Rachel Whiteread at the Tate: Our World Reflected

Suzannah Ball

Rachel Whiteread is a sharp and original artist. Her new exhibition at the Tate Britain demonstrates her creation of a new landscape where there was previously just open space, walking through her world of casting brings new perspective to the normality of the domestic life.

Whiteread has lived in worked in London for the majority of her life. Born in 1963, she studied painting at Brighton Polytechnic, and sculpture at the Slade School of Art in London. Her sculptures are made using various casting techniques, including the use of plaster, rubber, resin, concrete and metals. She was the first woman to win the Tate’s Turner Prize in 1993.

Her casting varies from the simple water bottle to an entire house, even the vastness of her sculptures can be felt even through the tiny glinting stools which are lined up in the massive halls of the Tate. The exhibition offers an insight into Whiteread’s casting career, from the intimate to colossal, the room has a huge range of pieces documenting her self-proclaimed ‘shy sculptures’ alongside massive casts of entire staircases; Whiteread purchased a soon-to-be demolished house in London’s East End before removing it of all parts and pouring concrete down its chimneys. Through this enthusiasm for casting she creates a new acknowledgement for negative space, the objects which we take for granted as necessary become the very things which are indeed missing, the limits of her art know no bounds.

Walking into the exhibition produces an immediate appreciation for the ingenious artwork of Whiteread. The room, although initially clinically white and void, becomes filled with creation as you make your way around the various shapes which take up the space. While some pieces are obvious as to what their mould is, others are far more inexplicable and I became rather proud of myself for working out their origin.

Whiteread’s ability to transform normal household objects into an item of complete and utter intrigue is phenomenal. While many mattresses were placed around the room each bared no resemblance to the former, there was no shared likeness and their surfaces betrayed no similarity. Each was perfectly original and held ground as a piece of art on its own. Whiteread eloquently, and with no small effort, creates an absence of space where there remains an abundance of air.

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