Rachel Whiteread's "House"

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Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:00 pm




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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:05 pm

Rachel Whiteread

Turner prize winner 1993

Charlotte Higgins
The Guardian, Saturday 8 September 2007 23.45 BST

In the summer of 1993 Rachel Whiteread began work on an ambitious project: it involved making a cast of an entire house, one of a terrace in the East End of London that had been scheduled for demolition. House was completed in October that year, and it became one of the great artistic causes célèbres of the past 20 years, overshadowing the work that had been officially nominated for the Turner prize. "I was so physically and mentally exhausted I almost didn't notice the Turner prize second time round," she says. (Whiteread had also been nominated in 1991, when "we knew that Anish Kapoor was going to get it; the rest of us were complete youngsters".)

There was a particular edge to the prize in 1993. The K Foundation, formed by the former pop band KLF, decided to award a prize of £40,000 (double the Turner prize money) for the worst artist of the year. It was, Whiteread came to realise, "some sort of huge publicity stunt". And how. On the afternoon of the Turner announcement, she was called by Bill Drummond of the K Foundation and told that she had won. "I suppose I swore at him," she says. "Some of the other artists might have been able to deal with it differently. But I'm not a showy person." She was told that if she failed to appear outside the Tate - during the Turner party - to receive the cash, it would be destroyed. "I would have been blamed for having £40,000 burned in front of me. So I had to accept it."

She gave some of the money to the charity Shelter, and the rest to young artists - though that proved to be something of an administra-tive headache, since it involved advertising in the art world press and inviting submissions. "It wasn't exactly a gift," Whiteread says wryly.

Meanwhile there was the House furore. The world was divided between those who thought that the sculpture was an outrage, and those who were determined to secure its reprieve from destruction at the hands of the local council and see it become a permanent fixture. "I was very affected by that piece," she says. "It was something so different: I was used to making work in the studio. With this, everything was immediately very public and people had their say at once. I had to take a deep breath and step aside. If I wanted to look at it I'd have to go down in disguise.

"People were even lobbying in parliament," she says. "There was nothing in the art world that had had that level of publicity before. I was very proud of it at the time and I still am, and I was very sad to see it go. On the night of the Turner prize I was told we hadn't got the stay of execution and it was going to be demolished. It was a very complicated time... The Turner prize didn't change my life - but House did. House and the Holocaust Memorial [in Vienna]: these are the things that have determined how I have worked over the past 20 years."

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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:09 pm

The Independent:

This is the house that Rachel built: Rachel Whiteread's House is one of the most extraordinary public sculptures to have been created by any English artist working this century, says Andrew Graham-Dixon. Here he examines the work.

ANDREW GRAHAM-DIXON Tuesday 02 November 1993

Number 193 Grove Road used to be an unexceptional Victorian house in the East End of London. 'Mile End, E3 - 3 storey end of terrace Victorian house, 4 beds 2 receps, original features,' an estate agent might have described it. Extensively remodelled, improved beyond habitability, it has become both monument and memorial. It has become Rachel Whiteread's House: a strange and fantastical object which also amounts to one of the most extraordinary and imaginative public sculptures created by an English artist this century.

193 Grove Road is no longer a home but the ghost of one perpetuated in art. It has no doors, no windows, no walls and no roof. It was made, simply (although the process was complicated, the idea itself was simple) by filling a house with liquid concrete and then stripping the mould - that is, the house itself, roof tiles, bricks and mortar, doors and windows and all - away from it. The result could be described as the opposite of a house, since what it consists of is a cast of the spaces once contained by one.

Facing House, on the other side of Grove Road, stands the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. Now the Witnesses can knock on the door of number 193 until kingdom come but there will be no one home. Rooms that were once lived in have become solid blocks of stone, megaliths piled one on top of another like an infant giant's building bricks. Foursquare sash windows that once looked out on to the world have become blind, heavy, cruciform reliefs. Doors that once opened have become sealed panels of rock. The house has, itself, become a giant sarcophagus, a mausoleum containing (but also concealing, as mausoleums do) the lives and memories of all the people who once lived there.

Whiteread's House (1993) expands on Whiteread's Ghost (1990), which was an exact plaster cast of a bedsitting room in an abandoned house on the Archway Road, cut into blocks and reconstituted in the Chisenhale Gallery, London. Ghost, a monument to cramped living conditions in N6, was bought by Charles Saatchi but House, being the size of a house and heavier than one, will be going nowhere. The terrace that 193 Grove Road once occupied has been demolished, and House itself is scheduled for demolition at the end of this month. Whatever happens to it, it will live a long time in the memory.

To visit House or (as many will do) simply to come across it, isolated in a scrubby patch of parkland at the corner of Roman Road and Grove Road, is to be suddenly and disconcertingly transported elsewhere. It is to be taken to another world, like and yet completely unlike this one: the world of the photographic negative, with its phantom-like reversals of known fact; the world that Alice enters through her looking glass; the world that lurks behind the molten silver mirror in Cocteau's Orphee, where normal relations between objects have been summarily suspended. Denatured by transformation, things turn strange here. Fireplaces bulge outwards from the walls of House, doorknobs are rounded hollows. Architraves have become chiselled incisions running around the monument, forms as mysterious as the hieroglyphs on Egyptian tombs.

House may seem perverse to those who persist in the belief that a work of art does not really count, as art, unless it looks like an easel painting or hand-carved sculpture. But it is in many respects an extremely traditional work. The artist has taken something very ordinary (but no more ordinary than the traditional painter's oil and ground pigment, or the traditional sculptor's piece of wood or stone) and made of it something extraordinary. The artist has asserted her right to construct her own world out of the materials of this one, to make a fantasy real and palpable. Like much of the most compelling traditional art, House has the quality of a thing that had to be made to exorcise the compulsions of its maker.

Looking at House is temporally as well as spatially distorting. It is like looking at an object from the present that has suddenly been pitched far into the future or far into the past. An English terraced house has been remade as an archaeological find, and what an oddly simple thing it turns out to be. Just a squat arrangement of spaces to inhabit, a stack of caves honeycombed together. House contains the traces of late 20th-century living habits and technology, which survive in odd details like the impressed patterns of a fossil caught in its surface: the zigzags of a wooden staircase running up one of its walls, the indented relics of plug sockets. But the overall effect is one of extreme, primitive simplicity.

