Rachel Whiteread

A: Clapton Park Estate, Mandeville Street, London E5; Ambergate Court; Norbury Court; October 1993


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Rachel Whiteread born 1963
Part of
Screenprint on paper
Image: 490 × 743 mm
Purchased 1996


Demolished is the title of a portfolio of twelve duo-tone screenprints, divided into three categories under the rubrics A, B and C (see Tate P77872-9 for B and C). The portfolio was printed at Coriander Limited, London, in an edition of thirty-five plus ten artist's proofs and published by Charles Booth-Clibborn, London, under his imprint The Paragon Press. This portfolio is number twenty-five in the edition. The prints were scanned from photographs recording the demolition of tower blocks on three separate housing estates in the borough of Hackney, east London. Whiteread took the photographs between October 1993 and June 1995 using black and white film. The subsequent screenprinting process has enlarged the images resulting in a grainy texture and steely grey tones. Stages in each of the three demolitions are documented in three photographs taken from the same view-point and looking through virtually the same frame. A fourth photograph of each site from a different location records, in A, a pile of rubble, in B, a dust-filled stormy sky and, in C, gleaming tower blocks on a sunny day before the dark, cloud-producing processes of demolition. While the A-series images assume a neutral documentary tone, at odds with the monumental destruction being witnessed, the B and C series have more apocalyptic resonances reminiscent of photo-journalistic documentation of nuclear explosions and war damage as a result of bombing.

The events portrayed in Demolished have important personal resonances for the artist. In the early 1990s she was living in London's East End, a historically poor area. Her experiences here, together with the noticeable increase of homeless people in the city at that time arising from dramatic socio-economic changes occurring in what came to be known as Thatcher's Britain (Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister 1979-90), informed her work of this period. For Whiteread, the sculptures she cast from discarded pieces of furniture operate as metaphors for neglect, both of people and their living environments. In 1993 she was commissioned by Artangel (a London-based arts funding organisation) to cast the interior space of a house and chose a house that was scheduled for demolition. House 1993 (destroyed) was located in Bow, East London, a formerly deprived area. It came to stand as a testimony to the people living there prior to the increasing gentrification of the area later in the decade.

In Demolished the images are sufficiently general that the tower blocks could be in almost any city in the world and stand for social planning for the poor world-wide. Although they portray destruction, the images are redeemed from the narrative of dark endings by their aesthetic transformation through the screenprinting process. Like Whiteread's sculptural casts, they serve to record what she has referred to as 'something that is going to be completely forgotten … the detritus of our culture' (quoted in Detterer, p.271), creating a memorial to the past in the hope of generating something better for the future.

Further reading:
Gabriele Detterer, Art Recollection: Artists' Interviews and Statements, Florence 1997, pp.261-72
Rachel Whiteread: Shedding Life, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, Liverpool 1996, reproduced p.88
Art from the UK, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 1997, reproduced pp.160-1

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2000

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Display caption

Demolished captures the destruction of tower blocks in three different housing estates in Hackney, east London, between 1993 and 1995. According to Whiteread, this work is ‘something that is going to be completely forgotten... the detritus of our culture’.During the Thatcher era, Whiteread was particularly concerned by the social and economic changes introduced by the Conservative party, and their impact on homeless people in London. This work operates as a metaphor for neglect and disappearance, commemorating what no longer exists.

Gallery label, May 2007

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