Rachel Whiteread

House

Grove Road, East London
25 October 1993 - 11 January 1994
Denatured by transformation, things turn strange here. Fireplaces bulge outwards from the walls of House, doorknobs are rounded hollows. Architraves have become chiselled incisions running around the monument, forms as mysterious as the hieroglyphs on Egyptian tombs. — The Independent

Rachel Whiteread’s cast of a Victorian terraced house in London’s East End was hailed as one of the greatest public sculptures by an English artist in the 20th century. Completed in autumn of 1993 and demolished in January 1994, House attracted tens of thousands of visitors and generated impassioned debate, in the local streets, the national press, and in the House of Commons.

In the late 19th century, Grove Road, where House would be constructed, was a typical row of terraced houses of the kind built throughout the East End of London. Some of the road was destroyed in the Second World War and by the 1950s, the area was covered with temporary housing. As new tower blocks were built the prefabs were removed. At the start of the 1990s, the terrace was no more. The final houses were demolished in early 1993. From the interior of the last remaining house Rachel Whiteread made her extraordinary sculpture. The work won the Turner Prize in 1993; Whiteread was the first woman to receive the award.


Image: Rachel Whiteread, House (1993). Photograph: John Davies

It would be disingenuous to claim that House excites universal acclaim - locally or nationally. Clearly it attracts hostility and indifference as well as support. But it is more disingenuous to claim that there is no local interest. Local builders have called the sculpture 'amazing', people living across the road have said it is 'impressive' and 'wonderful''; a local resident said on Thursday that 'it should stay for future generations to remember what it was like here'. Rachel Whiteread was approached by two locals who had lived in the now demolished terrace for 40 years and thanked for 'making their memories real'. [...] The success of this sculpture has been to fracture the normal stereotypes of opposition and support. It is simply not a case of 'them' against 'us', local against national. The hunger to erase House so quickly masks an insecurity about the potential for art to communicate in ways which are unheralded and unpredictable. — James Lingwood, The Times, 27 November 1993


Image: The remaining terraces of Grove Road, London E3, during early installation of Rachel Whiteread's House (1993). Photograph: John Davies

The Construction

Images from the production of House
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Making House, Construction

In 1993, House was Rachel Whiteread's most ambitious work to date. Like many public sculptures and memorials, House was a cast. But unlike the bronzes which commemorate triumphs and tragedies, great men and heroic deeds, House commemorated memory itself through the commonplace home. Whiteread's in-situ work transformed the space of the private and domestic into the public — a mute memorial to the spaces we have lived in, to everyday existence and the importance of home.

The house was carefully coated in a de-bonding membrane and then splatter-gunned, room by room, with two layers of concrete - fine white Locrete (used on the white cliffs of Dover) and then 10cm of mesh-reinforced concrete, with special reinforcing bolts at the corners. The external interior was gradually sealed up, the last person leaving through the roof. — Kester Rattenbury, Building Design, 29 October 1993

Continue reading to see more photographs of the construction of House.


Image: Coating the concrete interior. Rachel Whiteread, House (1993). Photograph: Edward Woodman
 

Making House

by James Lingwood
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Making House

by James Lingwood

It began, an idea without a name, in the quiet of Rachel Whiteread's studio in East London. And it ended several years later, a sculpture called House, demolished in the full glare of the world's media. House always had the potential to be a contentious work of art. But in my first conversations with Rachel Whiteread in the summer of 1991, it was impossible to imagine that it would be quite as exposed, quite as contentious as things turned out; and that its transition from private projection to public phenomenon would be so dramatic and so quick.

