Untitled (Nine Tables) is based on a cast of the space underneath a table. It consists of nine identical rectangular forms arranged in a grid comprising three rows of three. Following the contours of the outer edge of the table legs and the underneath of its top, Whiteread built walls around the space in order to cast it. She then made a mould from the original cast in order to produce nine similar concrete casts. She used a polystyrene core under the poured concrete to reduce the weight of the finished objects. The table legs curved inwards slightly at the top where they met the underside of the table surface, resulting in gentle curves at the upper corners of the cast blocks which taper inwards a little. Four deep grooves marking the position of the table legs run up the longest sides of each concrete block. Two further parallel grooves crossing the top of each block mark a structural support on the underside of the table. A rebated edge around the base of the blocks causes them to appear to float above the floor.
Whiteread has commented that her initial casts under tables came from thinking about where our legs go when we sit at a table. She said: ‘the first table I made in 1989 was to do with exchanging one’s personal space with that of the table, the physicality of how you sit when you have a table in front of you, how your legs behave, etc.’ (Quoted in Rachel Whiteread: Transient Spaces, exhibition catalogue, Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin 2001, p.71.) In 1994 she made numerous casts of the space under tables and chairs, sometimes together, as in Table and Chair (Clear) (private collection), and in other examples apart, as in Untitled (Six Spaces) (Arts Council Collection, Hayward Gallery, London). Cast in semi-translucent resin, these sculptures transcend the sense of blocking out space implied by the process. Depending on the colour of the resin – clear, orange, blue or green – they may evoke amber, water, sticky sweets. In larger groups they are arranged in regular grids referring to the seriality and repetition of Minimalist tradition. In their repetition and variation, these works recall such sculptures as Five Open Geometric Structures 1979 (Tate T07144) by conceptual artist Sol Le Witt (born 1928). Whiteread has played with this, using multiples of the same cast as in Untitled (Twenty-Five Spaces) (Queensland Art Gallery), or multiples of several different casts and different shades of resin as in Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) (private collection).
Although they initially seemed to refer to an early work by American artist Bruce Nauman (born in 1941), a concrete cast entitled A Cast of the Space Under my Chair 1966-8 (Geertjan Visser Collection, Netherlands), Whiteread’s casts belong to a hybrid language she has created for herself. Since the end of the 1980s she has based her practice on casting the negative spaces of domestic objects – those underneath, inside or around pieces of furniture, architectural details such as floors and ceilings (see Tate T06769 and T07129), entire rooms (see Tate T07938) and more recently a staircase (see Tate T07939). She initially presented her sculptures as significant single objects with an imposing presence of their own resonant of physical bodies, death and entombment. The use of seriality and the regular repetition of the grid, which Untitled (Nine Tables) embodies, has permitted Whiteread to achieve a greater level of abstraction. Untitled (Twenty-Four Switches) (Tate T07985), a sculpture produced in the same year, plays in a different way with the same issues, emphasising the connection between mechanical reproduction and the grid through the processes of its own casting.
Lisa G. Corrin, Patrick Elliott and Andrea Schlieker, Rachel Whiteread, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Serpentine Gallery, London 2001, reproduced p.14 in colour
Charlotte Mullins, Rachel Whiteread, London 2004
Rachel Whiteread, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1998, reproduced pp.19 and p.23 in colour