Stuart Whipps, UK / by Claire Farrell

Stuart Whipps

In one of his most ambitious projects to date, Whipps is restoring a 1275GT Mini made at the plant in 1979 with the help of several ex-employees including Keith Woodfield, whose time and insight is proving invaluable. Many of the processes of stripping down and replacing or repairing the parts can be seen in a glass-fronted cabin-come-workshop in the carpark of Bournville College, as well as being featured in various galleries across the country as part of Whipps’ participation in the touring ‘British Art Show’ exhibition. The (dis)assembly of the Mini provides an echo of the cyclical changes experienced by Longbridge itself, for, after a long period of demolition and emptiness, new opportunities and facilities are emerging. The display of the car in various states of repair showcases the significance of this particular part of British manufacturing heritage to a wider audience.

Individual car parts have been photographed upon removal from the chassis in a kind of ‘forensic examination’ of the car, as Whipps describes it. Supporting these parts, in the background of the photographs, are what appear to be ordinary sheets of newspaper. In fact, these pages depict political cartoons from the national press in the watershed year of 1979. In this year Longbridge trade unionist Derek Robinson, known as ‘Red Robbo’, was dismissed after almost forty years at the plant, shortly after Margaret Thatcher came into political power. She described Robinson as a ‘notorious agitator’. These political threads run throughout Whipps’ work for LPAP. Indeed, his project is titled ‘The Kipper and the Corpse’, a line that makes reference to a 1979 episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’ in which Basil Fawlty jokes about strikes at Longbridge.

Near to the workshop where Whipps has been working will soon be a pedestrian tunnel under the A38 bridge. The artist has designed a number of permanently-sited artworks that will enhance this new public gateway for pedestrians and cyclists in Longbridge. Whipps’ designs will incorporate elements of Longbridge’s past. A chronological presentation of every body work paint colour produced at the plant will appear on steel barriers that will separate the tunnel archways from the River Rea, combined with an enlarged, distinctive hounds-tooth pattern used in the interior upholstery of cars manufactured at the plant. This is to be a timeline of changing taste and aesthetics, manufactured with contemporary technologies and materials. A lighting system designed by Whipps within the tunnel will provide practical lighting while illuminating various key features of the historic structure.

Text by Anneka French

Stuart Whipps is revisiting Longbridge after making an extensive series of photographs of the MG Rover Factory between 2004 and 2007. He also photographed the new MG factory in Nanjing, China, and was the recipient of the Observer Hodge award for this work. Since then Whipps has continued to work as an artist, predominantly using photography and video on a range of diverse projects. Recent projects have examined a surrealist concrete sculpture garden in Mexico, the British artist John Latham’s archive and the history and legacy of Birmingham Central Library. He is currently making a feature-length film on the legacy of post-war British new towns.

'The Kipper and the Corpse' is generously supported by The William A. Cadbury Charitable Trust. It is exhibited as part of British Art Show 8. Find out more about the British Art Show 8 by clicking here.