Culture in Quarantine: 25 new commissions from BBC Arts and Arts Council England

As part of the BBC Arts programme Culture in Quarantine, Arts Council England and BBC - with selection process run by The Space - have commissioned 25 new works of literary, musical, visual, sonic, and performance arts themed around lockdown.

The commissions will receive production and editorial support from partner arts organisations including Battersea Arts Centre, Sadler’s Wells, Opera North and Unlimited.

These pieces will be broadcast across BBC Radio 3 and BBC TV, through podcasts on BBC Sounds, and through the BBC Arts website.

Jonty Claypole, Director of BBC Arts, says: “We’re hugely grateful for everyone who applied to Culture in Quarantine’s new commissions scheme, with Arts Council England. The sheer number and quality of applications was a powerful reminder of the world-leading creativity of the UK. The commissioned art works have a breath of viewpoint, tone and innovation, offering something for everybody. Together, with similar schemes we have in all the nations, these projects providing a powerful snapshot - both for now and posterity - of our country during lockdown."

Simon Mellor, Deputy Chief Executive at Arts Council England, says: “During the isolation of lockdown, millions of us are finding solace in the unique power of the arts to help us make sense of the world around us. We’re delighted to be partnering with BBC Arts to commission and deliver 25 high quality new works of art into the nation’s living rooms over the coming months.”

Fiona Morris, CEO and Creative Director, The Space, says: “The sheer number, inventiveness and quality of the applications received is a testament to the brilliant creativity that is very much alive and flourishing within the country - even in difficult circumstances. The Space looks forward to working with the commissioned artists and associate organisations to produce these works that will chronicle our experiences and help us make sense of the times we are living through.”

The pieces are:

Tom Hickox - No Human Is An Island

'No Human Is An Island' will be a song written in response to the iconic John Donne Meditation from 1624, No Man Is An Island. It will reflect on our ability to exist in isolation and the importance of community to the human existence. As well as the recorded song, also featuring members of the Chineke! Orchestra, it will be presented as a performance video directed by Nicolas Jack Davies.

1927 - Decameron Nights

In 2019, 1927 premiered theatre show 'Roots' - an anthology of ancient folk tales by anonymous authors. Between May 2019 and January 2020, Roots was presented in the UK, USA, Australia, Tunisia and Chile. Taking inspiration from this and 'The Decameron', 1927 will adapt ten Roots folktales and each night for ten nights share a folktale with the socially isolated, the quarantined. 'The Decameron' is a seminal book that shaped the very notion of storytelling, it is often credited with being one of the first pieces of writing to teach us how to maintain mental wellbeing in times of epidemic and isolation. The tales will take the form of ten podcasts/audio episodes.

Geoff Sample - A Birdsong Garden

Geoff Sample is a field recordist, natural history author and sound artist, with a special interest in birdsong and the cultural history of hearing music in nature. This series of eight radio pieces/podcasts (12-15 minutes each) explores the experience of withdrawal from social life by choice, both the isolation and the connection, in the realisation of life-affirming outcomes. Moving through the year using soundscapes of actual seasonal moods, events, movements and individual birds, a sparse narrative reflects Sample’s experiences living in rural and village isolation in northern England.

imitating the dog - Airlock: A Live Action Graphic Novel

Produced as three short episodes, 'Airlock' brings together five performers as the main protagonists in a series of short live action video-novels. A stranded astronaut drifts across the sky as she makes desperate contact with a worker in a power station 120,000 miles below. A fictional private detective fights to escape their creator's storyboard. At the world’s ending the last human alive comes face to face with the source of the deadly contagion that has crippled humanity. imitating the dog have been making ground-breaking work for theatres and other spaces for 20 years.

Chloe White - Bold Fisherman

'Bold Fisherman' is an immersive and poetic short six-minute documentary taking as its inspiration the traditional folk song of the same name and taking as its lead characters the local fishermen of Hastings who are determined to continue to fish for their community. Chloe White is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and photographer and director of Whalebone Films based in Hastings, with frequent travels around the world to collect stories and images.

Jordan Baseman - Fabula

Jordan Baseman is a visual artist and filmmaker - the Reader in Time-Based Media, Senior Tutor in Moving Image, at the Royal College of Art, London. Jordan's intention is to capture personal experiences of dreaming during the global quarantine, to develop these captured experiences, and to transform them into an artwork that discusses what it means to have experienced this time in an abstract, poetic, non-narrative fashion.

