Urbansuburban: imagining a memory takes as it’s starting point a structure, locally known as ‘the golf ball’, which appeared in Oxford outside the multi-storey car park in 1974. For some it symbolised the arrival of modernity in the dreaming spires – realising a vision of machines and technology within a new road network that would thwart the frustrations of gridlock which the city had struggled with for decades. For others it represented the loss of a familiar way of life and the break-up of a community.
‘The golf ball’ was used for surveillance, enabling security guards to observe movements in and around the car park. This groundbreaking technology quickly became obsolete and twenty-five years after it was opened, the iconic structure was demolished, sounding the death knell for the original 1970s Westgate Centre development. When Oxford based artist Barbaresi started working with images of St Ebbe’s at different stages of the area’s history, ‘the golf ball’ became a metaphor for fragmented moments of time, used for reflecting, cropping and layering the pieces of history discovered in archives and donated by former residents of the area.
These fragments reveal the area as it was before the 70s Westgate development, with images of terraced streets, residents and the shops and industries in this thriving working class neighbourhood. This is the city as it is remembered by senior citizens who grew up in St Ebbe’s and moved out to the suburbs when St Ebbe’s was demolished. Traces of this city remain in businesses which moved elsewhere, in a few buildings which escaped the wreckers ball and in qualities of community and relationships which were re-kindled in new developments on the outskirts. The shifting images in the animation suggest time and change in the city alongside the imagined and remembered city which exists alongside the physical urban space.
This work, created for Christmas Light Festival 2018 and sited near the location of the former ‘golf ball’ structure, develops drawings from Barbaresi’s long-term series, ‘urbansuburban’. The work explores the lost promise of the iconic landmark and the glamour and new energy it briefly suggested for Oxford’s post-war future.
Animation: Andy Coram
This project was realised with the support of OVADA gallery, Westgate Oxford, G-SMATT Europe, Oxford City Council Events and Culture Teams, Ian Nolan Events, Andy Coram, Kieran Cox, Modus Operandi, Film Oxford, Oxfordshire History Centre, Oxford Mail and participants of urbansuburban who have generously donated time, photographs and stories to the project.