To solidify the interiors of a house may be to conceal them, to seal them off, but it is also to reveal how basic our needs and our lives have remained down the centuries. There is a kind of pathos in the revelation. Our houses tend to be places that we like to think of as containing the evidence of our own unique sensibilities, repositories where we store the evidence of our sophistication and impeccable tastefulness. House, being a house without furniture, a house reduced to the shape of the air that a house contains, serves as a reminder that we are all, on one level at least, utterly and primally the same: creatures that have always sought shelter, a roof over our heads.

House is a sculpture that memorialises, in its transfiguration of an ordinary person's home, the ordinary lives of ordinary people (ordinariness, it suggests, is one thing we all have in common). Unlike other kinds of monumental statuary - Nelson's Column, say - which suggests that history is made by the great and merely lived by the rest of us, House is stubbornly unheroic and democratic. Whiteread has made an image of how we all live, caught between solitude and sociability, out of the separate but abutting cells of the rooms in a house in London E3.

House is a paradox made concrete since it is a monument made out of void space, a thing constructed out of the absence of things. Being a dwelling in which it is not possible to dwell, a building that you cannot enter, it has the character of a tantalus. It is both a relic and a prompt to the imagination (Who lived here? What did they do? What did they feel?) as well as a sculpture that is charged with a deep sense of loss.

All houses (and many works of art, too) are tombs of a kind: most of the people whose memories they contain have gone, have surrendered their tenancy of the world. House is about the past and it is also about the unrecoverability of the past, about the fact that what has gone cannot be revived. Death, finally, is its theme. The sculpture has a peculiar, almost anthropomorphic quality, or at least the traces of humanity that it bears are so strong that it ends up feeling oddly human for such an evidently non-figurative work of art. Something that was once full of life, open to light and sound and movement, has been terminally stilled, made dumb and blind and inert. House is monument, memorial, and memento mori.

Rachel Whiteread's House was commissioned by Artangel and sponsored by Beck's Beer and Tarmac Structural Repairs. It is at the junction of Roman Road and Grove Road in London E3.


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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:18 pm


Portrait of the artist.

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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:20 pm






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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:27 pm

Art attack

Deyan Sudjic
The Guardian, Thursday 25 November 1993 16.30 GMT

The abiding image of this year's Turner Prize will not be the poignant, graffiti-scarred hulk of Rachel Whiteread's House, marooned in the swirling dereliction of the East End, nor even Vong Phaophanit's gently undulating rice dunes inside the Tate.

The picture that really grabbed hold of the zeitgeist, and which will stay in the memory long after the dust of demolition settles, was the grim sight of Peter Palumbo, handing Whiteread her cheque at the Tate on Tuesday night.

His face white and sweaty, vainly trying to appear martial, he looked for all the world like the late Salvador Allende in his tin helmet, clutching his assault rifle on the steps of the presidential palace as Pinochet's tanks swept him from power. Here was a man who looked to be in the grip of a palpable sense of paranoia, his eyes rolling and haunted as he addressed the Turner Prize audience that clearly felt, like him, that it was trapped in a bunker surrounded by hostile forces.

"Don't let the dunces have their day," he said in an attempt to clinch his defence of avant-garde art but with a scarcely credible lack of judgment. This was not a speech of triumph, nor the celebration of a young artist's achievements, but the grim realisation that the barbarians were at the gate. In the case of Tower Hamlets, where the bulldozers are revving up to flatten House, literally so.

Slow and ponderous, Palumbo seemed to know even as he spoke that he was looking failure in the face. His words were ostensibly an attempt to rally the troops, but he looked more as if he was leading the rush for the fall-out shelter. He had allowed himself to be forced lamely on to the defensive. The dunces were dictating the terms of the discussion.

Yet it is perfectly obvious that there are other ways to make art than through the use of representational paint on canvas. And that emotional responses to mute concrete or tricksy image manipulation are just as possible as they are to what is now accepted as mainstream art, but which was - from Giotto to Cezanne - equally challenging, disturbing and disruptive in its own day.

Perhaps the Turner Prize could handle routine local authority philistinism, but the heavy-handed Magic Christian mockery of the KLF, the group of rock biz pranksters who doubled the prize money with an award for what they called the worst artist of the four on the shortlist, seemed to be too much for the Prize's fragile sense of purpose. The equilibrium of its greatest defender had cracked.

As if to underscore the message that avant-garde culture in Britain is an elitist plot aimed at taking the country for a ride, it became known with perfect timing on the same night that officials from Peter Brooke's heritage department had stepped in to list Keeling House, a derelict 1950s tower block in the East End, the work of Sir Denys Lasdun, architect of the National Theatre. The move was greeted with carefully orchestrated howls of derision that were curiously reminiscent of those that accompanied the unveiling of Rachel Whiteread's House.

Assuming that the kind of people who see virtues in austere architecture from the middle period of the career of a heavyweight architect, and those who are prepared to take on art that refuses to limit itself to three-point perspective, have something in common, what seemed to be unravelling was a whole cultural consensus. The comfortable domination of the definition of what constitutes good and bad in art and architecture that people like Palumbo have effortlessly enjoyed for two generations seemed as if it was coming apart over the dinner tables at the Tate. Modern art was incomprehensible, modern architecture uninhabitable.

For one moment, this really looked as if it might be a genuine turning point, a watershed in which nerves finally cracked and what might be called the Prince of Wales view of culture swept triumphantly on from the beach-head it had established in architecture into other areas too. It was nonsense of course.

Palumbo's speech was the product of a very particular, and somewhat overheated, set of circumstances. A moment's reflection makes it perfectly clear that to get something out of art, as much as to make sense of darts, or cricket, at least a fleeting grip on the rules of the game is required. To put this across, there is no need for the defenders of the avant-garde to lapse into paranoia and abuse.

Nor is the Turner Prize the benchmark of the avant-garde. Rather it is one particular view of what art can be. In one sense, the reactions to the attacks on the Turner Prize are not a little hysterical: the point of avant-garde art since the 19th century has been in part to provoke, to upset, and to twist the tail of the establishment.

