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Run Riot Interview with Alex Billingham ahead of @Disturbance

Photo of Alex Billingham by Clair Unsworth.

Ugly Duck’s flagship programme @Disturbance returns with the first ever summer edition on Saturday June 22 & Sunday June 23.

An annual, artist-led happening championing LGBTQIA+ performance, video and digital artists, there will be a simultaneous online stream, enabling audiences unable to travel to experience @Disturbance in full effect. Founded and curated by Ugly Duck’s Creative Producer Deen Atger, @Disturbance remains committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for radical, diverse and queer artists and this June sees new work from amongst other artists, Alex Billingham who presents new commission Submerged, rooted in her personal journey as a disabled, trans, neurodiverse, and queer individual.

Alex's work serves as a poignant reflection of how these identities intersect and intertwine with the broader societal landscape and her live performance will take place within an immersive environment using film, installation and 3D. Alex has previously exhibited, performed and held residencies at galleries and arts spaces both internationally and in the UK, we caught up with Alex to ask her a few questions about her work, inspirations and more…

Run Riot: Hi Alex, we’d love to know more about you. Tell us more about you and your practice
Alex Billingham: Well, I’m a Black Country lass who’s exhibited and performed internationally. Like a lot of performers, I can be quite shy, preferring to centre my work in soft power.

While I cover a lot of different subjects, I think survival would be the core theme which binds them all together. Letting my myriad identities collide and intermingle with the research material.

My particular mix of Neurodiversities means I’m often getting distracted which can be difficult when you’re trying to make work, so now I’ve adapted my practice to take advantage of this. As a result, my practice covers a lot of ground. Everything from sound design, costume making, theatre and live art, sculpture, film making, painting and now computer game building.  Often finding that each discipline feeds back into the others, altering them.

I tend to make work which is both easy to access in that it’s beautiful or funny whilst also having a large amount of research behind it that’s there if the audience want to invest more time in it.

The best bit about being an artist is when you get to see how your work helps people not feel so alone with things.

Run Riot: Can you also tell us about Submerged, the piece you have creating and are performing at @Disturbance on June 22 and 23?
Alex: Submerged is a lot. It brings together ideas I’ve been playing with for years in a format I’ve been circling around for just as long. Fundamentally it’s live art sitting in the format of a theatrical show with a few twists.

After the floods, once the sea levels begin to subside, what will the sea creatures who evolve make of the junk we leave behind? How will they connect to the planet while sifting through our mess?

The audience will get the chance via a computer game to influence the flow of the work. Kinda like a ‘choose your own adventure’ performance. While a projection fills in the narrative blanks and pulls you further into this world.

I want the audience to be able to leave the world outside and simply sit and slow down. Something all too precious today.

Photo of Alex Billingham by Clair Unsworth.

Run Riot: What inspired you to create this piece?
Alex: Stillness.

Whenever I can, I try to get residencies / exhibitions near the sea. Being from the West Midlands it’s a rare and special thing to see the waves rolling in and out. At that point where the sea and land mingle and mix, magic happens. The world ceases to be solid and definable. It exists in a constant state of flux and change.

Existing in a disabled, trans body, this is something I identify with hard. I’ll often talk to galleries about how disability is rarely a fixed thing. What is possible one day or one minute shifts to the next. Having limited mobility means I’ve learnt patience and the power of waiting. One of my favourite quotes is from Clair Cunningham when she’s talking about walking on shingles and everyone having to adapt to her pace.

Plus, the beautiful moment of being able to visit Dungeness for the first time this year. It exists outside of time. When the mist rolls in and the shingle gives way to the sea, you detach completely from the world. Only the foghorn and the distant thrum of the nuclear reactors tethers you.  

Run Riot: How did you collaborate with the film maker?

Alex: Dungeness holds me still. At least on MP4.

Generally, I’ll be both sides of the camera but as my practice grows it means I can invest in treats like being filmed by Claire Unsworth. We had a day together connecting to the landscape. The three of us collaborating to make the filmed elements of the show.

I’d seen some of their work before and loved how gentle and beautiful it was. I knew it needed to capture the fragile ethereal quality of the performance.  

The most challenging part was the sea. Wading out into the waters and then simply allowing the currents to drag my body ashore. It made for amazing footage but I had to build in extra recovery time for that one.

I have a slightly different approach to filming, while there will be a basic storyboard it’s also kept very free to allow space for the environment to alter what we’re doing then I’ll pick it all up in the edit.

Editing I had to keep resisting the urge to put more material in. Leaving it to breath and allowing space for the performance to sit with it. There will eventually be a film version of the work but as a conclusion.

Run Riot: What are your key inspirations and does Gaming interest you?
Alex: Key inspirations is the word. I have so many that keep overlapping I could just take up all the space listing them. But I’d say nuclear culture through a queer lens / 1970’s low budget sci-fi / our connection to the landscape – especially ‘Othered’ bodies / Selkies and Jelly fish.

There is a lot more in the work but I tend to find if you leave that side a bit mysterious, then the viewers bring so much more to it and it allows space for them to connect in more personal and meaningful ways.

Gaming is an odd one. I’ve only just learnt unreal engine so it’s a super basic game, but I was looking a lot at the notion of Cozy gaming. Where it’s a lot more about having a space to explore without enemies constantly attacking you. I wanted the game to work as a way of influencing the performance by gently nudging me in certain directions.

Creating a piece which more closely resembles the experience of being disabled. There isn’t a simple narrative structure with a neat conclusion. Often you will be repeating patterns. Mirroring the wave format.

Photo of Alex Billingham by Clair Unsworth.

Run Riot: As a disabled artist, it’s important for your output to be platformed so that your work is taken seriously. Do you feel ableism in the arts is still as bad as it ever was or is the landscape more accommodating?
Alex: Ohhh ending with a big one.

I think things are changing across the board. There are whole generations who are growing up with voices, with role models, with representation. They can see themselves in spaces which even just a few years ago, they couldn’t. This brings more dangers, people who don’t want to share or who are too attached to being able to abuse others. Not realising that someone else with more rights doesn’t eat away at theirs, but rather helps them both grow.

It has been encouraging to see interactions with galleries changing. When I started access docs and riders weren’t really used and now they’re basically built into most applications. How they are used and if they are read is a different thing and having to remind people can be exhausting. But things do move forward.

I think it’s important not to put too much pressure on individual people. Allow them to move at the pace which works for them (with occasional prodding.) I can often feel like it’s all too much and then I remember that I’m not the only one. I love that people work in different ways. Some are loud and fierce and burn so brightly, but also there is space for the gentle and the soft to work as resistance too.

We support each other in ways we don’t always see.

@Distrubance takes place from 5pm to 9.30pm Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 June. To find out more and book tickets, please visit

Submerged - Trailer from Alex Billingham on Vimeo.

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