Image of Two stone sculptures
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled

Rachel Whiteread

Works exhibited: Untitled, Untitled, and Some are abject objects II

Rachel Whiteread’s work has been referred to as ‘sculpture that seems to have withdrawn in on itself ’ (Bryony Fer). This is a description that could apply to the two works in stone in the current exhibition. Each is a cast of an interior, a blind space, and yet the disclosing of this normally unseen and closed-off space allows it to see, or, if not to see exactly, then to be present in the visible world, a world from which it would otherwise be completely absent. Whiteread’s sculptural practice over decades has refined the methods of translating imperceptible space into perceptible form. It is as if she is transporting sculpture from one dimension to another.

Whiteread’s choice of Portland and Ancaster stone for the two works deploys materials most often found in prestigious buildings and monuments, especially in nineteenth- and twentieth-century institutional and corporate building projects in London. If she is not exactly claiming monumentality for the spaces she has coaxed out of the shadows, then she is claiming our attention and diverting it away from a visual culture where ostentation forces certain objects on our attention and distracts us from others. Whiteread has always insisted on opening up the mind of the viewer to the overlooked and unconsidered spaces of our everyday reality, and she traces the borderlines between neglect and fascination in the most subtle fashion, here through the use of linear cutouts enabling the movement of light and shadow to make us attend to sculpture as a transitional object, moving into the world of art straight from a world we take for granted.

In the accompanying vitrine Some are abject objects II, Whiteread examines a selection of functional objects and their relationship to and simultaneous detachment from the human obsession with meaning-production. What does it mean to isolate and frame a manufactured object unless it is to challenge Walter Benjamin’s contention that ‘aura’ surrounds only the unique creation and is absent once the single artefact has been reproduced? The reproduced objects that are rendered singular here include skeletal bones and mechanical components – they have been isolated from the working systems of which they are a part in a way that emphasizes their individual value. Without them, the systems would not work. But isolation and juxtaposition also force recognition of their individual forms. Each form is the product of its function in connection with others yet offers a beauty all its own, an aesthetic satisfaction that Whiteread underlines with the addition of precious materials such as platinum and white gold leaf. The most commonplace technologies harbour the potential for reflection on the aesthetic richness of our material culture and our hierarchies of value.

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