For the series 'Seven questions with...' Art UK publishes interviews with emerging and established artists working today.

Helen Cammock is a British artist, born in Staffordshire, who was jointly awarded the Turner Prize in 2019. Cammock works in a variety of media including film, photography, installation, poetry and text. Her work often encompasses themes of feminism, solidarity, race and collectivism, layering voices from different times and places.

As Cammock's new installation On WindTides joins the London sculpture trail The Line, Lorna Powell speaks with the artist about her creative journey and inspirations.

Lorna Powell, The Line: How did making art begin for you?

Still from 'I Will Keep My Soul'

Still from 'I Will Keep My Soul'

2023, film by Helen Cammock (b.1970)

Helen Cammock: I could talk about going to art school late, how I began to embrace more informed consideration of aesthetics and how formal approaches to making could enable me to say what I need to say. But actually, a creative journey began much earlier. I'm not sure how to pinpoint the beginning – I wrote poetry and songs as a teenager and now I see that perhaps this was a beginning for me. It was also around then that I began to question the world (and my world) more fully – embracing challenge, criticality and politics.

Slide re-enactment from the project 'Shouting in Whispers'

Slide re-enactment from the project 'Shouting in Whispers'

project by Helen Cammock (b.1970)

Lorna: Is there a predominant media that you work with? How have your choices evolved?

Helen: I work across a range of media but moving image work is often the centre of a project – then, with all my work, there's a kind of spillage or seepage that runs to text, print, performance and photography. Most of my ideas flow from and with writing. Colour, form, slowness and song are guiding principles in how I make work.

I Decided I Want To Walk (from 'They Call It Idlewild')

I Decided I Want To Walk (from 'They Call It Idlewild')

2020, project by Helen Cammock (b.1970)

Lorna: Who or what inspires your work?

Helen: I'm interested in the 'Voice' – in who speaks about and for whom. I'm interested in the intersections between individual lived experience and histories; and I'm interested in how collective knowledge is built through historical narratives – and how these narratives are ultimately connected to structures of power. I'm interested in unpicking these: exposing what they activate, control, damage and erase. I'm also interested in how resistance and care can be harnessed to create new ways of thinking and feeling. And I'm also interested in different registers of the voice – the poetic voice, the sung voice, the political voice and the philosophical voice. All of these different voices weave together in a collective chorus.

Moveable Bridge

Moveable Bridge (triptych)

Helen Cammock (b.1970)

Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Lorna: Please can you describe the piece you have created for the commission with The Line art walk?

Helen: I have made two, new large-scale text works that will sit on either side of a cable bridge that crosses just north of Cody Dock. One work asks us to consider what it means to embrace the different folds or dimensions of our lives – and how readily we can accept the shifts and changes that sometimes we don't see or aren't in touch with. These folds cross time and geography and sit in our ancestries as much as in our present. The other work asks us to consider our temporality and smallness, and it asks us to consider how we can move from one geographical location to another – whoever we are.

On one side of the bridge, the text reads: 'We fold ourselves across the tide', while the other side of the bridge reads: 'From silt to land sometimes we live as wind blown sand'.

On WindTides

On WindTides 2024

Helen Cammock (b.1970)

The Line

The texts are cut in powder-coated steel and sit slightly proud from the bridge, so there is a small play with the sun's movement  in the work. The first text is a mint/apple green and speaks about the ecological setting (particularly flora and fauna) in the industrial landscape – a grey canvas and green text. The second is a warm ochre and, for me, the colour represents sand, silt, mud and the beautiful waterbed reeds that sit alongside the basin and the river. These colours are designed to both resonate with certain colours in the landscape and also interrupt them.

The work also includes an exhibition cabinet fabricated in the same steel as the bridge which holds a large text work on paper created in a series of workshops in the local areas. These text works will rotate regularly over two years. They are in conversation with the texts on the bridge and sit on the towpath of the river – a dialogue that shifts each time the text work on paper changes.

On WindTides

On WindTides 2024

Helen Cammock (b.1970)

The Line

Lorna: Could you reflect on the process of co-commissioning?

Helen: For me, as an artist, it was slightly daunting to have such a large interview panel of co-commissioners but this meant that the table held a wealth of experience, ideas and knowledge. I worked with local people to understand what they would like to see, want or need in their neighbourhoods. I think this process should be intrinsic to any public art commission – done in a rigorous and genuine way, right from the beginning of the process, it ensures greater nuance and capacity for the artwork to become more organically part of the cultural landscape.

Lorna: How has the site and context of the work informed your approach and response?

Helen: The work speaks to the site of the bridge: a cable bridge that straddles the River Lea, connecting Tower Hamlets and Newham. These boroughs house people from many different histories, cultures and experiences. Some people are newer residents than others – but each has a different story of why they settled here with the river running through… carrying winds and tides from other parts of the world. This is how the world has always been – and will always be – no matter if people try to halt the migration of people. People need to, have to or want to move from place to place. Poetic text leaves space for interpretation, space for feelings to settle: the bridge lent itself to the idea of speaking between two pieces of land.

On WindTides

On WindTides 2024

Helen Cammock (b.1970)

The Line

Lorna: What do you hope people will take away from your work?

Helen: Questions, thoughts and feelings – some kind of internal response that has the potential to materialise in external dialogue. I hope the texts will provide a space for reflection as people inhabit the areas around the bridge.

Lorna Powell, Engagement and Digital Producer at The Line

Visit The Line's website for more about London's public art walk or download The Line's guide on the Bloomberg Connects app