Future Knowledge, Modern Art Oxford: Work developed from ‘urbansuburban’, searching for St Ebbe’s in the suburbs was shown as part of this group exhibition which explored alternative ways of working with audiences.
Urbansuburban is a project researching the area of St Ebbe’s in Oxford which was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a multi-storey car park and shopping centre. Former residents of St Ebbe’s were moved to new developments on the fringes of the city, with a few re-housed in a development of new maisonettes built in St Ebbe’s. With the re-development of the Westgate shopping centre and car park there is renewed interest in the history of this area.
Through working with archives and the reminiscences of former residents a picture of the former St Ebbe’s is emerging of a close-knit predominantly working class community and an area dominated by industry ranging in scale from small family cottage industries to the gas works which was a major physical presence in St Ebbe’s. Social enterprises, hostels for the homeless, refuges for single mothers and many more flourished in this area which seemed to draw those who struggled on the margins – perhaps due to it’s position just outside the original West gate of the city. Skilled craftspeople and artisans abounded in the area; embroiderers, carpenters, leather workers, specialist bakers and printers. And then there were the shops which catered to the thrifty and resourceful residents who had to make a small income stretch a long way.
These histories challenge perceptions of Oxford as a city; the relationship between town and gown, the historic centre and relatively new suburbs and the diverse communities who call it home. They open questions around belonging and the struggle for marginalised communities to find a voice and influence in a city which resounds with the vibrant and powerful voices of it’s Universities. And most of all, these histories challenge ideas about successful urban spaces and communities, highlighting the value and fragility of the complex ecosystems which evolve in cities over generations with the potential to inform our thinking about how cities are shaped for the future.
The initial research for this project and the ’urbansuburban’ book were developed with funding from Westate Oxford with further development of the project supported by Oxford City Council and Modern Art Oxford.
Currently I am working with forms which can bring together different voices and narratives into a work. I am thinking about polyphony within installation and how I can create visual threads through formal elements.
A comprehensive overview of the research and project can be found at https://rachelbarbaresi.wixsite.com/urbansuburban