Retrospective of Rachel Whiteread @ Tate Britain

Every time I see Whiteread’s artworks, a famous quote by the mountaineer, George Mallory, pops up in my head – “People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ And my answer is ‘Because it’s there’.”

Rachel casts because it is there…

And she has been casting a numerous objects in resin, rubber, plaster and concrete over the decades. What she casts is another thing which makes her works most unique and captivating.

Rachel captures what is not there. Or it exists yet it is not tangible nor tactile to us. She traps the emptiness…

Shallow Breath 1988

In this work, she casted the void beneath a bed. The space captured and solidified in plaster and polystyrene represents multiple emotions which are associated with the space under a bed.

In her “Torso” series, she casted the inside of a hot-water bottle…

Again, she was capturing the warmth of a hot-water bottle. The artworks appeared as if she also managed to jog and trap the memories associated with this intimate household object.

Untitled (Amber Mattess) 1992

The cast of the mattress was made from rubber. The manner of the way the artwork leant against the wall resembled how some people abandon a worn-out bedding out on the street. Did she imply discarded intimacy?…

Untitled (Hive) II 2007 – 2008

The interior of a beehive was casted in honey-coloured resin. The visualisation of the space filled with liquid honey.

Ghost Ghost 2008

A doll house was casted in lavender-coloured resin. Behind the semi-transplant mass, details such as a staircase and walls were seen, trapped in a dreamlike manner, and it was hauntingly beautiful.

Sadly her most famous work, House – a temporary public sculpture in East London, no longer exists. I remember how raucously the piece was received by the general public. While some of them, including me, were pro, the rest was aggressively anti and the controversy raged until the artwork was demolished after eleven weeks.

Untitled (Room 101) 2003

This piece reminded me about the aforementioned work. Would the sculpture be spared from being torn down if it were built in a more affluent area of London? Like Hampstead or Chelsea? I couldn’t help wondering.

Stairs 2001

With this piece, which occupied the centre stage of the airy gallery, the artist finally resolved the issue which had been bugging her for eight years. During the BBC programme, Imagine, Rachel was recounting to Alan Yentob how she was left unsatisfied with the staircase of the “House” in 1993. She was not happy with it because the staircase was like a mere imprint on the wall and it did not represent architectural quality she wanted. Then in 1999, opportunity was presented to her in the shape of an ex-Baptist church in Shoreditch which she and her partner bought so they could convert it to a studio/family home. While she rejigged the space, she made the casts of the existing interior, including the staircase.

Untitled (Floor – thirty-six) 2002

In Out-IV 2004 (left), Circa 1610 2012 (right)

A.M. 2011

Due Porte 2016

Line up 2007 – 2008

Drill 2008 (front), Lean 2005 (rear)

While studying her works, the sensations, such as scents, temperatures and touches, I felt while I was making things during my art student days, came back vividly.

Her retrospective show is on until the 21st of January.

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

3 thoughts on “Retrospective of Rachel Whiteread @ Tate Britain

  1. Certainly in your photos (excellent by the way) the white, grey and clear pieces seem to have more resonance. I understand her choices for the colours in some of her work, but I find the colour distracts from the overall impression of cast space. Was it different in real life?

    • Some pieces seemed to have lost the vibrancy of the original colour because they were made a long time ago? I also think because of the choice of materials, such as resin or rubber, some works more aged than another. As you point out, the details of the casts were more visible if the colours were light. A few pieces were in black and I couldn’t see any detail other than lacquer-like gloss. I think Rachel was experimenting with different colours in order to see them for herself. I like her and her work because she is so hands-on. Unlike those super star artists like Jeff Koon or Damien Hurst, she mucks in and very down-to-earth. 😁

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