Helen Cammock

Changing Room


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Helen Cammock born 1970
Video, high definition, projection, colour and sound (stereo)
Duration: 14min, 2sec
Purchased with funds provided by the 2020 Frieze Tate Fund supported by Endeavor to benefit the Tate collection 2021


Changing Room 2014 is a fourteen-minute moving image work which is installed in the gallery as a single channel video projection. Filmed in the United Kingdom, the work presents a series of interior and exterior domestic environments and shows several small-scale ceramic sculptures made by the artist’s father George Cammock. The title Changing Room relates to the changing function of the property in which the film is set – her father’s house in its partially empty state shortly after he was moved to a care home – as well as to wider notions of personal and social change. The domestic interior appears to have been cleared and the owner no longer in residence, though this absence is unexplained within the film. Shots of the ceramic sculptures sitting on tables, window ledges and carpets in front of an electric fire are interspersed with interior details that suggest a previous human presence, such as banisters that show the marks of the hands that have touched them over the years, and vases of flowers which have dried. Over the still shots is a text spoken by Helen Cammock in which she talks about her life and that of her father, focusing specifically on the lived experiences and long-term effects of racism that repeatedly affected both father and daughter.

The viewer discovers that George Cammock was a Jamaican immigrant who became a teacher and magistrate, who throughout his life struggled with the impact of explicit and targeted racism within the United Kingdom, a spectre that haunted his personal life and career. The artist also speaks about her experience of living in a rural location as a mixed-race person and the impact that structural racism has had on every aspect of her life. In addition to her own text, Cammock reads extracts of Frantz Fanon’s text Black Skin, White Mask (1952), which explores the dehumanising effects of racism experienced in situations of colonial domination.

Changing Room is the artist’s first video work. The unflinching discussions of the legacies of racist violence that she discusses from the perspective of her lived experience are at the heart of the work she has made subsequently. The video can be seen as being in dialogue with the work of Black artists in the 1980s and 1990s, in particular figures such as Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, Keith Piper and Donald Rodney who were the first generation of Black artists to be celebrated within the gallery system for their critical interpretations of British colonial histories.

The work exists in an edition of five of which Tate’s is number one.

Further reading
Turner Prize 2019, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2019.
Laura Smith and Candy Stobbs, ‘Che si può fare (What can be done)’, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2019.
Charlotte Higgins, interview with Helen Cammock, Guardian, 18 June 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/jun/18/helen-cammock-turner-prize-nominee-artist-social-worker, accessed 9 October 2020.

Linsey Young
October 2020

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