Iwona Blazwick, OBE, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery has announced Helen Cammock as the seventh winner of the prestigious Max Mara Art Prize for Women at a ceremony at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, on 16 April 2018. The Prize, which has been awarded in alternate years since 2005, supports UK-based female artists who have not previously had a solo survey exhibition, making it the only visual art prize of its kind the UK.
London based artist Helen Cammock (b. 1970) was chosen by a panel of expert judges from a shortlist including Céline Condorelli, Eloise Hawser, Athena Papadopoulos and Mandy El-Sayegh, all of whom presented proposals for an artist residency in Italy. As the winner, Cammock will now spend six months in Italy during 2018 on a residency tailored to her interests, creating a new body of work that will be shown in a major solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2019 before touring to Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Helen Cammock works across moving image, photography, writing, poetry, spoken word, song, performance, printmaking and installation. She is interested in histories, storytelling and the excavation, re-interpretation and re-presentation of lost, unheard and buried voices. Cammock uses her own writing, literature, poetry, philosophical and other found texts, often mapping them onto social and political situations. Her work has drawn on material from Nina Simone, Philip Larkin, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and Walter Benjamin. These texts often direct her choice of medium, such as her evocative moving image work which oscillates between the private and collective.
Cammock was born to an English mother and Jamaican father in 1970s Britain and remembers growing up questioning notions of blackness and womanhood, wealth and poverty, power and vulnerability. Her artistic practice has grown out of her experiences working with people and awareness of collective society, whilst remaining faithful to its own imaginative autonomy.
Her winning proposal for the Max Mara Art Prize for Women focuses on the expression of lament. Reflecting a central aspect of her work; the role of the voice and the feeling of mourning or loss, resilience and survival, in the political and historical, individual and collective, Cammock wants to focus on how emotion is expressed in Italian culture and society, with a particular focus on opera, classical and folk music, art, poetry, writing and dance. She will explore hidden female voices across Italian histories, aiming to create through collage, layering and juxtaposition a collective lament reflective for our own time.
Cammock’s bespoke residency, organised by Max Mara and the Whitechapel Gallery, starts in May 2018. It is divided between six Italian cities Bologna, Florence, Venice, Rome, Palermo, and Reggio Emilia. A key focus is meeting with experts, scholars, associations, institutions and communities in areas of interest to Cammock, overseen by a local tutor for each city.
Beginning in Bologna and in Florence, she will study Baroque art and architecture, history of music and literature and society, to consolidate her knowledge of Italian culture. Practical singing lessons will take place throughout so that Cammock can further develop her singing and learn how to perform a 17th century pre opera lament.
In Venice and Rome Helen will have artist-in-residency opportunities at two prestigious institutions. At the Fondazione Cini (Venice) she will stay at The International Centre for the Study of Italian Culture as an independent researcher with access to its specialist libraries and cultural initiatives. At the American Academy (Rome) she will benefit from the affiliate fellowship at AAR with the opportunity to collaborate with other international residents exploring diverse disciplines including music and history. In Rome, she will also be welcomed by Istituto Nazionale Centrale delle Grafica to discover different engraving and printing techniques.
In Palermo, Cammock will explore Sicilian notions of lament and the female voice in visits to the Archivio Etnomusicale del Mediterraneo and Palermo University as well as meeting women living in the centre of Palermo and some of the newer migrant communities in Sicily today.
The residency will end in Reggio Emilia. The city gives its name to a radical model for education through wellbeing. Cammock is particularly interested in the way the project was established following World War II to rebuild community and education. She will use the model as a guide to conducting participatory research and conversations with those living on the margins of the city society today.
The judging panel for the seventh Max Mara Art Prize for Women was chaired by Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, and joined by gallerist Vanessa Carlos, Carlos/Ishikawa, London; artist and previous recipient of the prize Laure Prouvost; collector Marcelle Joseph and art critic Rachel Spence.
Helen Cammock said “It’s incredible to have been awarded such a supportive and artist focussed prize. I have never before experienced a structured opportunity that encompasses travel, research, making and then showing over a sustained period. Over the six month residency I’ll find myself in a culture that is new to me, meet practitioners who work in different ways to me and consider how my practice can move into dialogue with new histories. It is an opportunity for space and time to focus on being an artist – this is perhaps the most significant aspect of this prize. I’m used to working (as many artists are) balancing projects, commissions, teaching and other paid jobs; sustained and uninterrupted time to sit with ideas and process has been a rare luxury – until now.”
Image Credit: Helen Cammock by Thierry Bal. © Whitechapel Gallery