Longbridge North Works, 0034
Longbridge. Body in White, 0196
Pukou. Launch Ceremony, 0319
Stuart Whipps, one of the West Midlands' leading young photographers, takes the production space of the MG Rover as his subject for his current show, 'Ming Jue', at The New Art Gallery Walsall. When Whipps first began this project in 2004 the site of production was the Longbridge Rover Plant in Birmingham. In 2005, however, the 6000+ staff were informed that production would halt for a week. In the end, the staff never returned to the plant and the production of the MG Rover transferred to Nanging, China.
'Ming Jue' comprises of a body of photographs examining the two alternate spaces of production - the now motionless Longbridge plant and the new Nanging plant. The disquieting stasis that fills the photographs of Longbridge is reinforced by the absolute absence of the labourer - an absence which is only strengthened by the feeling that tools had been set down and work stopped in the expectation that tools and work alike would be picked up again within days. Of course, this never happened, and the factory remained in its half shutdown state to be photographed by Whipps in its feeling of quiet despondence.
Conversely, individuals and life are visible in the photographs of the Nanging plant. These images speak of the new 'shiny' corporate plant that has replaced the somewhat old industrial weightiness of the Longbridge motor works. The photographs of Nanging are in sharp contrast to Longbridge, expressing unadulterated colour and freshness in comparison to the drabness of the tired Longbridge environment. Yet, at the same time, the Nanging plant remains as still as the Longbridge plant - not motionless - but empty of character, something that the Longbridge plant cannot fail to have in its 'lived in' appearance. Indeed, these two places are somehow connected in their separate terms of emptiness.
In the end, these photographs are about the process of renewal and the absence that it will ultimately leave behind. There are many forgotten plants and factories in Britain like the Longbridge plant, once a driving force in the economy, now left dilapidated in pockets of the British industrial scenery. Whipps' 'Ming Jue' photographs skilfully capture this revolution in heavy industry, pictorially describing a transformation from industrial muscle to corporate cleanliness; the rough underbelly of manufacture is hidden under the outer spotlessness of a corporate world now embedded in the image of business opulence.
A fully illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition with essays by Pete James and Tim Strangleman.
Freya E. Smaill
Until 1 June
New Art Gallery Walsall
Walsall, WS2 8LG
T +44 (0)1922 654400