Whiteread began casting the space inside or underneath pieces of furniture at the end of the 1980s, shortly after completing an MA in sculpture at the Slade School of Art, London (1985-7). This work progressed naturally to the casting of the negative spaces of architectural features within rooms, culminating in the cast of the inside of an entire room, Ghost
(Saatchi Collection) 1990, followed by the cast of the inside of a house, House,
in 1993. Taking the form of white, Minimalist-style geometric blocks, these plaster and concrete works evoke entombment and death through their quality of blocking out space. Casts made of rubber and high density foam have an anthropomorphic aspect and were seen by the artist, at the time of making, as metaphors for people – the neglected homeless on London’s streets symbolised by old abandoned pieces of furniture. Their orangey tones are reminiscent of abject bodily fluids, described by the artist as ‘the first piss in the morning ... trying to bring something from the inside out’ (quoted in Art from the UK, p.162). Other works, like the negative casts of mortuary slabs, resemble giant tongues, both in their form and in the sensual tactility of the coloured rubber from which they are made.
Whiteread was awarded a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) fellowship in 1992 and spent a year living and working in Berlin, where she began casting sections of floor. At first the floors were cast in plaster. They include Untitled (Platform) (Galerie Claire Burrus, Paris), comprising four rectangular blocks of equal size bearing the impression of wooden floorboards on their upper surface, and Untitled (Floor) (private collection, Switzerland), consisting of sixteen lengths of plaster, also bearing the impression of the floorboards, laid in eight rows with spaces between them indicating floor joists. Rectangular spaces at two corners of this work indicate the presence of architectural features which interrupted the floor. Other floor works made of wax and rubber during the same period resemble walkways or corridors, transformed by the casting process and subsequent installation into trajectories leading out of real space into the imaginary. Untitled (Wax Floor) 1992 (collection the artist), installed flush against the wall so that it seems to lead out of it, paradoxically also delineates an abrupt ending - the meeting point between wall and floor signalling a closure reminiscent of the walling up of a tomb.
Whereas the earlier Ghost and House began with the notion of ‘mummifying the air in the room’ (Whiteread quoted in Art from the UK, p.162), Untitled (Floor/Ceiling) collapses this notion by materialising only those surfaces which define the vertical axes of a space. Whiteread has stated that Untitled (Floor/Ceiling) was made in Berlin from ‘a constructed small room, relating to a vertical body space. The ceiling was based on the depth of the light fitting and the floor on the depth of a wooden floor board. The material is the same for both pieces. It is seemingly a different colour because of the density of the material.’ (Unpublished conversation with the artist, March 2003.) The cast from the ceiling is significantly thicker, and therefore denser, than that of the floor, contributing to a sense of disorientation and inversion. By laying the two pieces next to each other on the gallery floor Whiteread has emphasised the absence of the walls. The space they would have defined is opened out to encompass both the space of the room in which they are installed and an imaginary space inside the head of the viewer. The amber rubber they are made of is resonant with organic associations and emphasises Whiteread’s theme of architectural deconstruction as a means of articulating a relationship between physical bodies and their internal spaces. As the physical residue of a structure which once contained a space, the two squares of rubber evoke the mortality of the human body.
Untitled (Floor) 1994-5 (Tate T07219) is a cast made from a constructed floor in resin.
Rachel Whiteread, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel 1994, reproduced p.51 in colour
Rachel Whiteread: Shedding Life, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery Liverpool 1996, reproduced pp.44-5 in colour
Art from the UK, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 1997, pp.158-63
September 2000/March 2003