House could have been made elsewhere, in a different place, at a different time; perhaps with another cast list and chorus. Indeed, Whiteread and I had looked at several other terraced houses in North and East London through 1992 without success. At one stage, a condemned house in Islington seemed possible, but the right permissions failed to materialize. Another in Hackney was knocked down before we could make a proposal to the owner. Finally, after months of private persuasion and occasional public meetings, the councillors of Bow Neighbourhood voted by a small majority to give a temporary lease on 193 Grove Road, one of the few remaining houses in what had once been a Victorian terrace. After several months' more waiting, Whiteread took possession and the physical making of the work began in August 1993. From that moment, House was of a specific place and a particular time. And it was this configuration of time and place, with its attendant contingencies of local and national politics and the added spice of the 1993 Turner Prize which, as much as the physical appearance of the sculpture, created the meaning of House and determined the course of its short life.

House was completed on October 25 1993. There had deliberately been almost no press until one day before...

Read the rest of this essay.

Originally published in the book House, published by Phaidon Press Limited, 1995


Image: Rachel Whiteread's House nearing completion (1993). One of the figures assisting in the construction of House was Michael Landy, the artist who created Breakdown (2001). Photograph: John Davies

Video: documentary

26 minutes
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Video: Documentary

A documentary tracing the making of Rachel Whiteread's House, and its demolition.

Produced in 1995 by Artangel and Hackneyed Productions. VHS release: 1998. DVD release: 2005.

This video is also available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.


Image: Rachel Whiteread's House (1993). Photograph: Stephen White

Text: The House in the Park

A psychogeographical response by Iain Sinclair
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The House in the Park: a psychogeographical response

By Iain Sinclair 

'What did your street look like in the past?' One of the more useful ephemerals of the heritage industry is the Godfrey Edition of Old Ordnance Survey Maps: a largely Victorian patchwork intended for those 'who wish to explore London and its history'. A canny piece of merchandizing to set alongside the repair and enlargement, in authentic sepia, of retrieved family photographs (not necessarily your own family); a painless method of acquiring a fraudulent pedigree, of airbrushing the warts of history and providing the hard evidence of a past that never existed. The folded scarlet repro featuring Bethnal Green & Bow (1894) nominates, as its cover illustration, a postcard of the Royal Hotel, Grove Road. (A slightly odd choice given that the hotel is in South Hackney and barely ducks under the cut-off line at the top of the map.) The district on display is a jigsaw of impacted terraces, burial grounds, canals and railways, short on remembered Imperial glory. The chosen image is a frame of film, made over, about to flicker into life (like the honky-tonk interlude in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). A stroller in a straw boater pauses at the kerbside. A horsedrawn cart trundles past, loaded with beer barrels: a sorry precursor of the brass and leather heritage version. A flag flutters above the pediment. There are other nostalgic features, lost but not forgotten, such as a functioning public convenience (Gentlemen only).

It must delight the Parks and Amenities Committee of the Tower Hamlets Council to know that the Royal Hotel survives, freshly painted, hung with flower baskets, obediently empathetic with the royal blue and gold colour scheme that makes the whole zone appear, to the migrant gunning for docklands, like a travelogue down the flank of an upmarket cigarette packet: railings, ironwork gates with chamberpot crowns and gilded lilies, litter bins, plaques offering soundbites of PC antiquarianism. There are now so many of these plaques that, peeping through the fence, it looks like they've let in a plague of estate agents to sell off Victoria Park in strips. These elegant noticeboards are a convenient way of mixing a self-serving rhetoric with the pieties of historical revisionism: we are informed that the park 'suffered from under-investment and remote management' at the hands of the GLC and the LCC. A multi-million pound restoration programme initiated by Bow Neighbourhood - and funded by a list of private sector benefactors and Euro charities that must have kept the sign-painters busy for a fortnight - made this a fit location in which to parade that most precious of icons, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, on her ninetieth birthday. A photo opportunity that linked the triumphalism of the facelifted park (its fountains and sleeping policemen) with newsreel footage of the old duck's previous excursion to East London at the time of the Blitz. Wartime dereliction was therefore twinned with the blight of postwar socialism, woolly thinking and Stalinist incompetence.

