‘A sea eagle screams from the rock, and my race began like the osprey, with that cry, that terrible vowel, that I,’ a female narrator intones evenly over waves crashing against a rocky shore. It is the opening scene of Helen Cammock’s short video There’s a Hole in the Sky Part I, 2016; that ‘I’ invoked goes on over the course of the video to visit a sugar factory and a sugar cane plantation turned tourist destination in Barbados, musing all the while self-consciously about what she sees and is told, occasionally breaking into mournful song. The video carries many of the threads that run though Cammock’s work, such as using photography and documentary film methods to explore the intimate bonds of history, often of colonialism, racism and cultural appropriation – in this case, tracing the slavery trade created to prop up the now-disappearing sugar production in the Caribbean – and first-person accounts of the disjointed experience of those ‘subjects’ who moved from the West Indies to the UK. The voice that narrates and binds these images shifts from spoken-word poetry-like litanies of evocative phrases to confessional anecdotes. When she asks at one point, ‘What can I see when I look, and through whose gaze do I see?’, the fact that this is not just one ‘I’ becomes clearer – it is an impossible ‘I’, a multiple ‘I’. The voice is the artist’s, but the ‘I’ being spoken constantly changes, shifting from her own lines and a patchwork of quotations, such as the opening lines which come from the late Saint Lucian poet Derek Walcott’s ‘Names’, 1976, and authors like Maya Angelou and Jamaica Kincaid. This fragmented narration underlines Cammock’s videos, performances and installations – quoting, singing, ventriloquising, a procession of voices that successively inhabit the artist. Continue reading
Strewn about the hallway is a trail of debris; lights, brooms, boxes, and other obstacles in a semi-organised sprawl. It’s like someone tried making a shop out of the bits in their attic, sifting through the junk, arranging it into small, improvised displays. The skeleton of a mostly empty postcard stand is propped in one corner, while a clear container with the inevitable, unsolvable tangle of electric wires sits in another. Propped up on one stand is a brown and grey photograph; what looks like a scuffed-up, dirty floor, with a hand truck and some rubbish scattered around. A metal grille runs across the image, with a thick, dull, chocolate-coloured sludge underneath it. Behind the propped-up photo is an odd set-up, with a work light dangling from a sideways soap dispenser – even more improbably, with a pair of sunglasses you can make out held inside. A text installed just beneath gives a winding explanation: ‘at the mechanics…hovering over the body wash pit out came the camera and almost at the same moment as taking the shot the sunglasses disappeared into the pit’. Pulling back, the quarantined sunglasses might now make more sense, displayed in a sort of makeshift mini-version of the car workshop. But then the photo itself, you can’t help but look again and try to stare into the impenetrable depths of whatever forsaken globs of mank had gathered in that drain over the years. Continue reading
Transcription of a lecture recorded on April 23, 2015:
Let us begin with a look at that most emblematic of Romantic poets:
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
Consider, for a moment, where the poem places us, the reader. The titular opening line of Wordsworth’s oft-cited poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (1807) gives us a simile that presents the image of an anthropomorphised, forlorn cloud. As if we are outdoors watching the poet on a pleasant outdoor stroll, it puts us firmly in the role of a standby spectator, or maybe a fellow rambler. But as we approach the closing lines above, it turns out instead that we have the whole time been indoors, as he lounges dejectedly on his sofa. More specifically, inside his head: the vision we’ve been subject to is that of his ‘inward eye’. We finish the poem trapped in this space, standing next to a dancing, stuffed heart, as if we’re at some sort of internal organ-vegetation wedding party. Continue reading
The words have become prominent in recent decades: recycling, sustainable, ecological, organic. The words are markers of moral aspiration, things that we should be aiming for in order to be more at balance with the planet that we inhabit. With almost 7.5bn humans alive at the moment, how we make use of this planet perhaps hasn’t changed so much the past one hundred years, but the rhetoric with which we justify it certainly has. It’s a dark irony that is legible in the stacks of plastic laminate signs thrown around countless hotel bathrooms reading, ‘Help save the environment: please re-use your towel!’, or the absolution of throwing your empty beer tin into the recycling bin only for it to be freighted halfway across the globe and eventually melted down in a high-energy exchange process. Take a look around you right now: we palliate the industrial web we have woven around ourselves with potted plants, ‘daylight’ bulbs and Taste of Nature® snacks. Continue reading
If you had walked into the room, you would have seen the charred, darkened husks: windows, doors, a fireplace. It would have seemed oddly silent, punctuated only by a wind you would not have felt. You would have encountered scarred surfaces and rippled textures, giving off illumination only indirectly as they perhaps glinted bluntly in the dull light reflecting off them. It would have been unsettlingly still, but with the held breath of an action completed only moments before you entered, a temporary, just-struck stillness. It might, on second thought, have seemed like the aftermath of an unknown event, one that created a world in the unexpected murky contrasts in photographic negative, an event that turned entrances and exits, and bays for light and air into portals irrefutably cut off. Together, these apertures in reverse would have provided the setting of a transposed room, would have marked the boundaries and traced the outlines of a confined, impossible indoor space. All these openings; but there would have been no way in, or out. Continue reading
All buildings are predictions.
