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Rachel Whiteread/ Tate Britain

Rachel Whiteread

Tate Britain, London.

12 September 2017 - 21 January 2018

This weekend I had the delight of an arty day out in London. This is something a try to do regularly, just getting out of Bristol is enough to shake things up. This trip was particularly inspiring and I thought I would share it with you. My main reason for the excursion was to visit Tate Modern to see the Rachel Whiteread exhibition and wow it was worth the coach journey. This is really exciting sculpture but not in a flash way. Her work is quietly clever and intriguing. I’ve only ever seen her work as one-off pieces and they are pleasing and sometimes humorous. To see her work as a whole you get a notion of the scale and the continuum of her work, the clever themes and it is interesting and enjoyable to see.

Whiteread is known for casting (taking moulds) of surprising things. Probably best known for casting an entire house, which won her the Turner prize in 1993 (the first woman to do so). But it’s the narrative created between her work as an entirety which the Tate exhibition explains so well. When you walk into the huge gallery space (no dividing walls here) the room gives way to sculpture and yet the nature of the sculpture makes you consider the volume of the room you are in, this compliments Whiteread’s work so well. The cast of a house in the middle draws your attention but around it, objects reveal themselves to you as familiar shaped ghosts of everyday items. And this for me was the initial delight of the exhibition. Some of her sculptures are more obvious than others. For example, the doors lined up against the back wall give instant gratification but there is fun to be had in walking around recognising the sculptures. This was my first reaction. But as the exhibition revealed itself to me, I got over the ‘look it’s a bathtub’ kneejerk response and started thinking about the complexity of the work. About our relationship to domestic, everyday spaces. I think this rings-true to me as I have spent the last four years predominantly at home. When you reduce things down to their volume, their form, the become simply recognisable as an object and can be dismissed maybe too easily as a familiar thing. The beauty of Whiteread’s work is it’s exactly these subtle colours and simple forms that draw you in closer to be rewarded with the detail. Trapped by the sculptural processes of the cast the surface gives you a detailed history of the object. It reminds you these are not fabricated to look like a house, a bath or a door. They are the memory of the actual thing. A monument to the history of the being. This is most apparent for me in the cast of a floor. From a distance the regular, simple cube shapes echo the works of Carl Andre and yet as your eyes and brain adjust to looking you see the surface pattern, the worn floorboards, fossil-like. And it makes you think of the history of the use and the importance of everyday life.

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