Cruder signboards (lower budget) warn the public that 'guard dogs are in use' and that these 'premises' are protected by Armour Security with their manned '24-hour control room'. Grove Road is an avenue of hanging baskets, dazzling pavements from which the filth is regularly hosed, while the people's park has been fenced off, maintained like a roofless marquee, reserved for the exercise of police horses and the exhibition of restored public statuary. The most notable of these casts are the 'Dogs of Alcibiades', a pair of genitally deformed, sightless albinos who frequently model for the territory's most apposite metaphor: steaming curls of real dogshit placed alongside plaster hounds. Every artefact must align itself with the wacky concept of the 'Bow Heritage Trail', a conceit which it is impossible to imagine anyone actually walking, as it meanders from the dog plinths to the 'Top o' the Morning' public house and its gleeful commemoration of the First Railway Murder.

Read the rest of this essay.


Image: Rachel Whiteread, House (1993). Photograph: Sue Ormerod

In Parliament

A motion against the demolition of House by Tower Hamlets Council
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...it would be an act of intolerance and philistinism to destroy her sculpture in Grove Road, Bow before more people have had the opportunity to see it

A motion for House in Parliament

this House congratulates Rachel Whiteread on winning the Turner Prize as best modern artist of the year; recognises that good art is often challenging and controversial; believes it would be an act of intolerance and philistinism to destroy her sculpture in Grove Road, Bow before more people have had the opportunity to see it; and calls upon Tower Hamlets Council to allow it to remain for three months and during that time to consult local people about whether or not it should be destroyed.

This early day motion 109 was signed in the United Kingdom's parliamentary House of Commons on 25 November 1993 by MPs including Ken Livingston (future Mayor of London), Diane Abbott (still MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington) and Jeremy Corbyn (future leader of the Labour party in opposition).

Press

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Selected Press

To visit House … It is to be taken to another world, like and yet completely unlike this one: the world of the photographic negative, with its phantom-like reversals of known fact; the world that Alice enters through her looking glass; the world that lurks behind the molten silver mirror in Cocteau's Orphee, where normal relations between objects have been summarily suspended. Denatured by transformation, things turn strange here. — Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Independent, 11 November 1993

A remarkable monument, it triggers a fascinating variety of responses from viewers and passers by. A cast of the commonplace, it reverses the spatial relationships we are used to, but as soon as one has filed it under 'abstract form' out come all the evocative details calling for a naturalistic viewing mode and then the endless ripples of association of 'home' and of 'house' and of 'housing policy' and of 'lives'. — Art and Architecture, Autumn 1993

Artful lodger Rachel Whiteread is set to take the world of sculpture by storm - the canvas for her latest creation-in-concrete is a three-storey terraced house near Victoria Park… — Julie Coulson, Hackney Gazette, 29 October 1993

The house was carefully coated in a de-bonding membrane and then splatter-gunned, room by room, with two layers of concrete - fine white Locrete (used on the white cliffs of Dover) and then 10cm of mesh-reinforced concrete, with special reinforcing bolts at the corners. The external interior was gradually sealed up, the last person leaving through the roof. — Kester Rattenbury, Building Design, 29 October 1993 

Standing revealed before us, our homes, secured at such cost, are proved to be poor crooked things, their mean interiors measuring out our days. That hopes and dreams and indeed art itself should emerge from these haphazard shelters is testimony to the human spirit, a worthy subject for a remarkable monument. — Lynn MacRitchie, Financial Times, 6 November 1993

I do not recall seeing a more ambitious piece of public sculpture in London than Rachel Whiteread's House. Situated in what is now a park in Bow, House is a plaster cast of the inside of the last terraced house in the street. This is a monument to the house that refused to become a park. As such, it is a monument to a certain kind of East End stubbornness that withstood wars, bombs, hunger, riots and assorted ethnic invasions but not the building boom of the 1980s. — The Sunday Times, 8 November 1993


Image: News clipping from an article by Ulla Kloster fielding "local opinion" in the East London Advertiser, Thursday November 4, 1993. 

