There is a story told about a stocking that has been repaired so often that nothing of the original material remains, yet still a stocking exists. Each stitch that went into the repair is a link between a past identity and a future reality. We can draw an analogy between this image of repair and the brush strokes in Helen Baker’s paintings. When the brushstrokes are taken cumulatively do they move toward a switched position. Even as material is annexed, a shape of origin is embedded in the work.
Britain has changed a lot in the past 30 years. The working class, as it used to exist, is almost completely gone, but a residue of the working class, the image of it, as culture and social thread persists. In earlier texts on Helen’s work, her activity in the paintings has been compared to knitting and repair the idea being to link them to traditional woman’s work. Yet the method of building these paintings, can also evoke the constructing of a brick wall, or welded patches on a boiler. Helen’s work is positioned in the space created by divided labour, reminding us that these apparently separate worlds share common fundamental attitudes. They are infused with a wholesome pride and a direct matter-of-factness.
These paintings are also a clever take on what is called Fundamental Painting, an approach to art insistently free of image. Almost invisibly a specific political underpainting has been slipped into an approach to art that is sometimes seen as an example of art for art sake. Helen shows how fundamental painting has much in common with simple honest work, and nestles her art into the link between these two worlds
The structure we absorb as we comprehend these paintings returns to us when we enter the videos. The brick walls, the boarded up windows, and the shifting angles of vision are all curiously familiar. The subject of the videos is the residue of a culture that was marginalized at the same time that it was indispensable, a world of temporary council flats masquerading as permanent, of jobs pretending they were so stable they could be passed on from father to son. We know that since the industrial revolution everything about the work force is temporary, that its apparent stability is really in spin. Here, occluded windows reveal a world built as much by empty spaces as by the reiterated units surrounding them.
The character of this work results not only from the multiple origins of the artist’s material references but also from the way she skilfully positions time to be simultaneously past and present in the work.