Rachel Whiteread

House

East London, 1993

 

Rachel Whiteread’s House is a dominant example of a memorial of the domestic past in gentrifying neighbourhoods, probing a commentary to the housing development issues in the UK and a remarkable question of what it means to be a home.

The embodiment of an empty or negative space as a sculptural work is central to Rachel Whiteread’s artistic practice. In 1991, she started to work on House, a monument to the domestic past of a gentrifying neighbourhood. Perhaps the most representative work of Whiteread, it probed housing development issues in the UK with a remarkable commentary that explored the meaning of home. 

 

House was a cast of the interior of a soon-to-be demolished terrace house. Located in Tower Hamlets of East London, its location was an intentional choice by the artist. Known as one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods, making a cast of a building in that area was bound to be controversial. By casting the empty space of the building, she rendered the space visible as a sculpture with traces of daily use impressed upon the surface. By foregrounding these traces in the building, she emphasized the social function of the space.  

 

As one of the landmark public art projects commissioned by Artangel—an international art organisation specializing in site-specific artwork (whose role was primarily to deal with the coordination and fundraising)—it took them two years to realise the project after the idea was first floated in 1991. During the search for the physical house that matched with Whiteread’s criteria, James Lingwood, Co-Director of Artangel, said that the pivotal point was to obtain permission from Bow Neighbourhood Council.[1]

 

The building that Whiteread incorporated into the art project was a typical Victorian family house. It was in a state of dilapidation, and it was the last remaining terrace house from what used to be a long row of similar homes. The rest of the terraces surrounding the chosen structure had already been cleared and converted into a park. 

 

Whiteread used the building as a mould to make a cast of the inside of the house by spraying a layer of concrete over a steel frame as a skeleton to reinforce the structure. When the concrete was set to dry, the bricks and mortar was removed to expose the interior of the building inside out, which demarcated the physical absence of the building

This work dominated numerous front pages of newspapers throughout the UK. Whiteread won the Turner Prize, the most prestigious contemporary art award in the UK organised by the Tate Gallery, with this work in 1993. Meanwhile, she was also named the “worst artist of the year” and awarded £40,000—twice the awarded amount of the £20,000 Turner Prize—as a mockery by the K Foundation, a private foundation set up by members of The KLF, a British electronic pop band active in the 1990s. The prize from the K Foundation sparked a controversy over whether Whiteread’s Housewas a masterpiece or an absurd spectacle that simply meant to entice people. Shortly after the controversy broke, the Bow Neighbourhood Council decided to knock down the work to clear the site for a park.[2]

 

Monuments and memorials traditionally celebrate important historical events, commemorating the acts of heroism or glorious past, and tend to be permanent fixtures. However, unlike this conventional approach, Housewas temporary in nature and dedicated to mundane people lives.

Although it was torn down as a result of the planned development, it left a legacy that has transcended decades. More than 100,000 people went to see the real work during its ten-week tenure.[3] Many more people have learnt about it from the media. It is a poetic and profound invitation for us to look at the void—the negative space—where a family used to live in. Most importantly, the provocation of Houseprompted many discussions about what art is and what is worth preserving.

[1] James Lingwood, Gerrie van Noord, and Marina Warner. Off Limits : 40 Artangel Projects. London: Merrell, 2002.

[2] Sarah Thacker. “Rachel Whiteread’s House: Why Was This Bow Landmark Demolished?” [online], 2015. https://romanroadlondon.com/rachel-whitereads-house-bows-legacy

[3] Andrew Graham-Dixon. “Artless Earthmover Finally Brings 'House' Down: Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Independent's Art Critic, Watched The Demolition of Rachel Whiteread's Installation in East.” The Independent [online], 1994. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/artless-earthmover-finally-brings-house-down-andrew-graham-dixon-the-independents-art-critic-watched-1406312.html

瑞秋·懷特(Rachel Whiteread)創作藝術的主旨,是體現空洞或負空間的雕塑作品。1991年,她開始創造《房屋》(House),紀念以前士紳化社區的家庭。這也許是懷特最具代表性的作品,探討及評論了對英國房屋發展的問題以及家的意義。

《房屋》是一座即將被拆除的混凝土排屋,位於東倫敦塔村區(Tower Hamlets),其位置是懷特故意選擇的。被稱為倫敦城市最貧困的社區之一,揀選在該地區複製一座建築物成為作品肯定會引起爭議。通過倒模鑄造建築物的空白空間,她將無形的空間看作雕塑,把當中經年累月的痕跡印在作品表面上。她透過在建築物中突出這些痕跡,強調了空間的社會功能。

這項目由擅長於場域特定藝術的國際藝術製作單位Artangel 委託,主要處理各項協調和籌款工作,這是其標誌性公共藝術項目之一,他們花了兩年時間才實現這個項目。在尋找符合懷特標準的房屋期間,Artangel聯合總監占士·林伍德(James Lingwood)表示,關鍵是獲得堡區鄰舍協會(Bow Neighborhood Council)的許可。

懷特選取的建築是典型的維多利亞式家庭住宅,當時已十分破舊,而一系列的排屋最後只剩下的這座,其他樓房已被拆毁並改建成公園。

懷特使用建築物作為模具,通過在鋼架上噴塗一層混凝土作為骨架來加固結構,從而鞏固房屋內部結構。當混凝土晾乾後,磚塊和砂漿被移除以露出建築物內部的,標示建築物物理上的不複存在。

這作品於1993年完成後,登上了眾多英國報紙的頭版。懷特贏得了英國最享負盛名、泰特美術館(Tate Gallery)頒發的透納獎(Turner Prize)。與此同時,由The KLF流行樂團的前成員設立的私人基金會K Foundation,亦頒發「年度最差藝術家」予懷特,該獎包括4萬英鎊獎金,即透納獎的兩倍,是對懷特的嘲弄。

事件引發了一場激烈爭論,關於這種藝術是傑作或荒謬,是否如新聞報導所反映的那樣只是為了吸引觀眾。爭議不久後,堡區鄰舍協會決定拆除作品,隨後變成了公園場地。

古蹟和紀念碑傳統上用作慶祝重要的歷史事件、紀念英雄事蹟、輝煌過去,並且往往是屹立不倒的。然而,《房屋》卻與傳統相反,是臨時的,反映著平凡人的生活。

雖然《房屋》因發展計劃而被拆除,但留下的是超越數十年的遺產。在10星期內,已有超過10萬人親眼看到了作品;而有更多人是從媒體上看到的。對我來說,這是一個富有詩意和深刻的邀請,讓我們看到一個家庭過去居住環境中物件之間的負空間。最重要的是,它引發了許多關於藝術的討論,及探索值得保留下來的東西。

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