and committed partners, and a passionate team to deliver the project. In the past, we’ve only held this event in winter, and the building would get so cold. It’s nice that this year we can work in hopefully less drastic conditions.

Since it’s the solstice, we’ve decided to invest in our yard to create an outdoor moment before bringing the audience inside. I think this will bring a very different experience and atmosphere compared to some of our previous shows.

The event will showcase different artists’ worlds and environments, featuring durational performances, alternative queer TV shows, sound art, installations, and poetry.

@Disturbance is renowned for championing LGBTQIA+ performance, video and digital artists, with this summer’s line up including Alex Billingham, Samiir Saunders, Ace Rahman, Kobi Essah Ayensuo and Ella Frost. How have you approached curating the line up? Can you explain what new work each artist will be presenting?

This year, instead of an open call for projects, we decided to make a targeted call for recommendations from our network of previous artists and collaborators. The three guest curators, Gisou Golshani, Anita Wolska-Kaslow, and MK Margetson, reviewed many amazing works. Our focus was on accessibility for both artists and audiences.

Artist, poet and filmmaker, Samiir Saunders, will perform a new creation of sound-text poetry with their virtual self, creating an experience reminiscent of queer alternative TV shows and imaginative world-building. Samiir’s work aims to arm individuals and communities with the tools to be curious, compassionate, and vulnerable in their everyday lives.

Kobi Essah Ayensuowill present a new soundscape blending singing and powerful spoken word pieces, displayed within a set featuring projections and other set designs. Kobi is a poet, musician, playwright, facilitator and creative of many hats based in London. Their work often explores their black queer, trans identity and coming of age, their black queer ancestry, Ghanaian heritage; navigating relationships and reimagining and decolonising the lens with which black history is told.

Ace Rahman has embarked on an ambitious durational performance, incorporating a large installation with interactive sounds, projections, and mind-blowing costumes. Ace’s work always merges traditional elements with ultra-contemporary aesthetics.

Ella Frost is creating a new video piece referencing themes of activism, sorrow and Afro-Caribbean mythology. The film will be projected in a bespoke installation merging natural and digital elements.

Survival underpins performer Alex Billingham’s work. Playing with possible tomorrows to find better ways for us all to survive into the future, they will share for @Disturbance a new creation that merges film, video game environments, set design, and movement performance based on reflections and the question: how Ai’s and humans see the world?

@Disturbance is a collaborative effort, with artist Knives responsible for the set design and for the exterior installation, Mahalia Henry-Richards in charge of the graphic design, and poet Oduenyi Nwike supporting @Disturbance throughout the event. How have you all worked together to realise the event?

Each year, we work to invite and commission new artists to contribute to the realisation of this event. Knives, an incredible set designer and artist, usually works on film sets and has joined for set design and outdoor installations. Mahalia Henry-Richardscreated our artistic visual identity, and Oduenyi Nwikke, an amazing poet and performer, has joined us for community outreach and lighting. It’s a DIY approach where people bring their unique skills, share, and learn simultaneously.

Rob Hall, our technical director, brings invaluable knowledge and experience, handling various cameras, projectors, and software for the livestream. We now have dedicated technical support from camera pro Graham Trelferand sound engineer Yuki Nakayama.

For the residency, we pair each artist with other professional artists to bring diverse experiences, fresh perspectives, and new connections. This year, Anne DuffauJosh WoolfordSeda Ergul, and Gisou Golshani have taken on this role.

Sorry for all the name-dropping, but it’s just the best part of this experience. We have many meetings focused on vision and storyboard, working little by little to create something beautiful. Brainstorming and developing ideas to elevate the performance work and enhance the audience’s experience is one of the most rewarding aspects of this project.

@Disturbance has partnered with disabled led organisations Care-fuffle and Shape Arts in order to make the event accessible – with captioning, audio description and BSL translation integrated within the new work produced by the five artists taking part. How have you worked with both organisations to explore accessibility further?

I met Elinor Hayes from Shape Arts and Anita Wolska-Kaslow from Care-fuffle last year when I invited them to an accessibility panel on queer and underground spaces during the art show Pretty Doomed (co-curated with Queer Art Project). We connected really well, and their work inspired me to embark on this creative accessibility exploration. Our collaboration involved numerous meetings, discussions, and mood boards. It has been incredibly informative for me, and I hope it will inspire the artists and creative team too.

Through discussions, reading, and researching artists working in similar fields, my understanding of accessibility has evolved significantly. It’s astonishing and terribly exclusionary how little effort and knowledge there is about accessibility in the art world and society at large.

This vision is something we are committed to achieving. We believe in it deeply, but we are still at the beginning of our journey. As we are still very much a DIY operation, it remains a work in progress.

What have you learned/taken away from curating this summer’s event?

I’ve learned that teamwork is incredibly important and that @Disturbance is about both the process and the audience’s experience, which requires ample time and attention. Undertaking a project of this scale would benefit greatly from a larger budget, more support, and extended development time, as it sometimes feels a bit rushed by the end.

I also learned that ensuring accessibility requires a significant amount of work, concentration, and dedication. However, working towards this goal feels right and is something I am looking forward to continuing exploring.

The process has been different this time. Creating art or shows while a genocide is happening in Palestine is challenging and raises many questions. I believe it’s important, however, to create spaces where audiences and artists can reflect on the world together.

What can be expected from @Disturbance?

A warm selection of people, a fantastic line up, captivating sound and visuals, thoughtful lighting and set design, and a welcoming atmosphere create a friendly and caring environment. We’re dedicated to building a space where people can be themselves, reflect, and ponder the creative acts they’ve witnessed.

We hope to foster a sense of community where everyone respects and celebrates each other’s identities in all their diverse forms.

What would you like the audience to take away from the event?

Ultimately, @Disturbance aims to inspire the audience and provoke thoughtful reflection. We strive to create a sense of hope and community, fostering togetherness and mutual support as we work towards a more inclusive world.

Interview by Lucy Basaba.

@Disturbsnce will take place from Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd June at Ugly Duck, Bermondsey. To find out more about the event, visit here..,

Written by Theatrefullstop