All predictions are wrong.[i]
The Fun Palace, Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood’s proposed centre for London’s Lea Valley, was to be a fluid framework that would engage and educate the masses liberated by incipient technology. It was to be a ‘university of the streets’[ii], with one promotional pamphlet for the space promising ‘Kunst Dabbling, Genius Chat, Clownery, Fireworks, Rallies, Battles of flowers, Concerts, Science Gadgetry, Juke Box Information, Learning Machines.’ The project, begun in 1961, was a descendent of the idealist modular, mobile structures of Constant Nieuwenhuys and Yona Friedman, and heavily formed by the still-new discipline of cybernetics. The building itself was essentially a hollow structure which would hold building units that could be shifted around the site with gantry cranes as needed.
These units were the central essence of the project; Price’s design relied on the compartmentalisation of activities and individuals. Reyner Banham regarded this ‘containerisation’ of architecture as appropriately anti-monumental, and necessarily adaptable for an age uncertainty.[iii] His notes were prompted by the fact that that very same characteristic was transforming global trade networks, and rendering the architecture of transportation at ports and rail stations that had preceded it obsolete. Standards for international shipping containers were agreed in the late 60s, not only intertwining sea, rail, and road in a way that had never been done before, but also further regulating and restricting the human labour required to run that system. Artist and theorist Alan Sekula’s wide-spanning Fish Story (1989 – 95) project maps these movements; in his essay, “Red Passenger” he writes: ‘Factories become more mobile, ship-like, as ships become increasingly indistinguishable from trucks and trains, and seaways lose their difference with highways.’[iv]
An article published in the Hackney Citizen on 23 May last year featured a digital rendering of a high-rise apartment block under the headline, ‘Is this the future of Hackney’s iconic Rose Lipman Building?’. The article announced a one-day event the following month to discuss ideas, plans and desires for the future of the former library turned community hall, a site which the local Council had ear-marked as ‘suitable for redevelopment’. The accompanying image was a fictional proposal, commissioned from an architect by artist Jonathan Hoskins to represent one potential future: a blocky, jaunty building not unlike any of the other new-build apartments popping up frequently around London. Some readers, however, took the article as a statement of intention and the image as a confirmed plan. Property developers, residents associations and councillors were soon in touch – concerned, curious, angry. ‘No is the answer to your headline,’ was one comment to the online article. ‘A vanity student project is hardly news,’ ‘No and no again!’ tweeted Councillor Philip Glanville, the head of housing for Hackney. In response to the attention the article generated, Hackney Council also issued a statement that they had ‘no plans to demolish or sell the Lipman building’.
The article was an accident; Hoskins, then an associate at Open School East in the Lipman building, had been in touch with the Citizen to try to get his event listed in the paper and wasn’t aware of the story until it was printed, but it remains one of the few visible points of his project Catallax Point, 2014, a series of collaborations and events revolving around the uses and fate of the Lipman building. The project is symptomatic of Hoskins’s work, in that it exists primarily within a set of long-term relationships and concerns, addressing political efficacy, social groupings, urban change and folklore, and gentrification, looking at the history of housing associations and intentional communities; these processes eventually shape performances, texts, publications and events. Catallax Point, like much of Hoskins’s recent work, also revolves around his own east London neighbourhood of De Beauvoir. The newspaper article marks a point where the project achieved its own dubious success by removing it from the artist’s hands, the fiction of the not-yet-planned building instigating a wider, heated discussion. After the June meeting, two local residents’ groups assumed control of the project, forming an action group to ensure that their vision of the future of the site might be the one that prevails. Continue reading