Rachel Whiteread Tate Britain
until 21st January 2018
By Jacqueline Knox
As you walk into the Tate Britain gallery towards the exhibition space of Rachel Whiteread you are confronted by a series of casts of resin.
Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) 1995, reproduced with kind permission Tate ©
They are a series of casts of the negative space underneath wooden seats made of different coloured resin. Due to the light shining in from the windows up above in this long corridor you immediately notice the colour and texture of the pieces as they change with the light. They appear to resemble coloured jelly moulds with light emanating from inside. Whiteread made casts of her own body, hot water bottles, chairs, tables and wardrobes which are all in this exhibition. She searched underneath tables and inside objects for signs of wear and tear – signs of traces of life. Closet (1988) one of her first pieces was a plaster cast of the inside of a small wardrobe, covered in black felt. According to Whiteread “The use of felt was also partly informed by my memory of sitting inside wardrobes as a child “ ( Mullins, p.19). Shallow Breath, 1988 is cast from a single bed. Whiteread cast the dark space of the underside of the base of the bed. The place where you might hide if you were playing hide and seek (cache-cache). There is fragility about the piece with its crumbly plaster surface and on close examination the imprint of the hessian. This detail seems to give the pieces a life of their own. This exhibition spans Whiteread’s work so that you get to see her earlier work of furniture and negative space of hot water bottles before her famous cast of the house which won her the Turner prize in 1991. Some of the work is titled where familiar objects create a sense of security that is then purposely undermined. Closet implies a hidden space. Torso resembles a cast of a body.
As you walk around the pieces in the exhibition and examine them closely you can see visual reminders of the lives that lived in the spaces. Similar to a negative of a photo you are looking at the solidified air from underneath a bed rather than the object itself. I particularly liked the pieces cast in rubber and resin. The resin mattress slumped against the wall reminded me of abandoned mattresses that are sometimes left in the streets or thrown into waste tips which somehow made it feel sad and tragic.
I have a book of Whiteread’s drawings and was pleased to see some of them in the exhibition. Through her sketches it becomes evident that Whiteread is asking us to notice the hidden spaces behind everyday objects. These drawings and sketchbooks give you an insight into her developmental process and her thought progression from drawings to castings of architectural space.
If you follow the work by date order you will end up at the windows and doors. Instinctively I was drawn to these first so in essence I viewed the exhibition backwards but this made no difference to its enjoyment of the work but it is probably better to follow it in its logical order as then one is able to appreciate the developmental process.
A door is such an everyday object so it was thought provoking to see these resin casts. They had an intrinsic beauty due to the light emanating from within which tends to draw your gaze inside them. The plaster pieces in contrast appear to be about their surface texture and form.
Frustratingly you are unable to get too close to the smaller objects to admire the textures and surfaces as they are placed behind security lasers which is understandable although difficult to view up close. The film at the entrance to the exhibition gives you a further insight into Whiteread’s work and her influences such as the work of Eva Hesse (1936-1970) who examined negative space in a fragile way. Whiteread’s objects appear to have their own life as the history of the lives that lived in the space now being palpable within the object itself.
This exhibition is well worth a visit. It provokes thought. The easiest way to get to Tate Britain is by bicycle as the Santander bike rack is just next to it. Or by the tube Pimlico stop. If you walk out of the gallery and turn right and walk back up into Pimlico you will find some lovely cafes and antique dealers on Pimlico Road.
Just a short walk from Sloane Square. https://daylesford.com/locations/pimlico-sw1/
44B Pimlico Road SW1 8LP Is a well – located café and great for coffee and/or lunch.