Press

continued
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What is left is a monument to past domesticity, a coarse yet intricate edifice, alone in the space it once occupied with a hundred similar residences. It satisfies contemplative as well as aesthetic taste. Once seen, it makes you look at all houses in a new way. — Hugo Young, the Guardian

Selected Press, continued

Her work is about death, about attempting to define and encapsulate the past - as in her 'room' in the Tate, and the house in the East End, which stands monumental and poignant like a great white mausoleum for the collective memory of a dying way of life. — Sue Hubbard, New Statesman, 12 November 1993

Sir: It is to be hoped that Bow Neighbourhood Council is beginning to realise, from the enormous amount of interest that has been generated by Rachel Whiteread's sculpture "House", what an extraordinary piece of good luck has befallen it... Without commission, without cost and without a team of town planners, one of the most significant public sculptures of recent years has simply emerged in the council's brand new park. It is a once-in-a-lifetime gift that a thousand towns and cities across Europe would seize readily. — Tim Neilson (to the letters page), The Independent, 16 November 1993

Sir: We will be brave, Mr Neilson (letter, 16 November), we will be brave! We will be brave enough to ignore the fusillade of froth from the arts lobby and remove the monstrosity as soon as the contract allows... As far as I am concerned, any of the "thousands of towns and cities across Europe" that Mr Neilson feels would love to have House are welcome to it." Eric Flounders, Chair of Bow Parks Board (to the letters page), The Independent, 17 November 1993

In the East End of London, Rachel Whiteread's architectural sculpture, House, has been voted into destruction. House is a modern masterpiece. In it an ingenious idea is realised with great evocative power. Taking a derelict dwelling, Whiteread has turned it inside out by casting the interior in liquid concrete then removing the bricks. What is left is a monument to past domesticity, a coarse yet intricate edifice, alone in the space it once occupied with a hundred similar residences. It satisfies contemplative as well as aesthetic taste. Once seen, it makes you look at all houses in a new way. [...] On Tuesday night the Bow standing neighbourhood committee voted to pull House down. Six politicians, all Liberal Democrats, took the decision on the casting vote of the chairman, Cllr Eric Flounders... Cllr Flounders, a man apparently not without the outwards signs of education, called it "excrescent", and "a monstrosity", from the moment it was unveiled last month. He was determined to expunge it from Tower Hamlets at the earliest moment. — Hugo Young, The Guardian, 25 November 1993

It would be disingenuous to claim that House excites universal acclaim - locally or nationally. Clearly it attracts hostility and indifference as well as support. But it is more disingenuous to claim that there is no local interest. Local builders have called the sculpture 'amazing', people living across the road have said it is 'impressive' and 'wonderful''; a local resident said on Thursday that 'it should stay for future generations to remember what it was like here'. Rachel Whiteread was approached by two locals who had lived in the now demolished terrace for 40 years and thanked for 'making their memories real'. [...] The success of this sculpture has been to fracture the normal stereotypes of opposition and support. It is simply not a case of 'them' against 'us', local against national. The hunger to erase House so quickly masks an insecurity about the potential for art to communicate in ways which are unheralded and unpredictable. — James Lingwood, The Times, 27 November 1993

Demolition

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The Demolition

More than 100,000 people had seen House during its 10-week tenure of a patch of scrubby parkland at the junction of Roman Road and Grove Road in London E3, and a vigorous campaign - conducted largely within the pages of this newspaper - had been mounted to save it. But the implacable opposition of Bow Neighbourhood Council - whose land it occupied and whose leader, Eric Flounders, had publicly reviled the sculpture as 'utter rubbish' and 'a little entertainment for the gallery-going classes of Hampstead' - sealed its fate. Mr Flounders had huffed and he had puffed, and by 11am yesterday he had, finally, blown House down.

