Celebrity Gists


‘I’m interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist’ – the artist speaks about what comes next with Chris Fite-Wassilak of Frieze.

You can feel history seeping through the gaps in the videos, performances and installations of British artist Helen Cammock. Drawing from a range of sources – at points including the Caribbean sugar trade, black choreographers of the 1940s, blues music, Enoch Powell, Franz Fanon and the relationship between her Jamaican father and British mother – Cammock traces how power relationships emerge from the smallest and most intimate of details. The winner of this year’s Max Mara Art Prize for Women, the London-based artist discusses with Chris Fite-Wassilak her plans for the near future.

Chris Fite-WassilakThe Max Mara Prize involves a six-month residency in Italy. What do you plan to do during this time?

Helen Cammock  I have this notion of exploring lament across the whole project in Italy, specifically listening to the female voice. This listening will cross centuries in different settings, voices and mediums. I’ll be having singing lessons, to enable me to develop a performance around the 17th century pre-opera lament, and I will conduct historical research in institutions in Bologna, Rome and Venice, meeting academics, musicians and communities as part of the research. I will develop my own skills as a printmaker in Rome, I will meet different communities in Palermo and Reggio Emilia – some of whom are living very much in the margins and displaced for different reasons, and with whom I’d like to discuss the laments that are often part of the marginal experience. But this is not about just looking for sadness, I’m also looking for the strength and resilience in the lament. This is very much what interests me across my work currently, acknowledging the multitudinous elements of lament.

Helen Cammock, There’s a Hole in The Sky Part I, 2016, HD video still. Courtesy: the artist

Helen Cammock, There’s a Hole in The Sky Part I, 2016, HD video still.

CF-WYour work draws on the politics of influence, looking at figures – most often of the 20th and 21st century  from James Baldwin to the Housemartins. How will this interest lead the research planned in Italy?

HC  Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini were 17th century composers from Venice and Florence. They wrote and performed a range of works throughout their careers, but I became drawn to the laments. In them, I heard the kind of longing, sadness and resilient notes I have been so interested in through poets, writers and musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries. I started to hear the ‘blue notes’ in Baroque music, which to me leads towards the jazz harp of Alice Coltrane. These connects across time I hope will grow and develop as I listen and sing more. I also have found the texts of poet, writer and feminist Lucrezia Marinella, born in the 16th century. She was trying to forge a place for herself as a writer in a context that was predominately inhabited by men, and her writing posed a challenge not only by its presence but also in the focus of the texts she wrote. Then I stumbled on the histories of the female experience during the Mussolini years; the demands and pressures on women that were often contradictory and controlling, and prescribed by a male-driven context – for nationalism, for motherhood and for modernity – and I want to look at the role of political language and text as a driver for these nationalist requirements. I am also interested in the exploration into a contemporary marginal female voice; these will not be the voices of influence, these will be the voices that I believe should have influence, simply because I believe that societies can never develop fully whilst certain voices, stories, experiences, wisdoms remain unheard. I want to be part of a process of adding to voices of influence.

Helen Cammock, Shouting in Whispers, 2017, HD video still. Courtesy: the artist

Helen Cammock, Shouting in Whispers, 2017, HD video still.

CF-W Your work is full of singers, speakers, protesters. Your recent show at Cubitt, ‘Shouting in Whispers’, emphasized the distribution and media that deliver those voices: a video edited together news and amateur footage, stamps from around the world bought on ebay, and printed slogans. What is the role of voice, or the mediation of the voice, in your work?

HC  I’m interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist. I’m interested in the notion of both individual and collective voice, and the role of the individual in resistance and challenge. I’m interested in the embodiment of the voice and what happens when a voice is subject to disembodiment or ‘re-embodiment’. What I call the ‘audible fingerprint’ enables me to explore the idea of authorship: introducing myself to the viewer and re-present words that were initially written by a novelist, philosopher or poet into a text in conversation, and interwoven with my own words. What is the difference in meaning and impact when different people say the same words – for example when I speak the words of Enoch Powell, Walter Benjamin, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Jamaica Kincaid, Franz Fanon or my own. What happens when different voices come together – reworked, I hope, to form new meaning or nuance. This play is my audible fingerprint – the multiple voice becoming the singular voice, an intentioned democratization of text – through a story I’ve constructed. It is, I suppose, an exploration of the different registers of the voice, the movement between written, spoken and sung word. It is important to me to cross time and place, to ask questions about the cyclical nature of discussion and context. The voice embodies a sense of agency: taking space in the world.

Helen Cammock, Song and Shiver, 2017, performance documentation, The Tetley, Leeds. Courtesy: the artist

Helen Cammock, Song and Shiver, 2017, performance documentation, The Tetley, Leeds.

