Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain

The Tate Britain is currently displaying an incredible exhibition of works by Rachel Whiteread. The Tate Britain never shows anything less than extraordinary and they have upheld those standards with Whiteread’s collection of stunning sculptures and pieces of contemporary art inspired by everyday household settings.

Essex-born Rachel Whiteread was raised in the English countryside until she was seven years old and moved to London with her father and mother, who was also an artist.

The first female artist to win the prestigious Turner Prize in 1993, Whiteread’s work focuses on ordinary household objects, which she creates casts of, and in some cases of their ‘negative space’. Whiteread creates her ‘negative space’ pieces by filling the area in and around furniture with plaster and creating a solid cast. Whiteread expresses her love and reason for making casts by saying it carries, “the residue of years and years of use”.

Whiteread’s work is displayed in a large room, with blank white walls, split into multiple sections: Early Works, Torsos, Works on Paper, Tables and Bookshelves, Room 101, Stairs and Floors, Coloured Objects, Boxes, Paper Màche and Windows and Doors. Although the artwork is in the multiple sections, the walls of the gallery have actually been taken down, creating a flowing experience for viewers throughout the exhibition while they view this chaotic, beautifully cluttered space. A difficult feat that has been pulled off superbly!

In the ‘Early Works’ section, there is a huge plaster cast of a bathtub. The enormity of the bathtub is astounding and the cast captures every single curve and form of the tub, along with every minute detail and ‘imperfection’.

Whiteread’s ‘Works on paper’ section shows how she plans her sculptures and projects before setting to work. Also shown are photographic collages of objects and places she uses as inspiration, such as houses and buildings which she then recreates in her own unique style.

The majority of Whitereads work is done in very simple block colours or plain white, which helps the viewers’ focus to remain on the piece itself without the distraction of colour. One section, however, ‘Coloured Objects’ contains small decorative pieces in bold, playful colours. The pieces are placed on shelves to give the illusion of them being everyday household decorations, when in reality, they're actually painted toilet paper tubes.

In the middle of the room there are two colossal plaster cast structures. “Room 101” is a plasticised plaster cast of a room in Broadcasting House, the British Broadcasting Company’s headquarters when novelist George Orwell worked there during the Second World War. ‘Room 101’ was the inspiration for the nightmarish torture chamber of his dystopian novel, 1984.

Whiteread stripped the room and cast the entire void of the room, capturing the scarred surfaces of the walls, floor and ceiling. The sculpture holds the beauty of the room that inspired such fictional horrors, keeping a piece of history alive with Whiteread’s own modern twist.

The other monumental sculpture featured is, ‘Untitled (Stairs)’. The towering structure was made up of ten cast elements bolted together to form a single free-standing unit. The result is absolutely breathtaking. The stairs lead round into each other, creating a continuous loop of stairs that lead to nowhere. Although the structure appears to be a solid block, it is in fact a shell.

Adding a little colour to the exhibition the ‘Windows and Doors’ section is captivating on a most instinctive level. Pastel colours are used for the glass structures, adding just a welcome hint of colour to the experience of the exhibition, but not too much.

The exhibition continues outside the gallery in the Milbank Garden where ‘Chicken Shed’ sits comfortably in the grass. Allowing for viewers to sit on the benches, enjoying the sound of birds and the fresh air, while still admiring Whiteread’s fabulous work.

Another display of Rachel Whiteread’s work is ‘Place (Village)’ which is currently at the V&A Museum of Childhood. The display consists of over 200 dollhouses, which Whiteread has collected during her lifetime. The houses have been placed alongside one another while also spreading upwards, creating the illusion of a picture perfect town up on a hill. The houses are lit from within, and are empty, however, thus creating a haunting atmosphere, which jars against a nostalgic sense of childhood that the sight of so many dollhouses might otherwise conjure.

Celebrating 25 years of work by one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists, this is a show not to be missed.  The Rachel Whiteread exhibition is on at Tate Britain until 21st January 2018.  More information may be found here.