Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rachel Whiteread: Artist, Property Theorist

Rachel-Whiteread-house For my latest writing project I've been reading a lot about memory and the uses of sculpture in public spaces.  After spending a lot of time in our Art History library, I think I've finally uncovered my favorite memorial artist: Rachel Whiteread.  Whiteread is a 47-year-old, British sculpture who is best known for her concrete casts of everyday items.  Her most famous work is, most likely, the Judenplatz Holocaust Monument in Vienna (see here).    

I think that I'm drawn to Whiteread's work because it's fundamentally about property and the human relationship to objects.  Take her Turner-prize-winning piece, "House" (pictured right). In 1993, Whiteread created "House" by spraying liquid concrete into an empty building and then removing the walls (for other pictures see here).  On one level the ghostly sculpture served as a monument to lost communities.  The concrete stands, anthropomorphically, for the people who are no longer there.

But more importantly, by fossilizing a complete living space, I think that Whiteread reminds the viewer how basic our needs remain, even as the bric-a-brac that fills our lives seems to grow and grow.  On a basic and primal level we all need some kind of shelter, but not much beyond that.  In that one small respect, Whiteread seems to say, everyone is the same.  Finally, I'd argue that the tomb-like nature of her work calls our a reminder that none of this stuff follows us when we cross over.  

Steve Clowney

(image found with creative commons search)

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Steve, that photo is so haunting, I can't stop looking at it. To me, it seems to be a monument to a lost community, although I don't know if that's what Whiteread intended. I like to imagine archaeologists 1000 years hence trying to figure it out.

Posted by: Mark A. Edwards | Nov 19, 2010 7:33:29 AM

Mark, thanks for the comment. The really, really sad thing is that Tower Hamlets London Borough Council demolished the sculpture in January of 1994.

Posted by: Steve Clowney | Nov 25, 2010 7:47:18 AM

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