Show Review: Rachel Whiteread

Tate Britain
12 September 2017 – 21 January 2018

The exhibition of Rachel Whiteread’s work currently on at Tate Britain is a real treat because it is the biggest survey of her work ever shown, spanning 30 years of output. This abundance really brings attention to the extensive range of materials she has mastered in her practice during that time.

It features large-scale sculptural works in industrial materials such as plaster, resin, rubber, concrete, and metal alongside smaller works on paper, which are rarely shown publicly and usually only seen in books. Whiteread’s intimate drawings hold a fascination for me because of the variety of mark making techniques she employs; a mixture of varnish, pencil, ink, correction fluid, watercolour, and collage on a range of supports from graph to cartridge paper. She describes her use of correction fluid as being about building up layers, almost like ‘casting a drawing’. By laser-cutting into plywood her drawings have evolved into 3d forms.

Whiteread has said that drawing for her is a core activity that she uses as a visual diary to explore her thoughts and ideas on a daily basis. I feel inspired now to do this myself as a daily practice to let go and see what can come up from my subconscious.

What is particularly interesting for me about this exhibition is the way it brings together her obsession with the domestic, starting with four early sculptures from her first solo show in 1988; a dressing table, a clothes cupboard, the underside of a bed, and a hot-water bottle – which was the starting point for the series of ‘torsos’.

Whiteread became known for her unusual casting technique when she became the first women to win the Turner Prize with ‘House’ in 1993. Traditional casting methods always seek to replicate objects as they are seen, but this ambitious work was a concrete cast of the entire interior of a terraced house in London’s East End.

I have always admired her way of making negative space a solid form because of the way it toys with Freud’s theory of the uncanny by rendering the everyday into something strange, and threatening. As well as exploring the negative space around domestic objects such as tables, beds, bookcases, boxes, and architectural features including stairs, floors, windows, doors, and sheds she has also cast the invisible space inside objects like bottles and mattresses.

These works challenge our perception, creating a conceptual flip that causes us to question our sense of reality.

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