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Artistic Director of Ugly Duck Deen Atger discusses 2022's LGBTQIA programme

Image: Deen Atger, Artistic Director at Ugly Duck. Photo by Grace Ward


Ugly Duck Bermondsey, is currently celebrating an auspicious 10 year anniversary. In this time, they’ve gone from strength to strength as a respected underground London fixture. Their spacious former Victorian warehouse has played host to hundreds of forward-thinking performance, video and digital artists who have become part of their community and attracted international audiences. This November, Ugly Duck’s flagship programme of LGBTQIA artists @Disturbance returns both live and via livestream from 7pm on November 10th, 11th and 12th (Now spanning three nights as previous @Distrurbance programmes have sold out.)


Championing radical, diverse, queer artists is pivotal to @Disturbance’s philosophy. As is online viewing, making @Disturbance accessible for those unable to travel. 


Artistic Director of Ugly Duck and founder of @Disturbance Deen Atger says: “At @Disturbance we find and nurture the talent of tomorrow – bold and forward-thinking artists who deconstruct boundaries and pave the way for totally new aesthetics. Each year @Disturbance evolves and we’re excited to welcome new artists into our growing network”. 


This November @Disturbance’s featured artists include Iranian born Gisou Golshani, whose hypnotic performance is set against a video installation backdrop; the radical performative vision of Joy Yaa Kincaid; and River Cao, who revisit thoughts of their native Southern China. Eight video artists from all over the world will also showcase work at the live event and on a brand new online portal.  


Journalist Thomas Lewton met with Deen to ask them questions about @Disturbance’s 2022 programme  


Thomas Lewton: How did your project @Disturbance start and where is it now? 

Deen Atger: @Disturbance began in the middle of lockdown 2020 to try to create something for people to enjoy via their computer and to make sure LGBTQ+ performers could still create and nurture their practices. It also came from a wish to provide culture, hope and beauty into a world which was falling apart. That is still very much the case as unfortunately the world hasn't really got any better.


After spending hours scrolling the internet at the time, I think I also wanted to share more of the wild things that were happening at Ugly Duck, offering rare performative experimentations. 


We’ve really grown since the first edition, turning our experiment into a full development programme for artists that nurture artists and help them grow. This culminates in our dreamy and poetic large-scale shows which can be enjoyed either from our space in London Bridge or online, via our extended creative livestream.  


Thomas: How do you go about creating as meaningful an experience online as in person?

Deen: We create two shows at once: a live show online and a live physical show. For me it’s all about the live experience; if something goes wrong then the online viewers can also see it. I also like filming the physical audience to give a sense of being part of a crowd.


Our incredible - and somehow yet to be evicted from - Victorian warehouse space is meaningful and recognisable to a vital section of the London arts community. So, I hope it’s exciting for online viewers to either recognise a place they’ve been to, or to discover this building for the first time.


To make sure the experience of the event translates well online, we work with tech wizard Rob Hall from Goldsmiths. Rob installs many cameras capturing different angles and live edits while it’s being streamed. 


Image: Gisou Golshani, artist. Photograph by Tom Morley.


Thomas: Why is equity between digital and irl worlds important? 

Deen: I personally kind of grew up online, so I’ve always considered the digital space as an actual space with rules, aesthetics and possibilities. It was there that I discovered queerness, punk feminist music and so many other constructive things that are still very present in my identity. I’m interested in participating, in offering this for other young queer folk living remotely or anyone else living outside of London.


We also want to make our creative offer accessible to all. Some people can’t physically attend due to health conditions or concerns and it’s important to take this into consideration. There are so many people out there who are in need of fresh, new aesthetics and perspectives that they can’t find on TV or in their local club. It’s also why the livestream is free so it’s accessible to all economic backgrounds.


Thomas: The model of @Disturbance sounds a bit like an ecosystem?

Deen: Yes, our community is part of a web, where past artists return as juries, speakers and mentors within the programme. As part of the programme we have different workshops and talks where artists meet and share skills. The art world can be so hard to navigate and everything often works with connections and social habits. If you are an artist and haven’t been to an art school or aren’t from London, it can be hard to get your voice heard or get your art seen. With @Disturbance we make sure that we introduce emerging artists to a bunch of professionals to support them, and to potentially book them in the future.


Image: Joy Kincaid, artist. Photograph by Orlando Myxx.


Thomas: Several of the artists offer deeply personal perspectives in their work. Can self-narratives change society? 

