HELEN CAMMOCK <<Che si può fare>> @ WHITECHAPEL
Emoji summary: 😪 🕳 🔲
Does September count as Autumn? I feel like it is too on the border to be either Summer or Autumn. This is always a weird time of year: all the summer shows are ending, my tan is fading, it’s not time for October & the explosion of autumn art chaos with frieze week and the charge ahead into winter shows. A soft in-between, is that what liminal means?>>>
Helen Cammock’s show @ Whitechapel is called <<Che si può fare>>, the name of an Italian aria that means: what can be done. I remember reading the wall text outside the show like; ‘ok, cool’, the parallel feeling and placement of jazz, blues, opera. A half-academic, half-felt-and-intuited exploration of Lament™️. Lament; like loss, mourning, passionate grief. There is a difference between Sorrow and Sadness. One is beautiful, Romantic; Lament is similar. It’s a gorgeous kind of stillness that I’d prefer over just wasting away in a banal way. It is separate and cordoned off; there is a way to access Lament, there is a way to feel and explore it. It is specific (I think).
The main chunk of the show was a 3-channel film thrust diagonally across the room on panels. The chairs to view it were double-depth so you could lean back a bit, ease in & soak. I never know at what point in a review I should announce that I just wasn’t feeling it. It always feels like an interruption, part of me wants to describe the room without mentioning that I never tumbled head over heels into a feeling, but then another part of me recognises that it’d be palpable anyway. I wasn’t feeling this film, and I am so so sorry for it. I think i actually hate saying I didn't like a show. I don't mind hating it, but disliking it feels like too soft an in between, a weird stodgy waste where my justifications feel flimsy or too subjective to be useful to anyone (I know, I know). I just lament that this didn’t hit me square in the chest.
The film follows Helen Cammock around Italy, there is no announcement of location, only a rolling tumbling kind of narrative as one location bleeds into another and she stops off in the houses and convents of various women. A nun running a retreat for women who’ve experienced trauma, an old woman who was an anti-fascist partisan from the war, a photographer lit in pink light, her blonde fringe hits her eyebrows harsh and uncompromising. It all kind of blurs into one, they roll over onto each other; musical interlude between, sparse shots of a silver streamer hanging from a unit, ice melting in the sink, yellow flowers bobbing around in the breeze. I wanted more, I wanted a guiding hand. I don’t often feel like a work is ungenerous. I think I am too keen to internalise the message that it is a lack on my behalf; that I am not trying hard enough, or that an element of unknowability is ok (which it is!) and it’s presumptuous of me to feel entitled to access all four corners of meaning in a work. I think I felt this internalised message crumble a bit in the face of Helen’s film. I wanted it all to click into place so badly, I wanted to like this work. The segments bleeding and tumbling into each other passed me by, the women were interchangeable, they rambled in front of me without primer or context, and I found myself lost in the act of trying to make them make sense next to each other. All I felt was circumstantial. All I felt was open-ended, like an interrupted sentence at a party. I got no closure from the momentum of the wall text and the academic cladding. I wanted to feel, but the film was bottomless in its structure and I found myself slipping through. Weird, liminal in its soft bleed; this film was September. I wonder if it would’ve landed harder with a more generous hand guiding me through. I hope it was just me, that I was in the wrong mood or the wrong shape. I hope this is a singular experience.
I will say, I missed the performance. I got tickets, never checked my email and never added it to my iCal. I said I’d only review this show after I’d seen the performance, and when I realised I’d missed it, I felt like a Real Dickhead™️. I wonder if this was the missing generosity I needed, if this would’ve made me Feel, make the slipping sliding film feel less like a deep pit and more like a backdrop to a palpable Feeling. I am convinced it would’ve, because almost all performance surely is guaranteed to make you feel strongly (even if it’s revulsion or boredom).
If Lament is a glamorous kind of wastage, a beautiful way to waste time as it passes, to plunge yourself into performing the labour of sorrow with no set purpose or end other than to exorcise or excavate the depths of yourself; then how much can you be expected to understand it, when all you’re shown is people talking about the wastage and the parts around it, rather than the meaty beauty of its actual substance. I think Lana del Rey does this better, renders this melancholy waste more palpably, more accessibly, more generously. I am sad for saying this all, because it too feels like a waste. Sleight of hand, type & signifier; there were small head-nods towards the turbulence, waste and stillness of lament and tragedy. But the film without the performance was not felt enough, too still to convey the turbulence also, ungenerous in the parts that I was shown. I want to try again. I want the show to come on again, run another time, but different. I’m a dickhead for missing the event that might have sliced this lack in half. I wasn’t given enough: time, feeling, hand to hold.
Helen Cammock's <<Che si può fare>> is on @ Whitechapel until 1st September (which is today, as of day of publishing). HURRy, if ur reading this & wana see it.