Dagmara Bilon is a London-based Polish/German performance artist and activist. She works as a freelance director and teacher locally and internationally. Her multi-disciplinary practice orbits around embodied investigations and making the unconscious conscious. Dialogue and collaboration, with self and others, materials and sites are central to her practice. Over the last decade, she has produced a diverse body of work, which belongs to the related realms of experimental performance and installation, and which is often action-based, site-specific, durational, and immersive. Passionate about art that inspires change, she also produces events and community-based projects.
I listen through my body, wait and respond. I work with the dirt on my hands and the bareness of my feet. I work with my flow of thoughts, images and feelings, living inside and outside, conscious and unconscious, planned and unexpected. Collaborators, materials, and space are part of the dialogue.
- I believe art is about listening as much as it is about expressing.
- I believe in the importance of holding a safe space for uncensored expression.
- I believe in the craft of reduction: a careful process where chaos becomes a crystallized form.
- I believe in the art of non-verbal communication.
- I believe the personal is political.
- I believe my practice is an investigation, meditation or provocation.
- I believe in the importance of diverse voices to shape the cultural landscape.
- I am dedicated to promoting empathy and social inclusion regardless of race, gender, age, class or sexual background.
- I believe that participating in the expressive arts has the potential to create a deeper connection with self and others, raise awareness and transformation.
- I want to challenge mainstream representations of body and identity via re-defining contemporary myths and symbols.
- I work on small unfunded projects/actions as well as large fully-funded projects.
- I embrace collaborations that push the boundaries of my practice.
- I am influenced by a mixed bag of my life experiences, work experiences in the art sector, formal dance/choreography training and postgraduate training in movement psychotherapy.
Childhood and growing up (1981-2003)
My earliest memory from which I draw inspiration was a family ‘leaving part' for my mother and me at home in Poland. I was three years old. We were celebrating our departure from Poland to Germany, a new country and a new adventure. But I was frightened and anxious. Music was playing and eventually, I started dancing. I followed the beat of the music, jumping and turning my body repeatedly. My anxiety gradually turned into ecstatic bliss. I remember, I thought that if I could transform into dance, whatever happens in life, I would be alright. I became conscious of the transformative powers of movement and dance and its effect on the body and mind.
While growing up I became strongly influenced by my mother's visual art practice. From an early age, I received a holistic and embodied education, witnessing my mother paint, being encouraged to paint alongside her, regular visits to art galleries and studying art history. I always had a sketch pad/diary and would record life events with images, stories and symbols. I actually still practice this.
When I was 16, I decided to leave my private London-based German school and study dance at Lewisham College. Two years later I was accepted with a full scholarship to study dance theatre at Trinity LABAN.
During my time at Trinity LABAN I was inspired by the works of R. Laban and became obsessed with his philosophical approach to movement and art. I was mentored by Rosemary Butcher (choreography) and Janet Kaylor (Laban movement analysis) and made work directed by inspiring artists such as Nigel Charnock and Wendy Houston (DV8). I also initiated several projects both solo and in collaboration with fellow students with whom I had a deep affinity, developing my own individual artistic language, which combined choreography and visual arts.
Early career, motherhood and further education (2003-2007)
After graduating from Trinity LABAN in 2003 I started working as a performer and continued to develop my own body of work as a maker.
I was part of a dynamic artistic community (2004-2011) in an enormous disused warehouse called Area10 Project Space. I developed a multidisciplinary visual language, independently and in collaboration with other artists including research and development sessions for professional performers, performance labs and art events open to the public.
I was a co-founder of Echo Space, which involved transforming a derelict church hall into an art space. I devised work at Echo Space and also helped curate several art events hosting a variety of artists. I co-produced my first large scale immersive piece, All Hallows Eve featuring a promenade at the old cemetery in Nunhead, culminating in a site-specific dinner performance at the church, which unfortunately burned down in July of 2006.
As a performer I worked with Punchdrunk devising the role of the bald witch for Sleep No More (2003); furthermore, with the international multi-disciplinary performance troupe Psychological Art Circus and devised material for Marisa Carnesky’s Ghost Train.
When I became pregnant with my first daughter in 2004, I was fired from Carnesky’s production and thereafter started to observe and experience the lack of support in society for artists with children.
I sought to understand more deeply the relationship between the body and mind in the creative process and decided to study Movement Psychotherapy at Roehampton University graduating in 2007.
During my time at Roehampton University, I was strongly influenced by the work of Carl G. Jung and his approach working with the unconscious as well as by the controversial existentialist R.D. Laing.
Work up to the present (2007-2019)
Since graduating from Roehampton University in London, I have been facilitating movement and dance improvisation, devising for performance, video making and combined arts sessions in a wide range of settings including educational institutions, mental health day centers and community settings. Sessions are catered to specific community groups such as professional dancers/actors, as well as non-professional adults and children.
After the abrupt closure of Area10 Project Space in 2011 and death of our inspirational friend and colleague Linda Dobell, a group of female performers took the initiative to form a women-led interdisciplinary performance collective called The Purple Ladies.
The Purple Ladies mission is to give a voice to women, operating as a non-hierarchical collective. We have produced a wide range of performance events, happenings and community workshops. Recently I directed our community friendly cabarets as well as a site-specific performance promenade around a council estate in Peckham which was based on dreams.
Human rights became the focal point of my recent work in the current changing and unpredictable climate. Capitalism and class struggle from a feminist point of view takes central focus in my project The Opera of The Endangered Species whereas migration and the vulnerability of women is the focus of my collaboration with Teresa Albor, Performing Displacement.
I am a collaborating artist with HimherandIt Productions’ Genderhouse Project, which shines a light on themes of gender, sexuality and identity. We have been nominated for a national Danish theatre award for our “one audience member at a time” large scale immersive performance Garden which was produced both in Denmark and in the UK. I was an artistic mentor for Himherandit’s community development programme Talking Genders Youth and collaborated on our large-scale video installation Landscapes, which premiered in 2018 as part of The Genderhouse Festival in Aarhus, Denmark.
Present - future projects
I am currently feeling more and more the responsibility as an artist to respond to various social issues and to incorporate my skill and craft in re-shaping the current climate. My practice has always run along two main tracks: one that is inward facing and deals with the personal, the other outward facing and engaged in the facilitation and enabling creative processes of others.
I'm currently exploring my own history of migration, with plans of conducting research involving a trip back to the woods in Poland where my father grew up and to the city where I was born. I seek to puzzle together the shadows of a traumatic loss, the death of my father and reconnect with my roots.
At the same time, I'm plotting creative ventures with my collaborators as a facilitator, director and producer to give shape to cutting edge productions in 2020 and 2021.