Deen: This is an interesting question. I don’t know if it can necessarily change society, but it can show society more delicacy and perspectives which hopefully inspire and resonate with a larger audience.


Artists in residence Gisou Golshani for example will perform a sequel to The Bittern, a piece about a queer melancholic bird. In ancient mythology and literature this bird refrains from drinking water from the swamps and lakes she lives in, fearing it might cause drought. Through ritualistic movement, collaged visuals and a multilayered soundscape, Gisou investigates the bird’s melancholia in relation to the current droughts in Iran.. 


Actually, for this edition of @Disturbance, the performers are all exploring a form of melancholy, which I think is very telling about our society – we are collectively as well as personally experiencing a very drastic, extreme change, and we are confronted with many injustices and threats that we don’t always know how to react towards. So the creative formulation of the artist's introspections, I think, can definitely have an echo if not an impact.   


Image: Noam Youngrak, artist. Photograph by Son extract.


Thomas: Is there also diversity and complexity in the mediums that these artists use? 

Deen: Yes absolutely. In their performance I found a dead bird artist River Cao revisits the marginalised queer experience of growing up in small-town southern China. To rethink emotions of grief in a live performance focussed on mourning rituals, River Cao’s work combines set design, installation, fashion, music and video art. 


The complexity and the nuances artists explore in their field of research translates in their choice of medium. They are also exploring complex and diverse subjects such as displacement, mixed identities, grief, racism. Sophie Hoyle’s video art  explores post-colonial, queer, feminist, critical psychiatry and disability. They will be showing Hyperacusis at @Disturbance: Two films about mental health, trauma, gender and sexuality, access to healthcare and transcultural psychiatry.


Image: River Cao, artist.


Thomas: Trans and non-binary people have found themselves at the centre of the harmful ‘culture war’ debates in British politics and media. How can experimental art counter this? 

Deen: Those debates in the media are super toxic because they are always so polarised and are presented without any nuances. There are as many trans stories and experiences as there are trans people and this is never transcribed.  


Shon Faye author of ‘The Transgender Issue’ explains this so well by saying: “Typically, trans people are lumped together as ‘the transgender issue’, dismissing and erasing the complexity of trans lives, reducing them to a set of stereotypes on which various social anxieties can be brought to bear.”


All @Disturbance artists are proposing a unique representation, incorporating contrasts and oppositional dialogues which helps us move away from this tiresome debate – a debate which shouldn’t be there in the first place. 


For example, artist Noam Youngrak Son in their work ‘Yummy Body Truck’ explores the idea of self determination via the speculative concept of a food truck that sells ‘edible human body parts’. The stall collects samples of organisms found nearby, grinds their flesh into mouldable paste, and reshapes it into forms of human bodies. They explain: “When your dough is too stiff, you add more water and when your dough tastes too bland, you add more spices. We also do this with our bodies & identities with things such as hormone replacement therapy. We are adding a pinch of oestrogen to our dough.”  


Image: Yana Bachynska, artist. Self Portrait


Thomas: In Staying With The Trouble, Donna Haraway writes, “Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent responses to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.” Do queer identities do this?  

Deen: Yes, I think this is exactly what queer identities have the ability to do! Queers may be more “accepted” or more “visible” today, but we’ve have been practicing techniques of survival since the beginning of time. As a result we have this strength of resisting, to keep laughing and creating and pushing boundaries even after we’ve been hurt or humiliated. To “stir up potent responses to devastating events” is what we’ve always done. 


This reminds me of the work of the Ukrainian trans artists Yana Bachynska who in their film Tovarystvo Sekta tells a story of an unconventional group of friends who live together and who experience daily hallucinations, which are messages from a future where a queer utopia has come. Their work is poetic yet also addresses issues around historical events, commemoration demonstrating marginalised folks longing for utopia.


Thomas: What kinds of disturbance are you hoping to make? 

Deen: For this edition we want to surprise our audience with something that differs from the previous editions. We always try to come up with radical ideas, offering unexpected aesthetics and propositions.  


We want to disturb what people expect from a queer artistic showcase. The show isn’t at all just for a queer audience: we also want to disrupt general ideas about binary identities, fluidity of gender and sexualities. And all of this in a beautiful warm atmosphere, either in our London space n or via the waves of the internet.  


Follow Deen on Instagram: @Deen_Atg 



10-12 November, 7pm-10 pm

Ugly Duck

47/49 Tanner Street

London, SE1 3PL



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