Spaces to places (Final Version)

Frampton, B. (2018) MG, Made in Abingdon: Echoes from the shopfloor. (s.l.): Veloce Publishing Ltd.

Moylan, B. (2017) MG’s Abingdon Factory (Those Were the Days.). (2nd Revised Edition) (s.l.): Veloce Publishing Ltd.

Moylan, B.J. (1995) Story Behind the Octagon. (First Edition) (s.l.): Ex-Wholesaler titles.

Long, R. (1997) A Walk Across England: A Walk of 382 Miles in 11 Days from the West Coast to the East Coast of England. (01 edition) (s.l.): Thames & Hudson.

Shore, S. and Tillman, L. (2004) Stephen Shore: Uncommon Places: The Complete Works. (01 edition) (s.l.): Thames and Hudson Ltd.

I wrote about the MG car factory in Abingdon in a previous exercise and have taken this on here. The site no longer exists and the area previously occupied by the factory is now used for housing, many small businesses, a new Police station and a McDonalds. Because of this diversity of uses, it seems to me this is less an example of a transformation of ‘space’ to ‘place’ than the reverse; ‘place’ becomes ‘space’ again. At the time of the factory’s closure it was seen as a big hit to employment in Abingdon – MG was one of three big employers in the town that all closed between 1980 and 1999. However since then the town has grown and the former site now supports many thriving businesses.

The three local history books listed above have all provided useful background to the development of the site and I was also able to obtain a printed map of the site at the time of closure. I have used this to photograph places that would have for the most part been part of the original site. Two are not, one of the former railway yard where cars were shipped abroad from, and one of the former site of the sports and social club.

Despite growing up with the idea that the car factory was a permanent fixture, I wanted to avoid this becoming an exercise in nostalgia. I don’t live in Abingdon anymore and have no particular reason to want it to remain fixed forever at the point I left, thirty five years ago. Even with the many changes over the years it is likely that most residents think it is better now than it used to be. I wanted to try and demonstrate the idea of rebirth but I did want to reinforce the link with the past usage of the site.

During the factory’s life it would largely be a busy location with a lot of people involved in the work. Today, although there are probably more people employed here now than when the factory closed, it does feel much emptier than it should. Apart from cars using the new main road through the old site there is not much in the way of actual human presence outside the many new buildings.  This absence of actual people is an element used as a regular motif in the works of Stephen Shore. I have used several of his photographs in “Uncommon Places” as inspiration here.

Taking a lead from both Ed Ruscha and Richard Long, I have added text to each image to try and anchor them to the past occupancy of the sites. All the phrases in the text are taken from old adverts for the MGB GT (links to the advert images are posted below). As was obligatory in 1960/70s car advertising, there is a lot of blatant sexism in use but it would be dishonest to ignore this. Some of the phrases would never be able to sell anything nowadays but I included them here to reinforce the idea that the social environment represented by the factory could have done with improving anyway.

I originally experimented with bright colours and Myriad Pro font for the text, to try and simulate the casual playfulness of Richard Long’s work. However this playfulness seems less appropriate in the project context. Cooper Black font that I now use here is much more resonant of 1960s and 1970s typography.

I have produced these images as individual pieces but I think the most interested audience may well be the people of Abingdon itself. Although I have not pursued this idea yet, there are one or two places in Abingdon itself that would be a good location to show these images. The local library would be an ideal place to show these as framed works.

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