CF-WWhat draws you to the lament?

HC  I am drawn to the poetry and music of lament; but also a personal, generational and historical lineage of sadness, longing and loss as a black woman. I know this lament does not belong only to my experience – it is something that is often ignored or undermined as part of world histories; and of course it is present most visibly in conflict, displacement and refugee stories. These are absolutely universal, historical and contemporary cycles of damage and loss; but it is also a part of the everyday for everyone at certain moments, or as prolonged or lifelong conditions. For certain communities these experiences mark their continued existence, through complex tapestries of personal, psychological and social understandings. I am interested in exposing this, unpicking this, asking people to witness this. The cycles and manifestations of it are part of our continued ‘unseeing’ of particular experiences and I think this is very damaging for a collective psyche, and affects certain communities more deeply and widely than others. But lament is constant – it never leaves the world.

The Max Mara Art Prize for Women, supporting UK-based female artists who have not previously had a solo survey exhibition, has been awarded in alternate years since 2005. Helen Cammock was announced as the seventh winner from a shortlist including Céline Condorelli, Eloise Hawser, Athena Papadopoulos and Mandy El-Sayegh. Cammock will 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.

Credit: Repeating Island


Britain Aims to Close Gender Pay Gap With Transparency and Shame

economy, Facts, International Finance

EasyJet headquarters at London Luton Airport. Men outearn women by around 52 percent at easyJet, which has pledged to hire more female pilots. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The gender pay gaps detailed by British companies in recent months surprised almost no one — men are paid more than women, often by a wide margin, at the vast majority of businesses.

But by making companies publicly air their salary information, Britain intends to force a reckoning. Officials in London hope the embarrassing revelations in the reports, which had to be submitted by Wednesday, will shame companies into doing more to close the divide.

The push is one of a growing number of efforts among countries to promote the principle of equal pay. Australia recently mandated gender pay gap reporting for most companies. In Germany, a new law will require businesses with more than 500 employees to reveal their pay gaps. Nordic countries like Iceland have been even more aggressive, by making companies prove they are paying male and female staff equally.

Proponents of the British effort argue that the increased transparency will lead to smaller gaps. Research by the accounting firm PwC predicts that if nothing is done, it could take nearly a century for the divide to close entirely across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of rich countries that includes Britain.

“This is a game-changer,” said Andrew Bazeley, a policy manager at the Fawcett Society, a British organization that campaigns for women’s rights and equality. “It will force businesses to think about the gender pay gap in ways they might not have before.”

Under the new reporting requirements, companies with 250 or more employees must publish salary differences between men and women every year. They are also required to provide details on gaps in average bonuses paid, and the proportion of men and women who received those bonuses.

The submissions have made for uncomfortable reading for company executives. At Goldman Sachs’s sprawling moneymaking machine in Britain, women are paid an average of 56 percent less than men. Men outearn women by around 52 percent at easyJet, the country’s busiest discount airline. And at WPP, the British advertising giant, women take home, on average, around one-quarter less than their male counterparts.


Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, is taking a 4.6 percent pay cut to match the salary of his female predecessor.CreditGeorges Gobet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Still, at least in some cases, the requirement to publish the data has made an impact as big companies have scrambled to counter the fallout from embarrassing reports. EasyJet has said its male chief executive would take a 4.6 percent pay cut to match the salary of his female predecessor, and pledged to more than triple the proportion of its female pilots.

In other cases, a change in the pay culture has been pushed from the outside. At Mills & Reeve, a British law firm whose audit determined it was paying women an average of 32 percent less than men, a major impetus has come from big clients that have started to request more female representation among the firm’s attorneys.

“It’s increasingly something we’re asked for as part of tenders and pitches, to give details of our diversity,” said Claire Clarke, a managing partner.

Some efforts predate the new rules, but have come into focus because of the requirements. The British bank Barclays, for example, has sought to hire, and retain, more senior female executives by offering a new 12-week “internship” targeted at experienced women who are coming off a career break and introducing greater flexibility in existing jobs.

Supporters of the British regulations acknowledge that transparency alone won’t solve the problem. But without it, companies and regulators in countries seeking to enforce equal pay laws would have scant evidence that a gap existed — and face less pressure to address it. Jake Rosenfeld and Patrick Denice, sociologists at Washington University, found in a study that salary transparency raised wages, in part because “even being cognizant of gender pay disparity” helped change norms.

Such is the case in Iceland. The country has gone further than any other, becoming the first to require employers to submit to external audits to prove they are paying women on a par with men. The thinking was that unless equal pay laws were applied more forcefully, the imbalance might never close.

Iceland’s government has vowed to completely close the nation’s gender pay gap by 2022, after women walked out of their jobs en masse in protest on a chilly afternoon in October 2016.