Inspired by the forgotten histories, photographs and artworks uncovered in Wysing Arts Centre’s archive, Cammock’s new film 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.
Presented as a large-scale installation in Wysing’s main gallery, They Call It Idlewild begins with an evocative account of the artist’s explorations in Wysing’s archive; intuitively opening boxes and searching through photographs and other documents. Reflecting on these findings, Cammock’s poetic voiceover begins to see Wysing 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 the arts centre; 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. Part way through the film, Cammock begins to sing Johnny Mercer’s depression-era song “Lazy Bones”, drawing an explicit link between several historical periods, a reminder 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.
In parallel to They Call it Idlewild, Wysing Arts Centre presents Encounter, a new solo exhibition by Naomi Harwin, which launches Test Space, the Centre’s new programme strand and public platform for their studio artists to test out new ideas and directions. As the first Test Space artist, Harwin continues her recent investigations into materiality and form to create an ambitious, immersive installation in a new small exhibition space in Wysing’s main studio building. Re-purposing collaging techniques for a 3D environment, Encounter draws together abstracted photographs, drawings, sculptures, video and lighting to create multi-layered perspectives reminiscent of theatrical stage design. Series of objects with ambiguous sources, reference machine-made and corporeal forms in a deceptive interplay of line and form, surface and object.
On 29 February, Wysing Arts Centre also launches MOTHER…, a new site-specific artwork by Heather and Ivan Morison of Studio Morison that engages with the connections between the natural world and mental health. Created specifically for Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, MOTHER… is a sculptural structure reminiscent of the remarkable hayricks once found in this area, and is inspired by writer Richard Mabey’s book Nature Cure, in which he recovers from severe depression through walking, watching and writing about East England’s beautiful and unexplored landscapes.
Helen Cammock's residency and exhibition are supported by Arts Council England and Art Fund.