The Spots That Never Went

Artist’s book, 2018 (Negative Press London, reprint 2020) – Highly Commended Finalist of 2019 Cornish Family Prize for Art and Design Publishing, presented by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Exhibition Cambridge Artspace, Cambridge, 2020
Exhibition Photofusion London, 2021
A Silent Reading, Stormy Weather, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, 2022 
Spoken word performance, Hastings Bookshop, 2023

The Spots That Never Went is a personal response to memories of the AIDS crisis in 1980s-90s London and the lasting impact on a generation. Originally an artist’s book presented as a tabloid newspaper in which abstract halftone images face short sentences, such as ‘I remember a time when the police raided bars and clubs wearing decontamination suits and gloves’, the book evolved into an exhibition exploring storytelling using image, text, artefact and live performance. In 2023, the text was developed into a spoken word piece.

The book reclaims the tabloid format from the 1980s/90s UK tabloid press and their bigoted and hateful reporting on the lives of lesbian women and gay men, the AIDS pandemic and people living with HIV/AIDS. The book is also an experiment in making a publication using one photograph. A Polaroid photograph of a rotting, spotted apple held tenderly in the palm of a hand, is converted to a mono halftone image, segments of which create twelve abstract, black and white photographs, expressing fragmented memories and forgotten history, while also communicating ideas about life and death, loss and hope and of HIV-positive and HIV-negative status.

A colour reproduction of the original Polaroid photograph, an image of care and love, is tipped on into the centre of the book, bringing transparency to the process of making.

The Spots That Never Went was Highly Commended Finalist of the 2019 Cornish Family Prize for Art and Design Publishing, presented by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

The Spots That Never Went – 28pp tabloid newspaper with colour print, 4pp broadsheet supplement collated in archival pocket

Collections include Wellcome Library, London, National Art Library, V&A Museum, London and National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.

A spoken word version of the book was performed 28 November 2023 at Hastings Bookshop. A silent reading video version of the book was part of a triptych performance with writer Darryl Peers at Stormy Weather, a Derek Jarman Protest! symposium at Manchester Art Gallery on 8 April 2022, organised by artist Jez Dolan and the Queer British Art Research Group.

An article to the background of the book appears in The Blue Notebook journal, Vol 14, No.2, Spring-Summer 2020 (Bristol: Impact Press at the Centre for Fine Print Research, UWE Bristol).

The book was included in ‘The Performing Photobook’ at Format  Photography Festival, Derby, UK, 2023; in the exhibition ‘Print: A Catalyst for Social Change’, Bury Art Museum, Bury, 2019 and in ‘Salon 18’, Photofusion, London, 2018.  

Sarah Bodman from the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), UWE Bristol, selected it as one of ten artists’ books of 2018, writing, ‘It’s a brutally simple, heartbreaking thing – we need to read more books like this.’

Exhibition, Photofusion, London, 21 October to 3 December 2021

For both the London and Cambridge exhibitions, I responded to the newspaper by unresolving its format and making new work, using wild apples retrieved at the end of the apple season in and around Cambridge, working with form, scale, overlaying and appropriation. 

The halftone images and text elements are reinterpreted  as recyclable A0 Xerox prints with additional works in colour. Enlarged halftone dots become lasercut sculptural artefacts, which spread in the gallery space like a virus multiplying. Sorrow, a punched Polaroid print with black ribbon, shows a naked vulnerable body in mourning.

In other artefacts paintings by fellow Dutchman and former London resident Vincent van Gogh are appropriated and modified.

Mitchell Moreno reviewing the show for Photomonitor, writes, ‘The apple is another recurring theme – a symbol of prelapsarian innocence and utopia, now fallen and turned bad. For the artist the fruit also acts as a proxy for his English lovers, as in “Some Are Here And Some Are Missing”, where apples lay on top of a copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” – symbolising Bakker’s Dutch body.’

Two performance works, Nineteen Eighty Seven and My Son (see below, photograph by Elizabeth Doak), were performed live throughout the duration of the show evoking inter-generational discussion, sharing histories and personal experience.

Photomonitor review of the Brixton show by Mitchell Moreno at

The Spots That Never Went, Cambridge Artspace, Cambridge, Gay History Month, February 2020

A work-in-progress exhibition, Gay History Month, February 2020, Cambridge Artspace, Cambridge

Following on from a residency at Cambridge Artspace in autumn 2019, I developed this first exhibition of the work at Artspace, which included an earlier version of the performance work Nineteen Eighty Seven. 

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Roelof Bakker, all rights reserved, 2024