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Artist's Mini Restoration aims to tellthe story of Longbridge

Date uploaded: February 17, 2016

The restoration of a 1979 Mini 1275 GT is at the heart of a new narrative work by artist Stuart Whipps, looking at the history and heritage of the famous Longbridge car factory in Birmingham. The project, has been commissioned by WERK, as part of the Longbridge Public Art Project (LPAP) and is designed to support the ongoing regeneration of the former car factory site.

The 36-year-old artist’s work in Longbridge was deemed so significant that British Art Show (which takes place every five years) selected Whipps to be part of BAS8.

A ‘work in progress’ exhibition of Stuart’s work will be at an all-day event on March 13th at Greenlands Select Social Club in Longbridge. The event will showcase Stuart's relationship with Longbridge, which began with a photographic exhibition of the derelict factory, created while Stuart was studying at the University of Wolverhampton in 2005.

Not a trained mechanic, Stuart is being helped in the Mini restoration by two former Longbridge workers, Keith Woodfield and John Baker.

Where possible, they are carrying out work on site or in the region; the engine is being rebuilt in Bromsgrove; the shell will be acid dipped in Gornal; the suspension and wheel hubs are being fitted to the subframe with help from mechanic students at Bournville College, which now sits on the site of the former car factory.

Whipps bought the 1979 Mini 1275GT, ‘a slightly contentious model with Mini enthusiasts’ through Auto Trader; tasks which lie ahead include replacing the wing mirrors with originals; attempting to trace a set of ‘optional extra’ gold alloys – and re-tuning the car using official guidelines, so that it outperforms the Mini Cooper, the car it replaced.

The artist sees this as a ‘corrective gesture’, to make it better than it was at the time.

He says: “In terms of my interest as an artist, it’s not about making pictures or about rebuilding cars, but they’re key elements – I’m interested in stories, complex narratives.

“I chose a 1979 model for several reasons; it was a pivotal moment with the election of Margaret Thatcher, the sacking of (British Leyland union convener) Derek Robinson – and I was born in ’79 as well.

“There are a lot of ramifications of what happened politically and socially in 1979 which I think we’re still unpicking – we’re now having a polarisation between left and right, very similar to what we saw back then.”

Alongside the restoration, Stuart is engaged in ongoing political and socially engaged research, exploring the media's perceptions and commentary of Longbridge in the 1970s, a poignant time within British manufacturing, that was until that point the backbone of the economy and society.

He is collecting photographs, newspaper cuttings and cartoons from the period, as well as more unusual material such as a copy of Men Only magazine carrying an advert for the Mini bearing the slogan ‘Nips In and Out Like Ronald Biggs’, and the Fawlty Towers script for episode ‘The Kipper and The Corpse’, which carries a line about the then beleaguered British Leyland.

“It’s about accessing these different layers of information,” says Stuart. “What happens when you examine the materials that came out of that period, it’s looking for signs of the tumult, but also you use that to access or unlock stories.”

Within his LPAP residency, Whipps and his assistant are also researching every paint colour ever produced at Longbridge, with the aim to use them on a series of permanent steel fretwork archways on a proposed pedestrian walkway along the former rail tunnel, which connected the two halves of the factory.

“It will mirror what happened on the site,” says Stuart. “We’re going to leave some of them as bare steel so you get that sweep-through of the location and it talks about the history of the site.”

For more information about this and other Longbridge Public Art Projects click here.

All images © Stephen Burke/WERK

All images © Stephen Burke/WERK