I have loved Rachel Whiteread's work for years, but the brilliance of her Turner Prize winning House only hit home to me on seeing it depicted in the display of her drawings which is currently showing at Tate Britain.
Here the pictures she produced before she cast the inside of a condemned Victorian terraced house in 1993, seem to show the opposite notion of the gap than the one communicated by the 3-D cast. The profound difference, which is almost an inversion, between the flat white space amid the photographs of other houses and the present absence constructed by the cast house that stood in that space really captures why her objects are so mesmerizing and the communicative value of examining and manifesting an idea across different media.
Her 1995 work Embankment was fun to be dwarfed by, made of polystyrene boxes and exhibited in the Turbine Hall, and her resin casts are fascinating with their translucent semi-presence, but her black quartered bathtub has to be her most deeply touching and haunting creation.
The palpably uncanny note of eerie welcome struck by the tomb-like bath earned it the centre piece role in the first room of the Barbican's purposefully labyrinthine exhibition The Surreal House, which ended last month.
'Drawing and sort of painting is something I've always done. I studied painting as an undergraduate and I think it's always been very much part of my sort of every day practice, and also I think more recently, you know over the past five years or so, a lot of the works I've made have been, you know, very large, and in order to sort of work them out you know it's not like I can sort of play with a bucket of plaster to sort of make it happen, and to really sort of think through them and work them out I make a lot of drawings, and they're not technical drawings, and people are always asking me, you know, do I use computers, do I use CAD systems, do I use this or, you know I can just about send an e mail on the computer, I'm a bit of a ludite, but I do, you know I draw in my own sort of technical way and I use my own sort of perspective and it's just something that I really enjoy doing. It helps me dream a piece and make a piece happen.'
'When, you know when I first made the bathtub pieces, which were called Ether and various, they were never called Sarcophagus actually. But yeah these were using a cast-iron bathtub, I always used cast-iron because that was what I could get to rust into the material properly and to get this very rich surface on the final piece, and that was, you know I had the bathtub, I turned it upside down in the studio and I just worked on proportions and how something could look when it was finally a lump in the, you know in my studio, so that, you know I was trying to decide what height it would be and, and they were also always based on weight and how I could physically move them around the studio, you know maybe myself and someone else next door that I could knock on the door to help me just shift something for ten minutes. So all of those things were sort of considerations and they all become part of your working practice.
If you had just been, I use the word just deliberately, casting the space inside, you would have put the resin, in the case of Bath , inside the bathtub wouldn't you rather than putting the bathtub into a block of resin?
Yeah, but I've never found that space very interesting so.
Right, can't be bothered, that, that disposed of that, but you find the space beneath chairs and tables and stools like that, that is interesting?
Yeah I think it's for, for a number of reasons, one that they're, they're quite architectural lumps once they're made so, and they also stand for the absence of a body really. You know chairs are made to be sat on and whereas the inside of a bathtub is water.
And the body?
Yeah but then you have to put the body in it don't you, so it's, yeah and that, that would then become a very complicated cast and would look very figurative, the thing that I've, you know I've never used the body other than when I was a student in my work, and I'm always looking for ways of representing the body but not actually physically putting it there.'