Interview with Helen Cammock


They Call It Idlewild

2 March to 18 March (please note early closure due to Coronavirus)

(Click the image to the left to see more stills and photos.)

"You'll have to learn to resist the fascination of Idlewhatever-you-call-it. When I tell you to come in at a certain time I mean that time and not half an hour later. And you needn't stop to discourse with sympathetic listeners on your way, either."
Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, 1908

Turner-Prize-winning artist Helen Cammock presents a new film and text work commissioned as part of Wysing Arts Centre’s 30th birthday programme, in 2019.  

During the Autumn and Winter of 2019/20, Cammock has been in-residence at Wysing responding to the organisation’s archive. Inspired by histories, photographs and artworks uncovered in the archive, Cammock’s new work acts as a reflection on the politics of idleness and what it means creatively, emotionally and culturally to be idle at a time when the questions are being asked more widely about the physical and emotional cost of hyper-productivity, required by Neoliberalism. 

The exhibition’s centre-piece is a new short film, They Call It Idlewild,
occupying Wysing’s gallery. The film
begins as an evocative account of the artist’s explorations in Wysing’s
archive; intuitively opening boxes and searching through photos as she uncovers forgotten names, histories and artworks. Reflecting on these findings, Cammock’s poetic voiceover begins to see the organisation in new terms, as a place where artists are free to engage with idleness, and to take things at their own speed. She sees this as the foundation of a thirty- year history of creativity at Wysing; a constant in a time of sweeping societal and political change.  

Cammock explores the processes of idleness through visual and poetic intertextuality drawing on writers such as Audre Lorde, Mary Oliver, James Joyce and Jonathan Crary to consider what it means to be idle. At one point during the film, Cammock begins to sing Johnny Mercer’s depression-era song “Lazy Bones”, drawing an explicit link between several historical periods and reminding us of the pervasiveness of racial stereotypes around laziness and the hypocrisies of the slave, business and land-owning classes. They Call It Idlewild asks: who gets to be lazy.  

Helen Cammock's residency and exhibition are supported by Arts Council England and Art Fund. 


Cammock was the joint winner of the Turner Prize 2019 and her exhibition The Long Note, has been presented at Turner Contemporary, Margate as part of Turner Prize, 2019. She was winner of the 7th Max Mara Art Prize for Women. Her subsequent exhibition,
Che Si Può Fare (What Can Be Done) premiered at Whitechapel Gallery, London from June – September 2019 and is currently on view at Collezione Maramotti, Italy until 8th March 2020.  

Her new film Concrete Feather and Porcelain Tacks, has been commissioned with Film and Video Umbrella, London; Touchstones Museum, Rochdale, and The Photographers Gallery, London and will be exhibited in solo exhibitions at The Photographers Gallery and Rochdale Museum in July and October 2020 respectively. This summer, Serpentine Gallery, London will present Cammock’s project Radio Ballads, a radio programme and series of live performance events. 

The Long Note premiered at VOID, Derry, Northern Ireland; and showed at The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2019. Other solo exhibitions include The Sound of Words, Reading Museum, UK (2019) and
Shouting In Whispers, Cubitt, London (2017). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at; Somerset House, Hollybush Gardens, London and FirstSite, Colchester and she has staged performances at The Showroom, Whitechapel Gallery and the ICA in London. 

Cammock was born in Staffordshire, UK in 1970 and lives and works in Brighton and London. She is represented by Kate MacGarry, London.


To read Maria Walsh's review in Art Monthly, click here.

To read Erica Scourti's review in MAP, click here.

To read David Trigg's interview with Helen Cammock in Studio International, click here.


In response to government guidelines, Wysing's site closed temporarily on 18 March until further notice.

If you have questions about access needs, please email Wysing’s Head of Operations, Ceri Littlechild, on ceri.littlechild@wysingartscentre.org.