Silent Witness: Rachel Whiteread’s Nameless Library

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Carley, Rachel
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2010
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Journal Article
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
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sculptors
inverted library
Whiteread, Rachel, 1963-
English sculptors
holocaust memorials
memorials
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Citation
Carley, R. (2010). Silent Witness:Rachel Whiteread's Nameless Library. IDEA. 2010 : 24-39.
Abstract
Silent Witness examines the British sculptor Rachel Whiteread’s Nameless Library, (1996-2000), a holocaust memorial in Judenplatz Square, Vienna. For her project, the sculptor designed an inverted library in concrete, the proportions being derived from those found in a room surrounding the square. While the majority of critics refer to this memorial as an ‘inside out’ library, this paper argues that Whiteread’s design is not so easily understood. It will identify the ways in which her design complicates relationships between sculpture and architecture, container and contained, private and public, interior and façade, as well as domestic and civic scales. The work is placed within a ‘counter monumental’ tradition of memorialisation, as articulated by James E. Young, which demonstrates a radical re-making of memorial sculpture after the Holocaust. It is argued that this site-specific memorial, partially cloned from the urban context in which it is placed, commemorates a loss that is beyond words. Nameless Library utilises architectural operations and details to evoke a disquieting atmosphere in urban space, borrowing from the local to inculcate neighbouring structures as silent witnesses to past atrocities. The memorial is compared to the casemate fortifications on the Atlantic wall; the defensible spaces of bunkers, described by Paul Virilio in his book Bunker Archaeology as ‘survival machines’. It is argued that Whiteread’s careful detailing of Nameless Library is designed to keep memory alive. Under Whiteread’s direction, the typological form of the bunker is transformed into a structure of both physical and psychic defense. The memorial has been specifically designed to resist attack by vandals and also functions as a defence against entropy, taking into itself and holding onto lost loved ones, preserving their memory.
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