Now the roles seem to have been reversed: what was once the avant-garde has turned into the establishment consensus, and it was having its tail twisted. To judge by the look on Palumbo's face, it didn't like it one little bit. But if art really is meant to provide a sense of otherness in a materialistic culture, then why should artists and their champions feel as if something has gone wrong when they succeed in their complacency-shaking activities?

In fact this division between high culture, and low, or between avant garde and popular taste is by no means as clear cut as the propagandists for traditionalism would have us believe. Despite the Alf Garnett performances of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats, spitting bile and venom, who persist in seeing House as a slap in the face for their constituents, Whiteread's work has already transformed the way a lot of people who have never set foot in a gallery see the mundane street in which it stands. They may not know exactly what it means - and Whiteread probably doesn't either. But it does have a presence, it does seem to suggest that there are other aspects to life than the everyday struggle for survival.

House has in fact already entered the everyday visual currency that shapes the way we see the world, just as much as the famous Carl Andre bricks, or Boy George or Punk - all once the subject of horrified outrage, and all quickly co-opted into mainstream sensibility, to be recycled as knowing, sly jokes, to appear as the inspiration for the imagery of advertising, to be used as seasonings to the blandness of everyday life.

Magritte, Duchamp, Fontana and many others have already provided the starting points for cigarette advertising campaigns. Their apparently enigmatic images clearly do have a power to reach people outside the elite.

And, as the less than convincing experience of the Prince of Wales's attempt to harness militant architectural populism has shown, it is by no means safe to assume that the remarkably visually literate British do not know when they are being patronised by those who assume that they are incapable of getting the point of culture that is challenging.

By the standards of art that sets out deliberately to offend, Whiteread's House is pretty tame stuff. This is not Jeff Koons caught in flagrante, or a Serrano-style hymn to bodily fluids. The idea that people confronted with it might not begin to understand that the point is to produce some sort of emotional response that might have something to do with the sense of absence, of sadness, of transience and that this cannot be understood by large numbers of people, is as insulting as the idea that anybody will fail to feel the emotional pull of, say, Le Corbusier.

In fact, the avant-garde has shown a remarkable robustness and longevity. Given the chance, a surprising range of people do indeed get to understand that there is a wider range of flavours to savour than the instant gratification of saccharine sweetness. People do, given the chance, get to understand that difficult things can be worthwhile.

Remember the much-publicised disgust which greeted the arrival of Impressionism in the National Gallery in the 1960s with the purchase of a Cezanne that was denounced as obscene and a crude daub. Or, for that matter, the howl of protest that greeted the Eiffel Tower.

Of course the idea of the artist as a critic of society, providing an outsider's view, is a relatively recent one: based on a romantic 19th century idea. It was a deliberate attempt to create an elevated sense of status, to present artists not as the quattrocento tradesmen who had happily contracted to paint specified numbers of figures, who had set up semi-industrialised production lines, calling in specialists to work on hands, and collars, but as a quite different breed who would see their artistic integrity compromised by the slightest truck with the preferences of their customers.

And in a curious way, it is perhaps Whiteread's most impressive achievement that she has managed to put art back into the street.

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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:36 pm

Bilious psychogeographer Iain Sinclair loved it, of course:
******************************************************************************************************
The house in the park: a psychogeographical response

Iain Sinclair, 1995



'What did your street look like in the past?' One of the more useful ephemerals of the heritage industry is the Godfrey Edition of Old Ordnance Survey Maps: a largely Victorian patchwork intended for those 'who wish to explore London and its history'. A canny piece of merchandizing to set alongside the repair and enlargement, in authentic sepia, of retrieved family photographs (not necessarily your own family); a painless method of acquiring a fraudulent pedigree, of airbrushing the warts of history and providing the hard evidence of a past that never existed. The folded scarlet repro featuring Bethnal Green & Bow (1894) nominates, as its cover illustration, a postcard of the Royal Hotel, Grove Road. (A slightly odd choice given that the hotel is in South Hackney and barely ducks under the cut-off line at the top of the map.) The district on display is a jigsaw of impacted terraces, burial grounds, canals and railways, short on remembered Imperial glory. The chosen image is a frame of film, made over, about to flicker into life (like the honky-tonk interlude in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). A stroller in a straw boater pauses at the kerbside. A horsedrawn cart trundles past, loaded with beer barrels: a sorry precursor of the brass and leather heritage version. A flag flutters above the pediment. There are other nostalgic features, lost but not forgotten, such as a functioning public convenience (Gentlemen only).

It must delight the Parks and Amenities Committee of the Tower Hamlets Council to know that the Royal Hotel survives, freshly painted, hung with flower baskets, obediently empathetic with the royal blue and gold colour scheme that makes the whole zone appear, to the migrant gunning for docklands, like a travelogue down the flank of an upmarket cigarette packet: railings, ironwork gates with chamberpot crowns and gilded lilies, litter bins, plaques offering soundbites of PC antiquarianism. There are now so many of these plaques that, peeping through the fence, it looks like they've let in a plague of estate agents to sell off Victoria Park in strips. These elegant noticeboards are a convenient way of mixing a self-serving rhetoric with the pieties of historical revisionism: we are informed that the park 'suffered from under-investment and remote management' at the hands of the GLC and the LCC. A multi-million pound restoration programme initiated by Bow Neighbourhood - and funded by a list of private sector benefactors and Euro charities that must have kept the sign-painters busy for a fortnight - made this a fit location in which to parade that most precious of icons, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, on her ninetieth birthday. A photo opportunity that linked the triumphalism of the facelifted park (its fountains and sleeping policemen) with newsreel footage of the old duck's previous excursion to East London at the time of the Blitz. Wartime dereliction was therefore twinned with the blight of postwar socialism, woolly thinking and Stalinist incompetence.

Cruder signboards (lower budget) warn the public that 'guard dogs are in use' and that these 'premises' are protected by Armour Security with their manned '24-hour control room'. Grove Road is an avenue of hanging baskets, dazzling pavements from which the filth is regularly hosed, while the people's park has been fenced off, maintained like a roofless marquee, reserved for the exercise of police horses and the exhibition of restored public statuary. The most notable of these casts are the 'Dogs of Alcibiades', a pair of genitally deformed, sightless albinos who frequently model for the territory's most apposite metaphor: steaming curls of real dogshit placed alongside plaster hounds. Every artefact must align itself with the wacky concept of the 'Bow Heritage Trail', a conceit which it is impossible to imagine anyone actually walking, as it meanders from the dog plinths to the 'Top o' the Morning' public house and its gleeful commemoration of the First Railway Murder.

