The Commissions – Helen Cammock
By Necessary Passage
For her commission, Helen Cammock has focused her research on women’s emigration from Britain to South Africa in the last quarter of the 19th century. By Necessary Passage is a short film conceived around three characters: a white governess, a white servant and a black servant. The characters’ stories are built from actual records found in letters and other archived material, combined with fictional elements, all drawn together within an imagined setting.
Sitting in various contemporary settings, three women relay the characters’ experiences of living and working on a southern African farm in dispassionate voices. Behind each of their stories lies a subtext that speaks of gender, race, class and violence as played out in a colonial context. Whilst the characters never physically cross paths in the film, their relationships and positioning to one another are implied at various points in their respective narration.
Suggesting connections between historical and current societal structures, Cammock’s film further addresses the cultural circumstances under which historical records are created; more particularly how middle-class and European perspectives prevail. The archives provide significant documentation to inform the characters of the white servant and the governess. Indications of indigenous women’s experiences, however, are to be found in the oblique references of émigrés, in what is omitted from their stories and from the archives, in oral and popular history, and in the imagination and lived experience of artist and audience.
Helen Cammock lives and works in Brighton.