Design and Build to Destroy - Rachel Whiteread's Untitled (Room) and its Representations

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Carley, Rachel
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Carley, R.O. (2012). Design and Build to Destroy: Rachel Whiteread's Untitled (Room) and its Representations. L. Churchill and D. Smith (Ed). Interior: A State of Becoming. Symposium Proceedings. Perth, Australia, 6-9 September 2012. CD ROM.
The British sculptor Rachel Whiteread (b.1963) employs her signature casting practice to render negative space as solid, positive form. Untitled (Room), 1993, was cast from a freestanding model of a room designed by the artist and built with prefabricated elements. This paper argues that Room utilises architectural representation as a cultural and political form of critique, placing the practice of architecture into question, and focussing upon aspects of the interior that can be overlooked. Further, it is proposed that Room also reveals a richness in regard to how architectural forms of representation might co-mingle, obfuscating divisions between the drawn and the modelled. Room critiques the mass-produced post-war interiors found in London, hidden beneath the veneers of architectural progress. Room is viewed as a manifestation of a ‘lack’ inherent in the mass-production spirit as it was outlined in Le Corbusier’s polemical ‘Manual of Dwelling’ in Towards a New Architecture. The paper compares the artist’s critical practice of divesting architecture of detail to the work of the photographer James Casebere. Both artists, it is suggested, endeavour to create disquieting representations of interior spaces. The second section of this paper examines a selection of gouache studies of Room. In these drawings, the artist utilises mixed system techniques that incur paradoxical qualities that complement those at work in her negative cast. These drawings, conceived by the artist as strategic sites of correction, are compared to the sinopia or ‘under drawings’ that were hidden beneath the wall surfaces of Renaissance frescoes. Whiteread’s cast is also shown to have a consonance with drawings of the developed surface interior, which also depict the interior of a room detached from its surroundings. Standing outside the discipline of architecture, Whiteread draws attention to architecture’s blind spots. She achieves this by constructing her own critical archive of drawings, and sculptures of the interior. These works provide us with counter histories that throw modernism’s spatial pretensions into question
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