Dagmara Bilon is a London-based Polish/German interdisciplinary artist, performer, creative producer, activist, and a Purple Lady. She has a bachelor degree in Dance Theatre from LABAN and a postgraduate diploma in Dance Movement Psychotherapy from Roehampton University. She works as a freelancer locally and internationally.
Her interdisciplinary practice orbits around rituals, psycho-magic, performance making, community projects and activism. Her practice moves fluidly along two main tracks: one that is inward-facing and deals with the personal, the other outward-facing, collaborating, and engaging in facilitation and enabling creative processes of others.
Over the last decade, she has produced a diverse body of work, which belong to the related realms of performance and video installation, and are often action-based, site-specific, durational, and immersive. Passionate about art that inspires change, she also produces and curates art events and community-based projects.
I grew up in a council estate in Germany, where the entire flat was my mum's visual art studio. She set the foundation for my art practice: to be resourceful, unapologetic and authentic. My father was a queer drummer in socialist Poland and died when I was a young child. I found that I could connect with him ‘after his death’ through rhythm and dance. This connection I felt played a big part in me deciding to train as a dancer when I was 16 years old. The essence of my practice is a playful and intuitive interaction between the visual and the performing arts; and a meeting point between my mother and father.
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 Deutsche Schule London 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 multidisciplinary performance troupe Psychological Art Circus and devised material for Marissa 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.
Productions, collaborations and community engagement (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 the 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 promenade performance around a council estate in Peckham which was based on dreams.
I am a collaborating artist with HimherandIt Productions, 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'm 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.
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.
Present - Future projects
My recent work has become responsive to the recent socio-political climate and to: 'What the fuck is going on?' Being an artist in this last few years has taken a new meaning.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the creative sector and has geared my practice again into new directions. I’m grateful to have received an emergency grant from Arts Council England to re-think and re-frame my practice.
I’m currently the artist in residence at hARTSlane gallery conducting a community engagement project, inviting the local community in a letter-writing project. I’m also developing Hungry for Human Contact,a project that was kindly commissioned by Procreate and investigates sexuality and dating during the Covid-19 new reality. I continue creative producing with The Purple Ladies, we are currently developing When the Trees Breathe Out - a series of educational art videos that explore the mystical working of trees and the forest.
Watch this Space!