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Whiteread at the Tate

October 10, 2005 ・ Blog

I went to see the press viewing of Rachel Whiteread’s new installation at Tate Modern this morning. It’s about 14000 white plastic boxes moulded from cardboard boxes, glued on top of each other in a series of huge, towering piles.

It’s fittingly monumental for the turbine hall, filling pretty much the entire back third. I like the way you can’t really see it if you enter from ramp on the lower floor. Whiteread says that she designed it to take into account the fact that most people enter at the upper entrance, so they’d get a bird’s eye view of it first.

Apparently the lighting is very white so that it would feel like a warehouse (Whiteread apparently had in mind the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Ark is wheeled in a wooden box into a row in an enormous warehouse) and cold (she recently went to the Arctic and wanted to evoke something of the landscape that she experienced there). But during the day the light is actually quite warm, so the glacial element of the work didn’t come too much to the fore.

Down on the floor it takes a different nature. I love the macro/micro nature of the whole thing – from above the scale looks strange and disproportionate, as if you’re looking at an architect’s model of a city. But on the floor the piles tower above you, and you see on each of the individual cubes the marks of the flaps of cardboard boxes from which they were moulded.

I think it will be a nice crowd pleaser. I enjoyed it, and I liked how ambivalent it is. It’s content to evoke many things without being deterministic about anything. There’s something to do with the intimate memories of boxes packed with possessions and childhood knickknacks, it evokes landscapes, both city and wild ones, its plastic cubes address the mass produced and the drifts of them mirror the accumulation of stuff in the world.

It’s all rather po-faced, naturally, and it’s not going to take visitors to some sort of localised nirvana like Olafur Eliasson’s one a couple of years ago did. But why should it need to be fun or transporting?