Helen Cammock graduated with an MA from the Royal College of Art, London in 2011. Her work spans photography, video, poetry, printmaking and installation.
Helen says about her work: Using installation, video, photography and text, my practice considers how individual and collective experience exposes structural inequality through exploring the politics of society, of visual, spoken and written language and of representation. I often use archival material and historical points/events that are connected to my subject position. I am invested in the relationship between the individual lived experience and the connection to the wider post colonial context. In constructing narratives that in general pivot around historical or contemporary events the viewer might recognise particular dates, events and speeches, but they are woven into a narrated if fragmented story. I am interested in the idea of authorship – and something I call ‘the audible fingerprint’. I will always be drawn to the question – Who represents whom, and for whom?
Recent screenings and exhibitions include: Hmn4, London, 2016, Carte de Visite, Hollybush Gardens, London, Dec’15-Jan‘16 Transform, Tate Artists Moving Image Screening Programme, Tate Britain, 2015, Changing Room, in Common Place, Brighton Photo Fringe, 2014, Scene, Pitzhanger Manor Gallery, London, 2014 You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows, Hollybush Gardens, 2014, Reach out and Touch Me, Hollybush Gardens, London,2013, London Art Now, curated by Armesden, Lodge Park National Trust, 2013 Oriel Davis Open, selectors Ben Borthwick & Ann Jones.
Her writing has appeared on photoworks.org.uk and Aperture Magazine and she was shortlisted for the Bridport poetry prize in 2015. Helen was Co-Director of Brighton Photo Fringe2008-12 has has run projects for The Photographers Gallery, London, Open School East, London, Photoworks, London and PhotoVoice, London.
There’s been an Animal Flower Cave, the crashing waves and precariously poised rocks at Bathsheba, coral, sugar cane fields, potholes, sunshine, rain, buffeting wind, cows, geckos, an affectionate cat, dogs accompanying (well shepherding) us, swimming with a turtle, the impending birth of a foal…
There’s been meeting representatives from the office of the Cultural Industries Development Act and the National Cultural Foundation, and understanding a little more about the cultural landscape in Barbados….And there’s been Annalee, her family and colleagues at Fresh Milk giving us the most wonderful welcome.
I have spent this week trying to concentrate on detail – what I see and hear around me – making space for thoughts, questions, ideas and stories to emerge.
This is the beauty and the basis of this residency – it is an opening, an aperture, an opportunity to develop these new ideas and thoughts – somewhere new, different, alien – somehow reassuringly unknown – and to find space to be in my own head.
On the second day I began filming – extracts, fragments – and by the fourth day I began to write – just the beginnings of something – but that’s the point. It really feels like the beginning of something – and this is why I’m here – for these very beginnings of something.
Next week I’ll visit the museum and its library – I’m not sure what I’m looking for or what I’ll find but I’m starting with the production of sugar on the island. I’ll shoot a closed sugar factory and the tempestuous coast at North Point. I’ll deliver a photography workshop in a local primary school and give an artist talk at Barbados Community College. It’s busy yet at the end of this first week, the feeling that the beginnings of something are with me…and that I have been offered the space to do something yet unknown with these beginnings, is palpable as I await the imminent birth of a foal here on Prendoma Stud.
Knock, crash, trip, battery, tripod, shoes
in our lumber you had arrived
An hour of licking and falling, licking and falling again
we saw you experience the world you had rushed to be a part of
Then there was the artist talk at Barbados Community College – focus, questions and trying to share something of what I want to say with my work.
Then there was the Workman’s Primary School photography workshop – two groups of excited and charming class 3 students. A whistle- stop on portraits, communicating with images and unrivalled enthusiasm finished off with two short dances to Beyoncé to conclude. The school was welcoming and very open to working with artists – a refreshing experience.
Next I walked in the torrential rain to the Barbados Museum Library where I nearly succumbed to an onset of hypothermia due to the highly emphatic air conditioning.
