Helen Cammock: Concrete Feathers and Porcelain Tacks

15 Oct 2021–13 Feb 2022


A new film and installation project from artist, Helen Cammock.

Continuing a practice which harnesses film, photography, print, text, song and performance to explore social histories and interrogate mainstream historical narratives, Cammock brings together residents and community groups of Rochdale, Greater Manchester to articulate both individual and collective experiences as a way of considering what it means to exist as part of a community.

Taking the ideals and ethos of the influential Rochdale Principles of Co-operation established in 1844, as a point of departure, Cammock looks to reconnect with these ideas through open dialogues with residents of Rochdale. The physical and historical landscape of Rochdale town and its surrounding areas form both the backdrop and foreground for a film work that celebrates and interrogates what the principles of social collective co-operation can bring to a community. The film also traces the artist’s and participants’ encounters with a variety of objects drawn from the public art collection and archive at Touchstones, Rochdale’s chief public gallery and museum.

The collection (established for, and by, the people) offers an open, shared resource for the protagonists to access and engage with a century of eclectic artefacts - a selection of which they are then invited to resituate in a variety of locations in their local area as a way of creating new meanings and connections. The objects chosen are highly idiosyncratic, including a bust of the singer Paul Robeson, a vintage sewing machine, a collection of walking sticks and a wooden box camera.

The people picking out these objects are equally diverse, encompassing families that have lived in the town for generations as well as younger groups who look towards the future; Rochdale’s former mayor; a local artist; a retiree gardener encouraging biodiversity; local sweet makers, to a Ukrainian women's choir. The places that the protagonists take the artist and the objects to, reveal strikingly different facets of Rochdale; their woven stories demonstrate how personal, social, political and cultural conversations intersect.

The title, Concrete Feathers and Porcelain Tacks is suggestive of industry and nature, the empirical and the abstract, strength, fragility and vulnerability. The exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery presents the film across twin projection screens, alongside a selection of the featured objects, paintings and screen prints. It is an intimate expression of a spirit of community made, like all good collective endeavours, from the inside.

The work has been commissioned for the collection of Touchstones Rochdale as part of Equal Shares, a collaboration between Film and Video Umbrella and Contemporary Art Society, supported by the Mbili Foundation, to enable museums and galleries in the northwest of England to commission, exhibit and acquire new moving image work by artists.

There will also be a concurrent display at Touchstones, Rochdale from 23 October 2021 - 13 February 2022.

Back to top