A Clever Exploration of Space? It's More like an Argos Warehouse; REVIEW: Rachel Whiteread, Embankment Tate Modern

Article excerpt


RACHEL WHITEREAD is best known for her exploration of inner and hidden spaces and of spaces so familiar that we have become unconscious of them - the interiors of the hot water bottle and the inflatable mattress, the space that surrounds the bath and is contained in it, the space beneath the bed or behind the books, and even the trodden spaces between the ranks of shelves in the local library.

She has, by making casts of them, transformed such voids into solid forms, extending the scale to rooms, stairwells and even a whole house (for which she was given the Turner Prize). She has also considered the unconsidered spaces occupied by solid objects, and in the case of the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, cast it in transparent resin, identical in size and scale, and inverted it on the original as space turned upside-down.

To the sceptic, however, what was at first an amusing perception, has become a bore.

So small a notion - it hardly merits identity as an idea - so obsessively pursued that we might be justified in attributing it to Asperger's Syndrome, and increasingly inflated in scale, has repeatedly exposed a sculptress with no affection for traditional materials, tools or work, for surface quality or beauty. Curators and critics have, nevertheless, always done their duty and praised her discovery of the monumentality of the invisible, and themselves discovered melancholy ghosts and psychological complexities in her "soft emotional spaces heavily impregnated with memory, bodily fluids and fluid desires"; and if of less romantic mood they thought her work political because "it carries a social residue". …