“My works are very much connected with the body and with the human touch. Whether it’s my touch, or someone else’s, or a whole family’s touch, they’re about a piece of furniture that has been used.”—R. WHITEREAD,quoted in Rachel Whiteread, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 2004, unpaged
Cast from the underside of two adjacent tables, Rachel Whiteread’s pivotal work Untitled (Double) memorialises the negative space of everyday, domestic objects. Mirroring the curved indents of the table undersides and chair legs, Untitled (Double) presents the viewer with ghostly traces of the past function of the tables as a space for human interaction. Isolated and cast in solid white plaster, the sculpture exudes heaviness through its opaque, tomb-like form. Untitled (Double) materialises the intangible and challenges the distinction between presence and absence by reversing positive and negative space.
The notion of casting negative space reflects the key principles of Whiteread’s practice, who was awarded the 1993 Turner Prize for her sculpture, House, a full sized cast of the interior of an entire terraced house in the East End of London. With House, Whiteread challenged traditional notions surrounding human perception of sculptural space. Whiteread’s exploitation of the sculptural and architectural qualities of negative space reflects the reductive visual language of the American Minimalist sculptors such as Richard Serra, Carl Andre and Donald Judd. However in opposition to the Minimalists’ stark geometry and mechanical repetition, Whiteread’s sculptures are concerned with reflecting emotive human qualities. The space underneath a table is familiar on a human physical scale, and relates to the universally familiar social ritual of a shared meal or exchanged conversation. Rejecting the functional qualities of the casted tables, Untitled (Double), renders the space inaccessible and leaves the viewer with a haunting impression of a past human narrative.