Books, letters, newspaper cuttings, more books and a conversation with a Canadian trying to track someone from his home town from the 17th Century. I am now a member of the historical society there and will return as much as I can before I leave – jumper firmly in hand.
Then there was a return to Animal Flower Cave – down inside the cave again and with a coastal shoot up high on the windy windy cliff tops of the North Point which taxed my bending tripod to its limits.
And then I focussed on Sugar – the journey had begun in the library and led me to St Nicholas Abbey Grind, Morgan Lewis Windmill and the old disused mill here on Walkers Plantation. I photographed and filmed, machinery, architecture, process, and details. I met a mill operator who had been a mental health social worker in Hackney where I live and we chatted about London and the life change required to move back to Barbados, the place of his birth. With another mill worker I discussed the throwing of Mahogany and Sycamore seeds as helicopters when children – different trees, different countries, same concept. He lamented the creativity and simplicity of such games and wondered whether his children even knew what the mahogany seeds looked like…
Then I have sat all week – in my room, in the studio, on the beach with the books from the Colleen Lewis Reading Room that have triggered my thoughts about Sugar, The Panama Canal and Legacy.
On Thursday I’ll film Bulkeley sugar factory and on Friday, Portvale Factory and museum.
Then I’ll begin to consider how to develop a conversation with all this imagery. Where it will lead I don’t know yet, but I know that my head is full of smells, thoughts, conversations and newness that will begin to find a juncture with all the practice, cultural, personal and theoretical concerns I have brought with me here.
I have lost my best bit of footage – the kind you can only hope will happen when everything just comes together – the slip of a hand and it’s gone.
I have been ill for a few days with what we think might be the Zika Virus – all over rash, fever, sore eye sockets, joints and muscles.
But earlier in the week I did film at Bulkeley sugar factory…
…and Portvale sugar museum…and I spoke for a long time with a worker at Portvale who talked me though the whole sugar refining process with the love and knowledge of a scientist. He told me how he’d wanted to be an artist, but his father couldn’t afford to put him through college. He had sadness, regret (and a suspicious fire in his eye as he looked over me, my college education and my expensive equipment) but he said he loved the sugar refining process and spoke of it as a painter sees or an author writes. He said that although the sugar industry was an extension of the colonial machine, he still loved to see the chemical processes involved in the building of sugar crystals – getting the balance right with the extracting and condensing water and felt proud that he felt master of this process.
I have driven and navigated across the island without getting lost.
And the Museum library has continued to offer up interesting information about the Silver Men of the Panama Canal…it has all brought me back to thinking about how historically. so much we revere has been built by invisibles…there’s too much left unsaid, unseen and unacknowledged. So much stolen, appropriated and fabricated.
We visited the screening programme run by Andrew Millington at the Errol Barrow Centre for the Creative Imagination (EBCCI), a branch of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus and watched a film that gave insight into a man’s journey to connect with his ancestral history, and in so doing, gave insight into the history and contemporary experiences of the Maroons of Jamaica. On the way home we discussed the significance of legacy and impact of access/lack of, to knowledge about personal, community and cultural legacy.
And I sat in the quiet unsubstantiated safety of the library and started to think more about Appropriation – why, when who and how…
Having recovered from what I suspect was Zika, it was a week of getting ready to leave Barbados…it included a return to the closed Bulkeley Sugar Factory… it’s hot and it’s windy, with potential new images everywhere I look but time, memory card and camera battery are working against me… I come away with good footage, but will come back again for more one day soon…
Back at the studio and taking time to go through all the footage shot while I’ve been here…beginning to develop visual patterns for a new piece.
I have had space for the first time in a while to just think, read, write and experiment with ideas. I have never done an International residency before and the platform here at Fresh Milk has really worked for me. From them there was no expectation to complete a new work over the period of the month and this was refreshingly helpful for me in terms of research and space for thought. Annalee made introductions, suggestions and was supportive throughout, and this meant the time could be both actively productive and reflective – whatever you might want or need it to be.
Thank you Fresh Milk and thank you Barbados.