November 2005


Embankment is 14,000 stacked-up, glued down translucent white polyethylene boxes towering 12 metres high at certain points in Tate Modern. They are the creation of one of the world's leading contemporary sculptors, Rachel Whiteread, winner of the 1993 Turner Prize for her East End concrete House.

This is the sixth commission in The Unilever series which furnishes the enormous 3,400-square metre, walk-through, seven-storey high Turbine Hall. This is a challenging, daunting and unique exhibition space for any artist to produce new work for.

Think back to Bruce Nauman's Raw Material which brought together 21 audio tracks at one go last year - or Anish Kapoor's 2003 PVC membrane of Marsyas: his dark red, steel sculpture filled the entire area and immersed the viewer in a monochromatic field of colour.

What an invitation! The arty gauntlet has been passed down, indeed it has!!

Whiteread's huge installation was inspired by her clearing her late mother's house and coming across an old sellotape box which once contained her toys, Christmas decorations and powerful memories of her childhood, also by moving from her house and studio to a former east London synagogue. Plus the journey over white terrain to the Arctic as part of the Cape Farewell project earlier in the year, hence the translucent influence of the boxes and the awareness of a snow-like quality about the work.

Just from a look at the literature accompanying the exhibition, is seems that Rachel has quite a box collection and an obsession with everything cardboard or boxy that affect our daily lives.

The work can be viewed from the upper levels of the gallery to get a different perspective. But at floor level, I feel that the show has a touchy-feely aspect to it. A kind of playful experience where children can amuse themselves, playing hide and seek around the pile of box corners and explore by climbing the pyramid towers. Yes this venue could be a place where Whiteread's four-year old son Connor could make his own art-playground.

But of course for safety and security reasons this would not be allowed. As the boxes are hollow and any child would crash through and maybe injure themselves, also smashing the installation at the same time.

In this exhibition space, it would seem that instead of just casting the unassuming box, the Unilever Series could have got an entire universe, as Rachel loves the exploration of space in her work. We only have to look at her inverted and cast-in-Perspex transparent Monument plinth project, in Trafalgar Square (2001).

When entering the Turbine Hall, it can feel as if you've popped into Ikea or B&Q because of the Tate's industrial warehouse effect. The natural, cold light shining through (the building once was a power station), just hits you but opens up the imagination.

The mass produced work that had been assembled by Whiteread over a five week period, will be ground down and demolished at the end of the show's run in April 2006.

The art illuminates the area and it gives the visitor a raw, dramatic and ambient exhibition.

Accompanying the Tate show is artwork at the Gagosian gallery which features additional close-ups and weightier versions of Rachel's boxes.


Also as part of the exhibition Unilever and the Tate have created the Unulever International Schools Art Project. The project encourages children from around the world to create works of art on a given theme. This year the theme will be linked to Rachel Whiteread's commission and is entitled inside out: Conceal and Reveal.

More than 50,000 young children from 21 different countries have participated, since its inception.

Until 2 April 2006
Tate Modern
Turbine Hall
London SE1

Rachel Whiteread
Until 3 December 2006
Gagosian Gallery
6-24 Britannia Street
London WC1

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