[Joe] Cullen, not a man of many words, seemed somewhat taken aback by the sudden interest shown in his attitudes to modern art. He had come to bury House, not to praise it. And preferably not even to discuss it. 'It's not art, it's a lump of concrete,' he told the world's press before climbing into the cab of his vehicle, where he evidently felt rather more comfortable.

Mr Cullen turned the key in the ignition and the earthmover roared into life, slithering towards House on caterpillar tracks and raising its giant claw high in the air. The claw descended like a metal fist and the reinforced concrete structure of House split open under the impact. The claw scraped and scratched and battered away and in a surprisingly short time, Ms Whiteread's mute and cenotaph-like creation was unrecognisable. This had become just another building site in the East End. — Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Independent, January 14, 1994

Continue reading to see more photographs of the demolition of House.


Image: Joe Cullen of Demo One Ltd (Demolition and Dismantling Engineers) atop his digger begins demolition of House after a significant press campaign failed to preserve the sculpture (1994). Photograph: Stephen White

Book

Rachel Whiteread's House
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Rachel Whiteread's House

£17.95 from Phaidon

A sort of time capsule, as much concerned with public reaction as with the artist's wishes and as such it will accumulate aura down the years. — Observer

Featuring documentation of Whiteread's concrete and plaster cast of an entire house, this book provides a unique chronicle of this remarkable work. Photographs and working drawings chart the house's life from construction to demolition. Six key figures in art journalism contribute their thought-provokingly diverse responses: in turn, the book surveys the whole spectrum of critical reaction to the work.

Edited by James Lingwood, with essays by Jon Bird, James Lingwood, Doreen Massey, Richard Shone, Iain Sinclair, Neil Thomas, Anthony Vidler and Simon Watney

Published by Phaidon in collaboration with the Artangel Trust
144pp
Paperback
250 x 210 mm
ISBN-13: 9780714834597
ISBN-10: 0714834599

About Rachel Whiteread

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Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread was born in London in 1963. She studied painting at Brighton Polytechnic and sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art. Whiteread’s breakthrough piece, Ghost, 1990, is a plaster cast of a living room, modelled on a typical Victorian terraced house, similar to the north London terrace in which the artist grew up.

Whiteread was awarded the Turner Prize in 1993 just after creating House under commission for Artangel. The life-sized replica of the interior of a condemned terraced house in London’s East End was made by spraying liquid concrete into the building’s empty shell before its external walls were removed. Whiteread’s winning proposal for the Holocaust memorial for the Judenplatz in Vienna, involved placing the cast interior of a library, including the imprint of books, in the centre of the square. It was unveiled in October 2000.

The artist represented the UK at the 1997 Venice Biennale and created Monument for the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2001. In 2005, Whiteread created Embankment, which consisted of some 14,000 translucent, white polyethylene boxes (themselves casts of the inside of cardboard boxes) stacked in various ways, for the annual Unilever Series commission to produce a piece for Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall. 

In 2008, the artist presented a new, larger version of her acclaimed installation Village, bringing together more than 200 dollhouses that the artist has collected over the past 20 years, for the acclaimed exhibition ‘Psycho Buildings’ at the Hayward gallery. 

Whiteread lives and works in London and her work is represented in many private and public collections worldwide.

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(left) Rachel Whiteread inside House during construction. Rachel Whiteread, House (1993). Photograph: The Tarmac Group. (above) Rachel Whiteread taking questions from the press. Photograph: Stephen White

Credits

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Who made this possible?

Credits

House was commissioned by Artangel with Beck’s. It was sponsored by Tarmac Structural Repairs. The sponsorship of Tarmac Structural Repairs is an award winner under the Business Sponsorship Incentive Scene. The BSIS is a Government scheme administered by ABSA, the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts. Structural and construction advice was provided by Atelier One.

Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England and the private patronage of the Artangel International Circle, Special AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels. Further assistance on this project was received by The Henry Moore Foundation and the London Arts Board.


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