East End boozers have always followed the market, adopting extreme measures to keep their names in the guidebook: think of the Blind Beggar on Whitechapel Road, obliged to shift its allegiance from the Brothers Kray to the Brothers Roux. A packed conservatory of Iocal businessmen mocks the adjacent Watney Mann brewery, which is no more than a buttressed facade. Even the Royal Hotel got lucky and made it into Duncan Campbell's The Underworld. A hitman, having parked a stolen Ford Fiesta on the spot where the Victorian urinal used to stand, took advantage of the walk-through layout, ordered a pint of Foster's, and sauntered across to the table where Jimmy Moody (a face who went all the way back to the affray at Mr Smith's in Catford) was nursing his sundowner. The malign tourist then pulled out a Webley .38 and shot his target four times at point-blank range. As yet there is no plaque to précis the legend - but the 1894 postcard is tainted, the crimson border has become a nightmare sky. Hurt can be retrospective. Violent displacements of energy are capable of infecting the membrane of what we call 'the past'. They gift us with memories on which we have no moral claim.

It is tempting for the pedestrian moving south towards Roman Road to close out the civic tidiness of Victoria Park by making treaty with the psychogeographers, paying homage to William Blake's Los who was an earlier pilgrim on this route: 'thro' Hackney. .. towards London/Till he came to old Stratford, & thence to Stepney & the Isle/Of Leutha's Dogs... And saw every minute particular: the jewels of Albion running down/The kennels of the streets & lanes as if they were abhorr'd'. The Hertford Union Canal (itself a failed speculation) is banked by the gutted shells of 'various mills and manufactories'; it waits, in limbo, for investment to catch up with imagination. Developers have to hone their psychic powers, see into the future, ruined husks regenerated, lofts carved into the optimum number of units. Nothing is as it appears. They feed on the predatory instincts of artists who have already surveyed the ground. They follow them into places prepared to yield themselves up to the magic of metamorphosis. They are poets of trespass. They see white gymnasia where the pedants, picking over the heritage maps, locate nothing but serrulated blocks of poverty housing, grey coral packing the space between the Hertford Union Canal to the north, the Regent's Canal to the west, the Great Eastern Railway to the south, the North London Railway to the east. An island of exile known as Old Ford or St Mary Stratford (the 'old Stratford' of Blake). A biopsy of Bow revealing an absence of green spaces, termite ladders parasitical upon the whim of industry. The canals and railways, which carried others through this picaresque desolation, acted as barriers to the indigenous population, snuffing out the fantasy of escape. After Mile End, Grove Road, wide enough to carry a tramline, ceded to a grander highway, named after the charitable Baroness Burdett-Coutts, the privilege of entering Limehouse and 'the narrows of the River's side'.

The Tower Hamlets planners, to give them their due, were closet visionaries: they conceived the fantastic notion of a Green Corridor to connect all the broken patches of grass between Victoria Park and the Isle of Dogs. They would create a ribbon of urban parkland and sweep away the unsightly clusters of temporary housing. Grass is what they wanted to celebrate: the sickly baize of over-cropped and over-fertilized paddocks. A fenced and locked chain of dog reservations laid to the horizon like regressive pool tables. A Green Corridor that was impossible to walk without constant banishments into the road, the furious traffic runs. Locals rarely bothered to make the attempt. The small parks were left as monuments to their own innate surrealism. They were out of synch with the rest of the borough, plein air museums of shadows, humps, hollows, earthed-over streets that threaten to break through the provisional surface.

Wennington Green is the most northerly of these sanctioned essays in the pastoral. The politicians have disguised the lyricism of their modest proposal by talking up the environmental benefits. Councillor Eric Flounders of the ruling Liberal Democrats, unconsciously echoing Le Corbusier, asserted that 'what people who live in tower blocks want is parkland'. An Arcadia for the underclass. Grass hacked to within a centimetre of its life. Wood carvings. Eccentric pathways. Arbours in which lurk strange men and stranger dogs. Rustic camouflage for exiled drinking schools. The whole scheme was a disinterested attempt at municipal aesthetics, paternalistic, bizarre - laying out a mental landscape for a culture of compulsory leisure. Somewhere for the care-of-the-community waifs to kick their heels. Beuys-art interpreted by committee. Green spaces in triplicate. It was appropriate, inevitable, that Wennington Green with its last sorry huddle of housing should be the chosen location for Rachel Whiteread's spectacular cryogenic experiment.

The only entry to Wennington Green on the north side is the inevitable gap in the railings created by fishermen wanting easy access to the canal. Squeezing through, the immediate sensation is troubling: avenues of sycamores trace the faultline where the back gardens of the Grove Road terrace gave way to transitional wilderness. Negotiating moist casts of dog dirt flung up by the rotation of tractor-drawn triples, you approach the badly fitted carpet of replacement turf that delineates the ground where Whiteread's House once stood. Wennington Green is otherwise a graveyard without any of the usual prompts, the slabs and angels that list the names and dates of those who solicit remembrance. All the specific provocations of memory have been deleted. This is a field of voluntary amnesia.

It was prescient of Whiteread, after months of careful searches through housing department lists, trawls with James Lingwood of Artangel, inwards through Islington, Hackney and Bow, to arrive at the one site where her project would fuse all the loose wires of potential catastrophe. House, seen from across the field, was a giant plug, feeding current into the madness of the city. Grove Road had the lot: a terrace house with three exploitable sides (and a sitting tenant), a hyperactive local politico, anarchist squatters, post-Situationist rock stars looking for the grand gesture, and wild-eyed psychogeographers prophesying war. This terrace was in the wrong documentary. It was an affront to the radiant blankness of the Green Way, an all too human shambles. High art might be a convenient excuse for making the transition, wiping the tape. The intransigence of Sydney Gale (as he was known to the broadsheets), or 'Sid the War Hero' (to the tabloids), was the only thing keeping the ruin upright. 193 Grove Road belonged, through right of long occupation, to Mr Gale and his family. The ex-docker had nothing else to feel so bloody-minded about. Even his surname seemed to allude, punningly, to the night of the Great Storm, the 16th October 1987, an event hijacked by the Parks Committee. The storm was the perfect front for strategic refurbishment, the sealing off of the Victoria Park Lido - as a car park (with no access to the grassland). Mr Gale became the wind of rage incarnate. He was more than ready to busk as a performance artist, to display his own handpainted banner: THIS IS MY HOME, I LIVE HERE. A tautology that was all too soon to be confounded.