BirdGang Ltd - Flying Home

BirdGang Ltd is a leading UK company that creates, teaches and distributes avant-garde dance content for stage, theatre, film and online. Leaders in hip hop theatre, they are known internationally for high-quality choreography and performance. 'Flying Home' explores the idea of self-isolation in this current world pandemic. We meet six dancers isolated in conference styled windows. The audience then follows the dancers journey as they embark on a choreographic dance exploring the limitations of their surroundings.

Jade Anouka - Her & Her

A lyrical and musical short film that uses beatboxing, live looping and singing to accompany the journey of an inter-racial lesbian couple, who have just moved in together, told through poetry/spoken word. Actor and poet Jade Anouka most recently appeared on our screens in ITV’s 'Cleaning Up', Netflix comedy 'Turn Up Charlie' and feel good feature films 'Fisherman’s Friends' and 'Last Christmas'. Grace Savage is an electro-pop singer-songwriter and four times UK Beatbox champion. She is making waves in the music industry with continuous support from BBC Introducing and was listed as one of Elle’s 100 Most Inspiring Women.

Somina ‘Mena’ Fombo - Home Carnival

An exhilarating exploration of UK carnival culture told through dance, music and mas costume. This alternative parade will be realised through the homes and gardens of individual black artists, dressed in full carnival attire dancing to original afrobeats and soca, choreographed and led by carnival queen Precious Onyenekwu Tata. Directed by Somina.

Mandeep Singh - Isolation, In Your Words

'Isolation, In Your Words' transforms into music the reflections of a cross-section of the British public, capturing both unique stories and shared experiences of isolation. A collaboration between interviewees, rapper/storyteller/composer Mandeep Singh, composers/arrangers Leanne Sedin and Kevin Fox, producer Arun Dhanjal (Zar) and an array of musicians from London's thriving jazz scene, the project weaves together words of real people with the work of artists all working remotely, to document this unique moment in history.

Rachel Bagshaw and China Plate - Where I Go (When I Can't Be Where I Am)

'Where I Go (When I Can’t Be Where I Am)' will be a ten minute short film created by the team behind the multi-award winning, critically acclaimed theatre show 'The Shape Of The Pain'. Conceived and directed by Rachel Bagshaw and written by Chris Thorpe, the film follows one woman as she remembers a past relationship whilst experiencing an episode of extreme physical pain. Based on Rachel’s own lived experience of the rare condition Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, the film weaves together video design, sound and words to explore how we talk about pain and love - and if we can ever do either in a way someone else will truly understand.

Fuel - Transcendence: Making A Digital Rave

SK Shlomo is a world-record breaking beatboxer, composer, theatre-maker and former World Looping Champion. Written and performed by SK Shlomo, directed by Matthew Xia and produced by Fuel, 'Transcendence: Making A Digital Rave' will be an interactive ‘rave-theatre’ show with a cast of one hundred isolated humans connected digitally from their homes across the globe, broadcast live.

Vamos Theatre - How Hard Is Waving?

Vamos Theatre, the UK's leading full mask theatre company, has been touring its funny and fearless brand of wordless theatre since 2006. 'How Hard Is Waving?' is the story of Ryan, alone in lockdown and doing his best to support his quirky, extended family through video link alone - not to mention keeping his own mental health on track. Playful, comic, and poignant, these non-verbal shorts take us on a journey through four weeks of daily online meet-ups…can Ryan keep gran happy? Will dad come a cropper with his DIY? And does Ryan stand a chance with Katie, gran’s carer? It’s all to find out in this Jack Tati-meets-Homer-Simpson full mask series.

Spread the Word - Say Your Peace

Theresa Lola - Spread the Word's Young People’s Laureate for London - will commission new poetry from two former Young People’s Laureates, Momtaza Mehri and Caleb Femi. Momtaza is a British-Somali poet, essayist and editor. Her work has been featured in Poetry Review, BuzzFeed, BBC Radio 4, Vogue and she is a columnist-in-residence at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Caleb is a poet and filmmaker. He has written and directed short films commissioned by the BBC and Channel 4 and poems by the Tate Modern.

Cathy Mager - Sign Night

Cathy Mager is an artist, curator and producer. 'Sign Night' is inspired by the balcony performers of Wuhan and Lombardy, but using sign language - the vital, visual and versatile language of deaf communities. Collaborating with deaf performers living in self-isolation, she will illuminate the streets of Bristol with mysterious film projections revealing deaf culture in lockdown, allowing hands and bodies to express what can't be spoken by words alone.

Soumik Datta - Sounds Of Silence

'Sounds Of Silence' is a podcast journey exploring isolation and silence through conversations with Soumik and diverse musicians across the UK, weaving everyday sounds recorded in their homes during lockdown. Soumik Datta is a British Bengali musician, composer, electronic producer and television presenter. He plays the 19-stringed sarod and connects his Indian classical roots with contemporary musical styles from around the world.

