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The Body Blow 

Serpentine Galleries

The Body Blow was developed through long-term collaboration with those with lived experience of asbestos cancers, London Asbestos Support Awareness Group (LASAG), social workers, end-of-life carers, asbestos removal experts, campaigners, and medical and legal professionals. Focused on ideas of ‘acceptable bodily risk’, the film considers what risk means in the context of care, work and our health.


Due to the presence of the docks and heavy industries in Barking and Dagenham, the borough has the highest level of asbestos cancers and mesothelioma in London. The project took place during the Covid19 pandemic; due to the vulnerability of those involved many of the discussions have happened on the phone. Through collage and montage, the film responds to the earlier experimental methods MacColl and Seeger developed for The Body Blow (1962), from which this project takes its name. Asbestos is considered a historical concern, but it has very present and devastating effects on people’s lives today. Asbestos fibres can lie dormant in victims’ lungs for 20- 50 years health issues usually appearing long after retirement.


The film navigates the layers of legal and bureaucratic paperwork those exposed to asbestos are stuck between. Work Capability Assessments, litigation and legal statistical measurements have become controls by which the individual can be mediated, chained to notions of usefulness, framed by the value of their economic and domestic labour. A collaborative script made during a series of workshops asks us to think about the way that we navigate the language which permeates the legacy of asbestos. Who is allowed to be exposed to risk and how is risk quantified?


The Body Blow was recently exhibited as part of ‘Radio Ballads’ at Serpentine Gallery, London which was one of four new commissions with Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock and Rory Pilgrim.Radio Ballads takes its name from a revolutionary series of eight radio plays by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger broadcast on the BBC between 1957-64.


Radio Ballads is commissioned by Serpentine Civic in partnership with New Town Culture, a Cultural Impact Award-winning project, part of London Borough of Culture, a Mayor of London initiative.


The Body Blow is in remembrance of Robert Kett, Gladys Goodman, Vicky Kaye, Joseph Terrell, Fred Laws, David Thompson

A full list of credits can be found here.

Documentation: George Darrell

Commissioned by

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