Up to this point, before the work began, Artangel and the LibDem caucus, and even Mr Gale, held to their uneasy alliance. Contracts were drawn up. Mr Gale would be rehoused and Whiteread, no stranger to the area, would move in her team, forensically wrapped and masked, to commence the process of mummification.

Whiteread's earlier Turner Prize contender, Ghost, had been exhibited at the nearby Chisenhale Gallery, a traditional (i.e. ex-industrial) East London space. A functional property with no true function, beyond housing the ghosts of the veneer factory, the voices of the women who turned out Spitfire propellers. These husks are prized for their emptiness, their silence. They make minimalism look good: the least disturbed, the most effective.

Ghost, encountered unexpectedly, was a revelation. Literally so: this cube of retrieved and impacted light illuminated the windowless gallery. The relationship between sculpture and containing space was successfully managed. The piece did not dominate, or deny, the history of the chamber to which it had been brought. A lengthy period of private labour in the original Archway room, casting and reversing, had resulted in this mysterious monobloc. Ghost outreached pathos: it was crueller and brighter than that. The allusions are to Egyptian and Babylonian plunder in the British Museum and not to the sentiments of false memory, colonized domestic enclosures. The Archway room was not called upon to surrender the lives it had witnessed, it became an archetype: demotic overwhelmed by hieratic. Set outside, in a sculpture park, a corporate watercourt, the venom of Ghost would be dissipated. It would be as meaningless as one of those generic 'period' rooms in the Geffrye Museum.

House, a few hundred yards to the west of the Chisenhale Gallery, exposed to the fret of passing traffic, was a trickier proposition from the start. Whiteread, innocent of irony, remarks (in her video diary) how surprised she is that the park will not be secure: 'I hadn't realized the gates would be open the whole time'. She will be watched. The meditative hermeticism of the Archway room will not be possible. House is under sentence of death. It will never be brought inside to a controlled environment. It will remain itself: peeled, frozen, laid bare. The bride stripped by her bachelors. House is public, front-lawn art - a sponsored bastard. The stakes are high enough to alert every demon in the dictionary: culture vampires, strollers, all those who underwrite any challenge to the torpid energy balance of the Green Corridor.

After their searches through dusty housing records, Whiteread and Artangel were fortunate enough to nominate a vagrant terrace that was under the 'protection' of a spectacularly contrary LibDem cadre. A bunch quite capable of shredding the user-friendly rhetoric of the upriver party spin doctors. An embattled cell of activists who, by loudly championing the 'local', could attempt to promote village values in a panorama of millennial meltdown. Covert racism ('We have produced leaflets with Scotsmen in kilts'), boastful philistinism, and immaculate streets, would be the unspoken manifesto. The slashing of the Arts budget (curtains for the Half Moon Theatre) was therefore twinned with the perverse re-imagination of the rubble of abandoned terraces as sub-Georgian parkland. It wasn't that the neighbourhood bosses disliked art, as such. It was much more that they were themselves artists manqué, opponents of the internationalist conspiracy. Under such a regime, the Bow Neighbourhood turned itself into a reservation of pieties, a diverse wedge of well-scrubbed streets lacking any centre, anything worth destroying. The real achievement of Artangel was political: the drawing up of the contract for House, the parameters of toleration, while the most effective spokesperson for the philosophy of enlightened prejudice was safely out of the country.

Councillor Eric Flounders descended on the fait accompli like an avatar of the Great Storm, a bismuth Cromwell. It wasn't just the name, you couldn't invent Eric: as fiction he was strictly redundant. He had a second life as a flamboyantly drab PR operative for Cunard. The perfect man to produce advance copy for the Titanic brochure, Eric had an instinct for disaster. House was a media opportunity not to be squandered, a chance for Flounders to take his grievances upmarket - to defend the eviction of 100 Bangladeshi families, badmouth Guardian-reading Hampstead pinkos, and tell art scum sniffling for alms to 'fuck off'. In other words, Eric was a traditionalist, dancing on the grave of concepts that had been buried twenty years ago. You can also admire him: the way he resisted the arm-twisting of the party apparatchiks, the certainty that he was never now going to make it to Westminster, the pressure to avoid yet another LibDem own goal in East London. Flounders stood firm: House was 'crap'. 'The more people who want it to stay there', he told the East London Advertiser, 'the more resolute I become'.

As is often the case, where aesthetic questions are concerned, the most extreme political opponents were in agreement: 'junk'. The disaffiliated class warriors who squatted 199 Grove Road were primed to take an interest in an increasingly volatile situation. Art guerrilla Stewart Home's riposte came in the form of a novel, Red London, which joyously deconstructed the event - as it was happening. Which is one of the advantages of the book-a-month school of neo-pulp anarchy. Home's constituents, unaware that they were supposed to be a figment of the author's rancid imagination, were ready to exploit the opportunities offered by a major example of public art being dumped in their lap by outside forces who knew nothing of their existence. Anything short of actually living there: 'Every buddhist Octagon had offered to house in Grove Road turned down the accommodation'. Home, throwing together at speed a wicked cocktail of disinformation, satire, bent gossip, delivered a psychic survey of the climate in which House was constructed; a survey more accurate, on every level, than the fact-checked responses of the telephone journalists. Every paranoid excess received its credit: 'The co-op was controlled by a secret committee of monks who'd been co-opted from the Teutonic Order of Buddhist Youth'.

