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Rachel Whiteread: confronted with the spaces we occupy

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Untitled Domestic, 2002, Rachel Whiteread

Some of the most fundamental aspects of the human experience come in the form of relation. Whether that is our relation to others, objects, or even the world around us. When attempting to be cognizant of how we interact with that which surrounds us, there is one aspect that goes overlooked. The negative space. I know for me I force myself to notice the little things; the placement of a light switch on a wall, or the feel of corduroy pants. Others may pay attention to the aesthetics of an organized shelf, but I think we all know the thigh pain of a long flight of stairs. We miss the spaces between. What am I reaching through to turn that light on, grab the book, or breaking through as I climb stairs. We pay little attention to space that we thing with which we interact the most.

This is why I love the work of sculpture artist Rachel Whiteread. Famous for large castings, Whiteread's work is visually striking. Sometimes from repetition/arrangement; times sheer size. There is a poetic aspect in her work that can actually alter the way that we relate and witness or surroundings.

© Rachel Whiteread  Photo Sue Omerod
House (1993), Rachel Whiteread © Rachel Whiteread Photo Sue Omerod

At first you think wow that is a monochrome house. It's huge! You confident and think I know what a house looks like. You start to notice all the details. The edges that become flat and linear framing the organized planes that make up a house. But then, somethings off. Maybe the color is playing with my eyes. Maybe Rachel has pulled a fast one and warped the perspective, playing with the angles. Your confidence wains. I'm missing something. This isn't right. Then it hits you. This is not a house. The "house" has been removed. Instead I am am standing in front of a physical inversion of the entire inside of a house. That is interesting. But why?

I've come to love this piece. House has gone from a sculpture that I liked as a scrolled passed to a work of art that has truly altered my relation to the world and has left a lasting impression on me. Whiteread is confronting the viewer. Smacking us in the face with the space we ignore as we go through our daily lives. We have become so accustomed to the places that we put ourselves in that we that we forget the the affect they have on us. When you are in your home do you ever think about the open floors above your head? We get into a small car and subliminally adapt. We forget that the space we enter is now limited. Walls and windows break up the world and section or day off into rectangular pods, or isle sized slices. I will never again enter a space without recognizing how I exist within it.

Study, 2005, Rachel Whiteread

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