Corey Baker Dance - Swan Lake Bath Ballet

Set to Tchaikovsky's iconic 'Swan Lake' theme, elite ballet dancing stars from renowned dance companies around the world will perform from their own home (filled) baths a new version of 'Swan Lake' created by award-winning choreographer Corey Baker to form a new three-minute dance film.

Wayward Productions - The Language Of Alone

A 30-minute programme for 'Between The Ears', BBC Radio 3. As the lockdown eases we hear from those who have been caring for patients facing critical illness at this extraordinary time. Nurses and other healthcare professionals look back and reflect on how the pandemic has changed them and their view of their profession during these past three months. We hear their reflections on this extraordinary time - both positive and negative. This will create a ‘sound poem’ written by Stephanie Jacobs from interviews with sound design by Gareth Fry. Produced by Judith Dimant and Jules Wilkinson for Wayward Productions. Wayward is currently adapting Christie Watson’s nursing memoir 'The Language Of Kindness' for the stage. Judith was producer at Complicité for 25 years before forming Wayward in 2018.

Mimbre - The Sofa Dance

'The Sofa Dance' is a response to the limited space we have to move in during the COVID-19 quarantine and how we deal with that differently. Sitting, waiting, dozing, dancing, tumbling or turning the world upside down in a handstand. A short film featuring over 30 miniature portraits, it will give a snapshot of an extraordinary time and invites the viewers to create their own responses from the comfort of their sofas. Mimbre is an acrobatic theatre company fusing acrobatics, dance and humour to create visual poetry in unconventional performance spaces.

Rhiannon Armstrong - The Soothing Presence Of Strangers

'The Soothing Presence Of Strangers' is an audio work incorporating field recordings, interviews, storytelling and original music. It is a meditation on loneliness, usefulness, and the place a bus route can have in our lives. Rhiannon Armstrong is an interdisciplinary artist making work under the lifelong series title 'Instructions For Empathetic Living'.

Nicola Quilter & Rocket Room Films - Treasure

'Treasure' is a 15-minute drama filmed at the house of a family living together in isolation. Tearing their hair out under lockdown, they devise a cryptic treasure hunt to pass the time with other family members joining in by video. Tempers fray. They cheat and what should not be found is found. What seems a terrible secret is unearthed with an unexpected outcome that brings the family closer together. Features Tom Hanson (Brassic, Little Drummer Girl), Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey, James Bond films), Alex Hanson (Kidulthood, Party Animals), Molly Hanson, James Dangerfield and Roisin Keogh.

Opera North Projects - Walking Home: Sound Journeys For Lockdown

Inspired by sound journeys produced by Opera North for the Humber Bridge and the River Tyne, this new project commissions five UK-based artists to compose music to be listened to while walking. Just as Indian classical raags are each associated with a specific condition - weather, season, time of day - each piece is created for a particular environment. They might offer the listener a soundtrack to their daily escape from lockdown; intensify the sensations experienced on their chosen route; or conjure up something altogether harder to define.

Far From The Norm - Can’t Kill Us All

Botis Seva established Far From The Norm in 2009. Botis' work is steeped in hip hop but gives a fresh steer on contemporary dance. He presents a commentary on socio-political issues and is recognised for his uncensored approach. 'Can't Kill Us All' is a cultural, theatrical experience combining hip hop dance theatre, audio production and film to give insight into the micro and macro impacts of COVID-19 within an individual’s mind but also his home.

Shon Dale-Jones - Your Call

Award-winning writers, father and daughter, Shôn and Josie Dale-Jones will co-create a short-form podcast series, 'Your Call'. Shôn Dale-Jones was Artistic Director of international touring theatre company, Hoipolloi, for over 25 years. A comic, life-affirming series of phone calls between father and daughter reveals their vulnerability as they attempt to stay connected through this separation.

Michael Jenkins - We Are Not The Virus

'We Are Not The Virus' is an uplifting spoken word film that explores the themes of isolation through the Black and migrant perspectives in the UK. A hopeful ode to the frontline workers, the piece hopes to add balance to the negative narrative surrounding human beings ruining everything with the idea that collectively, we can combat any virus whether that be a spiritual, mental or physical one. Michael Jenkins is a filmmaker from Bristol, recently voted among the 100 most influential people in Bristol in the BME power list 2018.

Image: 'Where I Go (When I Can't Be Where I Am)' by Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe

Back to stories

About the Author