House, standing alone, the solitary representative of all that Grove Road had been, was an affront to the anarchists. It mocked the steady destruction of so much of East London. It should, they felt, be mobilized, like the ghost of some turreted weapon of war (the sawteeth of the absent staircases looked like tank treads), in the battle against the M11 link-road that was being fought in Leytonstone. Solidity should imply solidarity. (Whiteread bumped into a few of the lads who had turned up with sledgehammers and drills to break into the interior of an exhibit that had no interior. That was its essence. If they had succeeded they would have reversed time and vanished forever.) This house of memory should receive equal honour with the tree houses occupied by eco-dissidents. And it would command more column inches in the subvertible broadsheets. Having the Turner prizewinner in the frontline would be like having Salman Rushdie walking out to face the bulldozers.

Firm allies of the arboreal squatters, the London Psychogeographical Association, published an editorial, Housey! Housey! (Newsletter No.5), which drew attention to a perceived irony in Tarmac sponsoring the delivery of Whiteread's phantom when the trees of George Green were being hacked down by pre-dawn mercenaries to make way for yet more 'motorway madness'. The alignment freaks, sustained by a vision of the city as a living, breathing body, were disturbed by the proximity of House to the Greenwich/St Anne's, Limehouse/Meath Gardens axis: a shining path acknowledged, according to Katherine Heron (of Feary+Heron Architects), even by the planners of the London Docklands Development Corporation. 'Surprisingly, the LDDC in its first and only published guide c.1982 chose to keep and accentuate the axis by not permitting any building along its length that would interrupt the view from one place to the other'. A nice theory - which lasted for as long as it took Olympia and York to wave their cheque book. The sighting of Canary Wharf, that misconceived acupuncture needle, induced a new magnetic field. The vulgarity of this false leyline was serviced by the erection of an acorn/omphalos on Haverfield Green (the paddock immediately to the south of Wennington Green in the Bow Chain). The acorn was yet another tribute to the Great Storm, part of a series of anonymous windfall carvings, reminiscent of Glynn Williams or Lee Grandjean on a bad day. Bucolic romanticism capable of delighting the shade of Peter Fuller and attracting the attention of freelance aerosol revisionists. Canary Wharf, the wooden acorn, and the Whiteread House were in alignment, a shadowline to the true path; debris adding conviction to the geomantic ambitions of the Bow planners.

The psychogeographers were as keen as the tabloid hacks to copyright the indignation of Sydney Gale, the final occupant, in his new and displaced status. The man wouldn't go away. Not required on set, he hung about, polishing his soundbites. 'If that is art then I'm Leonardo da Vinci.' The money was what disturbed him, the figure of £40,000 floated by the press in an uncharacteristically modest understatement. Mr Gale couldn't get his head around the idea that art money is funny money (as the K Foundation, in their confusion, were soon to prove). You don't buy a new flat with this stuff. It's theoretical, an equation that has to be balanced. It's more like a signature or hallmark. Money is the guarantee of seriousness. It proves that the art is kosher. If you're already famous, then it's the material you work with, your medium. If you're unknown and you cop an unexpected bundle from the Saatchis you are promoted directly into the heavy paper surveys. But you can't spend this kind of cash. That would be like squeezing the juice from one of Zurbarán’s lemons. Contemporary art is about credit: the metamorphosis of money into power. To Mr Gale the Whiteread House was simply a haystack of unearned banknotes. The chilling whiteness of the finished sculpture, picked out of the dusk by the headlights of passing cars, reminded him of something in a graveyard; his family home travestied as a Monopoly token.

Whiteread kept a scrupulous video record of the process whereby her concept was brought to life. It's obvious, watching this material as part of the historical record, that the real winners were the industrial contractors, the plant hire boys. House was a great deal, a doubleheader, for Stiffell's and the McGrath Brothers: peel off the brickskin, then pop back three months later for a day's work knocking down the most famous sculpture in England (with wall-to-wall TV coverage and high visibility logo).

The early footage in the video is privileged heartbreak: filtered October sunlight exposing the deserted shell to its subtly cruel warmth. Postmortem tableaux of arcane domesticity: contoured floorboards, collisions of insanely assertive wallpaper, gauze curtains of solidified dust. Redundant aspirations. The furniture, the gadgets, the bric-a-brac have been cleared - as if for a death. The house is in limbo. It is tempting to sentimentalize this state, how the soul of the building, the spirit that had evolved between family and place, was still present. A special light, synthesized by Whiteread's camera, varnishes the details by which these people will be defined. It has to be excluded before the next stage of the work can begin, the windows have to be boarded over. Whiteread derives her power from her perception of this transitory place, the temporal entrapment of the unpeopled room. She understands how the exclusion of mundane light converts the room into a recording instrument, a machine for remembering, as well as the memory itself. I am presumptuous enough to assert that this would be the best time, a time of autobiographical reverie, before the collaborators move in - and the rush is triggered.

The pleasures of the chrysalis stage are visceral: brisk technicians spraying Locrete (the stuff they use to patch the cracks in the White Cliffs of Dover) over a gridwork of steel rods. The video allows us to remain inside the shell. The sense of how unpleasant it was to operate in this environment is acute: the wetness of the walls, the morbid fur, the organic weirdness of pod life that is obliterated by the sharp edges of the finished structure. The masked workers in their overalls are like a SWAT team summoned to some tragic address, the suicide of apocalyptic cultists or the cold store of a serial killer. They have been cursed with the task of building a pyramid from the inside, changing fate; starting from what is known and deranging it. The process is forbidden. House, as a work in progress, is science fiction - a Tardis regenerating itself from illegitimate evidence. The forensic crew are the exterminators of normalcy.

The dermabrading concluded, House stood exposed in a shallow, rubble-strewn declivity. It was now an art object: it had died, its flaws and faults smoothed over with Locrete (plus a splash of cosmetic white to enliven the greyness of the pallor). The virgin walls were an open invitation to the unsponsored care-of-the-community signwriters, the aerosol bandits. WOT FOR?, WHY NOT, and the brushed out subtext, HOMES FOR ALL BLACK + WHITE. The unedited book of the city - railway bridges, canal bridges, doorways - fills with a cacophony of quotations, obscenities, names of lost heroes. Photographed, they outlive their occasion: the innocence of George Davis, the guilt of DC Matthews. WOT FOR? is the riddle in the files of press cuttings.

House, an intrusion in the dim electro-magnetic field, brought disciples running, even those who knew nothing of its history, to Grove Road, to question the nature of interference. The enigmatic object was surrounded, probed, questioned. It was fed by flashbulbs, the tributes of photographers.

