Helen Cammock – Che si può fare?

25 June – 1 September 2019 @Whitechapel Gallery

Helen Cammock likes to play with prints, photographs and films, blending words and images to form new concepts and expressions. She defines herself as a visual poet, a multimedia artist who, besides having been selected for the Turner Prize 2019, was chosen as the winner of the Women Max Mara Art Prize- which made her one of the protagonists of the summer season at the Whitechapel Gallery.

“Che si può fare” (What can be done) is the title of her solo show; it refers to an air of the baroque composer Barbara Strozzi (1619 – 1677), who created the tune alongside the composer and singer Francesca Caccini (1587 – 1640). Revisiting the air into a duet with a jazz trumpeter, recorded live and on vinyl, Helen re-assess the bond with her own voice but also with these past heroines. It is no coincidence that the air chosen by the artist is composed by two women, at a time when the fairer sex was rarely found making music.

When she won the Women Max Mara Prize, Helen was commissioned a residency in Italy: she traveled to Bologna, Florence, Reggio Emilia, Rome and Palermo, meeting activists, artists, musicians and historians who opened doors to archives, stories of lives and research. It was an opportunity for Helen to meet women who reported present and past realities of activism, emigration, marginalization. She has collected them all, making them into an expression of survival (of gender) but also of adaptability, intrinsic power in women and their resistance to oppression. It is therefore no coincidence that this journey through musical evolution, from 17th century Baroque music to jazz and blues – and the music itself –  become an expression of loss, crying, marginalization, giving a mournful look to the historical pain of women through these lost voices.

The passionate lives of the women Helen interviews intertwine producing a homogeneous work that divides into different works: a film, a 7-meter fronton decorated with images and Italian words that Cammock has been learning through her process of discovery, three paintings, and a live performance.

A tribute to an eternal question – what can be done in this world – and a glimpse of the many possible answers.


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