BAS8 2: Evoking essential Britishness

Following my thoughts on some of the film & video art in BAS8, it seems appropriate to look at something more solidly material, Stuart WhippsThe Kipper and the Corpse. This is an ongoing work where a 1979 Mini is gradually restored by ex-workers of Longbridge Motor Works and exhibited as an installation at different stages of completion in the various galleries hosting BAS8.

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Stuart Whipps’ Mini in the John Hansard Gallery, Southampton

I must confess that I wasn’t struck by this the first time I saw it. The link to social history was clear enough, but it was still, well, just a partially completed Mini in a whitebox gallery space. I moved on. However, I came back and gave it another try, and on second viewing, some aspects did catch my attention. Firstly, there is a human touch – the oily overalls hung through a window provide a link to the person/s involved in its restoration, as if they might return to attach the door after their tea-break. Secondly, this is BAS8 and the Mini is a British icon (just think about The Italian Job), but without the witless jingoism that has infected such notions, and the ‘matron caught a militant’ subheader is pure Carry On… Lastly, the newspapers lining the floor and seat-bases are from 1979. Their yellowing, and dated style (not to mention the actual dates on them) give a sense of age to the piece (see image below). They match the date of the vehicle’s original manufacture, but also a key event central to the piece, the election of Thatcher as Prime Minister.

For me, having had a chance to reflect and revisit, this is what makes the piece evocative and thought-provoking. Many of us recall the event, or in my case the reactions of those around us. I was 10 years old and too young to engage with the politics, but I do remember teachers at my school being dismayed. I didn’t understand why, but of course I do now.

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BTW, Bill Geddes is still active in the union movement. As for matron, I couldn’t say…

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