Convulsive therapy. The white ghost reversed, seen in negative, printed. Thousands of images. No longer singular: a terrace of reproductions, a city of mirrors. House, the paradigm of loss, was multiplied. Loss, carried away, became a general condition, a blight. Professionals, archivists, chemist-shop casuals. In the city twilight, a circle of blue sparks strobe House, dividing it into detail and longshot; analyzing and reassembling. The snapshots laid out, side by side, would stretch down Grove Road, repopulating the grass wildernesses, all the way to the point where the first flying bomb fell on London.

Cropped tight (no sky) to banish the dreary park, a formalist shot was deemed suitable for the label of Beck's commemorative beer (best drunk before February 1995). The image has been so starkly edited that it could provoke a prosecution under the Trades Description Act: the park railings, aesthetically incorrect, have been doctored by computer to allow the sculpture to rise directly from the real pavement. No graffiti, no pedestrians. A Mondrian arrangement of rectangles and crossed lines, nicely judged asymmetry in greys and greens.

Moving back, and away, the shape of House is much more chaotic: futurist zig-zags, blue smears, the flatness of a septic tank. WARNING HAZART. The night trippers examine this work from the side. Only pedestrians, outside, on the pavement, see anything resembling the Beck's portrait. There aren't many of them. Some of the supplicants have been bussed in, culture punters with serious affiliations. It's like the Mexican Day of the Dead (sponsored by Harvey Nichols) as the Gucci bags, Hermes scarves, leopardskin prints trip across the greensward to pay their respects to Whiteread's sugar-dusted skull. They huddle together to listen to the spiel; fearful of the place and its chill atmosphere, the reek of the canal. Others, energetic anoraks, circumnavigate the perimeter, darting forward to touch the plaster, to admire the vertical coffins of children. There's a favoured distance - about 25 yards back - for prolonged meditation: as if taking up a position at the bottom of the erased garden. Human figures are pegs in the half-dark, black against a powdering of snow on the peppery grass.

In a strange way, part of the strength of House was that it repelled those who were most closely associated with it. The achieved work was anonymous, it didn't feel like a 'Rachel Whiteread'. It had developed its own agenda, an urge towards obliteration, forgetfulness. House, at the death, was in league with Councillor Flounders and his iconoclasts.

While the friends of Artangel were manoeuvering for time, and the world was camping out to catch a glimpse of the millennial fetish, Whiteread concluded her video diary. Knowing of the structure's death warrant, its fame, the pilgrims had a subdued air. The field was the preview for an execution: winter light. None of this mob would dream of paying a visit to a corrugated-fence terrace marked for demolition. One of those dusty, dangerous amputations with the unsophisticated colour clashes, their dangling wires. House gave the curious an excuse to quit their own pinched living spaces, a comfortable way of paying tribute to the spiritual bleakness of this part of London. A final visit to a sickbed, a rehearsed bereavement. They were well-behaved, sombre. They needed floral tributes to occupy their hands, wreaths to leave on the pavement.

There were far too many of them for Whiteread to risk stepping out of her car. She pulled up at a distance, bundled into a heavy jacket, keeping surveillance. If she walked across the grass to House, she'd be torn apart. A last roll-up, a whispered confession to the diary: 'If I get out of the car, I'd get swamped by people'. Exiled from her own creation, she was in precisely the situation of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the pranksters of the K Foundation, who watched from a jeep parked by the riverside, while their hirelings called Whiteread out of the Tate Gallery beanfeast to face the media scrummage of the booby prize delivery.

Just then, by one of the correspondences by which the whole affair was characterized, an area of grass close to the house Whiteread was moving into in Hackney came under threat. The leaflet on the doormat. This green space also had a history of postwar prefabs, 'temporary' housing that lasted into the 1970s (demolished, finally, to make way for an unfenced rug of grass). Scarcely a park, nor even a public garden, it was nurtured, tended by the more civic-minded of the rate-payers, in the spirit more usually encountered in the dormitory villages of Middle England. Magistrates weeded and planted the borders. Children played on it in the summer evenings, within sight of their homes, and large mixed gatherings (all ages, weights, abilities) churned it to mud in their weekly football rituals. The evident needs and desires of this community were remorselessly ignored by a Labour council as entrenched in its prejudices and petty corruptions as their LibDem brothers across the border. It was decided that a terrace of houses would be shoehorned onto what the square dwellers, signalling their aspirations, liked to call 'The Green'. The Nimbys (who were both surprised and delighted to see Whiteread turn up at their AGM) mounted a prolonged and effective campaign: snippets of local TV, camp-outs, a barrage of documentation, points of order, fighting funds, top of the range legal stationery. Which resulted in a few Gavin Stampist adjustments to the builders' plans and the loss of a prized breathing space in a zone of perceived 'decency' between the termite horrors of Holly Street and the crack barracks that slouched away towards the canal. The energy exchange was almost too neat: Wennington Green witnessed the premature abortion of House and the reinstatement of ceremonial grassland - while a small corner of green Hackney was built over with houses which, in the limbo of construction, stand white and empty as any work of conceptual sculpture.

Across the canal, and a little to the south of Wennington Green, is another strip of seismically agitated earth now known as Meath Gardens: a site blessed by standing directly on the path of the Greenwich/Limehouse leyline. Meath Gardens, in an earlier incarnation, was the Victoria Park Cemetery - notorious bonepit, putrid with the multiple occupation of the indigenous underclass. A field of stench and pestilence regularly denounced in the progressive journals, it was the burial place of an Australian Aboriginal cricketer known as 'King Cole', who died in England during the first tour undertaken by a team from the southern hemisphere in 1868. A few years ago, watched by members of a Quantas-sponsored squad, a eucalyptus tree was planted to revive and commemorate this fable; a brass plaque was screwed to a wooden block to record the event. The plaque, along with its legend, disappeared within days of the ceremony. It has not been replaced. Such an act would be redundant. The empty block is useful for scraping off dog dirt. The tree, leaning crazily to the east, supported by a stave, is bent and brutalized. A damaged dreaming. But the validity of the King Cole myth gathers momentum even as the memory-prompts weaken. That is the nature of riparian London with its layers of deletions, resurrections. We are forced to become mediums for the lives and the buildings that have vanished. House, through its elimination, joins the company: remembered as an archetype when it is forgotten as an artwork.

House belongs with the invisible church of St Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel, a removed structure from which that district took its name. The church forged its doctrine from misfortune: the Great Tempest of 1362, the fire of 1880 which gutted the building in an hour, the fire-bombs of 1940, the tearing down of the ruin in 1952, the reduction to the status of 'garden' in 1966. All that is left of this dark history is a brick outline in the grass, a psychic barrier that repelled the vagrants who clustered around the solitary sepulchre until the Rowton House (Jack London's 'Monster Doss House') was closed down, to take up its role as a fashionable derelict, a venue for rock promos and performance artists. We can only dowse the history of this location, through worship, plague, war, by contemplating aspects that are resistant to cameras and recording instruments.

A city of parkland phantoms, gravestones cleared to decorate the borders of market gardens. The perpetual metamorphosis of enclosed scraps of ground whose 'story' is scribbled over, re-cut, eternally present: the lost earth of Whitechapel Mount ('considerably higher' than the London Hospital), the synagogues that become Bengali supermarkets, the warehouses that produce and store unseen and unsaleable art. House is of this company. The worn squares of turf, like poorly laid cork tiles, that brand a rectangle on Wennington Green, invoke a provisional existence that is close to fiction; true crimes committed by imaginary criminals. Springheeled Jack and Sweeney Todd perverting the fantasies of BNP foot soldiers.

Eavesdropping on the conversations of those who came to debate the nature and essential mystery of the Whiteread House, it became clear to me that many felt, or wanted to believe, that the Grove Road terrace had been turned inside-out by a feat of gnostic prestidigitation - thereby creating a vacuum in which time itself could be held to ransom. House was a vessel packed with mantic darkness, instead of a peeled version of Sydney Gale's family home. They were unwillingly to accept that we were seeing a nest of rooms from outside, with the interference of the bricks: a hologram privilege, a solid X-ray. The process of migration, inside to outside, was limited to the city. Surreptitiously, the tokens and sacred statues from the centre were being banished to the suburbs, so that Temple Bar finds itself marooned in Theobald's Park near Waltham Abbey, and the Euston Arch is broken up and dumped in the River Lea. Monuments were dug out, filched, to add class to Green Belt estates. The centre loses its signifiers as it is colonized by a cult of phoney ruralism.

Wennington Green, a year on from the House episode, has retreated into a fugue of complacent entropy. The glow of an Indian summer casts a ribcage of charcoal shadows from the surviving trees. The Arcadian conceits of the politicians are justified, for a few hours, by a complicity of light. The palpable absence of House validates the grove-like nature of the park. An ash tree confirms the edge of the secret garden. The tree has a deep gash in its bark, revealing a second skin - surgical dressings wadded into a wound. Wasps, tipsy with autumnal liquor, levitate above an offering of glassy white grapes, arranged at the tree's base. They are vile, these grapes, like a tray of artificial eyes offered as sweeteners to the breath. Disguising their presence - in homage to Carl Andre - is a heap of bricks; and on the bricks an obscure collection of copper coins. In the long grass, above thick roots, where the motor-mower couldn't get in, is a broken bottle of Foster's Ice. Random mementoes. Cod sponsorship. Grave goods. There are no other clues from which to uncode this al fresco celebration: no sightings, no culprits. We do not know, or need to know, who came here to honour the anniversary of Whiteread's extinguished vision.

The full text forms part of the book Rachel Whiteread: House (Phaidon Press Limited 1995)

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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:46 pm

^

"House" stood a 15-minute stroll from my place.

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Re: Rachel Whiteread's "House"

Post  eddie on Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:41 am

Rachel Whiteread designs 'ostentatious' Whitechapel Gallery frieze

In her first permanent public commission, 1993 Turner prize winner to create huge frieze above gallery doors

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 February 2012 18.01 GMT


Rachel Whiteread with part of her Whitechapel Gallery design. Photograph: FINBARR O'REILLY/REUTERS

Inspired by the Secession building in Vienna, and the ubiquity of a certain type of rapacious weed in Hackney, the artist Rachel Whiteread has designed a golden frieze that will finally solve a 111-year-old problem.

The Whitechapel Gallery in east London announced on Thursday what its director, Iwona Blazwick, called "the realisation of a dream" - a plan for a large and empty space on the front of its building to be filled by a permanent work of art.

In what is her first ever permanent public commission in the UK, Whiteread has been asked to fill the 8m by 15m space above the gallery doors on Whitechapel High Street, after the failure of the first attempt in 1901 when a planned mosaic by Walter Crane was judged too big and too expensive. Since then the problem has been kept "out of sight and out of mind", admitted Blazwick.

Whiteread said it had been a daunting task and one she had realised by installing a 1:1 model of the Whitechapel facade in her studio and working in wax to create a work of clusters of gilded leaves and branches.

"I find it quite difficult to work with computer generated images," she admitted. "I'm a sculptor, I like to work in three dimensions and not two dimensions."

Her influences for the frieze include the "tree of life" motif that is already part of the building as well as "the Hackney weed" she sees most days - Buddleia - which can be seen growing out of buildings or by the canal; the Secession building in Vienna with its "golden cabbage" roof and "then I went to the top of St Paul's and looked around and thought what is it that makes areas of London or just parts of buildings stand out?"

One answer was the use of gold. There will also be a more recognisable Whiteread touch to the work in that she's casting four terracotta reliefs of existing gallery windows as a counterpoint to the gilded leaves.

The work will be unveiled in June and forms part of the London 2012 festival running this summer as the culmination of the cultural olympiad.

The Art Fund is donating £200,000 to the project but Blazwick said it was too early to give further costing and funding figures as it was still "a work in progress".

The commission will fill a space that many did not even know was there to be filled; "it's part of invisible London," said Whiteread, who lives and works about five minutes' walk away from the gallery.

Her solution for the empty rectangle is quite a subtle work, although Whiteread said: "It's pretty ostentatious, there's gold leaf on it - it's the most ostentatious I've ever been."

Blazwick believes it will turn heads: "I think it will be a way of making people look up. Usually we're all busy, heads down running for the bus and the tube; this will be a way of celebrating the architecture in this part of town."

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