Inside Outside Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread’s Studio Photo by Helene Binet

Rachel Whiteread’s Studio Photo by Helene Binet


The Port Kembla Stack
fell to the ground in an unearthly groan and a crumpled heap of cement and dust yesterday.  Just an icon of my disintegrating past.  I was there with the throngs of people waiting and watching, as we talked to each other, I noticed they all had returned from somewhere else. They had connected their home to the stack. It made me think of Rachel Whiteread and the cast of the space inside her home before demolition.

Rachel Whiteread Embankment, 2005

Rachel Whiteread
Embankment, 2005

Recently I discovered the works of Rachel Whiteread, a British sculptor/artist whose connection to home and a simple cardboard box had produced a monumental work for the Tate Gallery.

Whiteread described  Embankment as “working with a broader brush”, the installation was exhibited at the Tate Modern Gallery in London United Kingdom .  The work took place in the Turbine Hall, an area of 152 meters long and 35 meters high.  It was a commissioned work as part of the Unilever Series installed from 11 October 2005 to 1 May 2006. More recently in 2011 Ai Wei Wei’s installation of sunflower seeds occupied the same area also part of the Unilever Series.

Whiteread’s work comprises 14,000 translucent polyethylene casts of 10 selected cardboard boxes.  Upon clearing out her deceased mother’s home, she came upon a box that had undergone different uses for family objects and this became the impetus for this larger work.

The work evokes a feeling of monumentality, partly because of the scale and the space it occupies.  The white translucency of the boxes feels snow-like and gives the impression of being able to wander snow-capped slopes.  The cold is a stark contrast to the emotional warmth apparent when Whiteread first came across the box.  The box, like so many other everyday objects, conveys a sense of familiarity from re-use and storage from nostalgic objects.  The notion of the box storing Christmas decorations evokes happier childhood memories. Perhaps Whiteread’s Christmas in the northern hemisphere was snow-capped and the feelings of cold are part of that environment.

My Photo of Peter Robinson Sydney Biennale 2012

My Photo of Peter Robinson Sydney Biennale 2012

A work by Peter Robinson, Gravitas Lite 2012, in the Sydney Biennale 2012 had a similar effect being exhibited in the Turbine Hall at Cockatoo Island. In both artist’s works the shapes, in Robinson’s chains and Whiteread’s boxes, have relevance to the industrial space they inhabit but the starkness and fragility of the material also create interest in the sense they do not belong.  The strong shadows cast on the light of the white boxes and the forms in the way they are stacked, appear to replicate landscape features, such as mountains or crevices, feeling more organic within the factory backdrop and further fuelling the contrast of material and space.

Hany Armanious Untitled Snake Oil

Hany Armanious Untitled Snake Oil

Embankment is also reminiscent of work by Australian contemporary artist Hany Armanious whose casts of everyday objects take on a transformative appearance.  Untitled (snake oil) by Armanious impinges on the investigation of each glass’ empty shape as a negative space in the same way Whiteread initially explored the space of the box.  Armanious has cast the shapes of inside glasses and then used the base as a plinth with the cast sitting on top to produce an interesting object.

In the same way, Whiteread’s work is beautiful in its simplicity.

Vanishing Views of Port Kembla Stack

The Stack and MM Beach

The Stack and MM Beach

Lately I feel parts of my life are slowly being erased.  This week news that the stack, my stack, is coming down.  It may be an unsightly industrial world blot to a lot of people but it feels part of my history. I have used it as a personal symbol within my artwork as a reference to my family.  The picture above shows the stack, a marker,  to the left and the beach to the right where I scattered my parents ashes together.  A pointer in the landscape.

Sketch looking north to stack from Shellharbour

Sketch looking north to stack from Shellharbour

 

 

 

 

 

Port Kembla Stack

The Port Kembla stack pins the coast firmly in place.  It is over 200 metres tall.  My mother and I both attend the school directly underneath.  As a child at lunchtime in the playground we would dare each other to throw our heads back far enough to look to the top and make it look as though it was swaying side to side and we would collapse on the ground, dizzy.

 

The secret beauty of an industrial town..

The secret beauty of an industrial town..

 

My mum would glimpse it rising in the distance coming from the north or south and say “There’s the stack. We’re nearly home.”

Commorant Boat

A few years back my boat shed  home was de-bricked and now the green flatness I pass most days still brings back memories.  I wonder after the stack is gone on whether there will be a ghostly sentinel that replaces its existence for me.   Like the twin towers when you catch a glimpse of old footage and it catches your breath, the sky will seem empty in that place.

I have watched a show recently called Vanishing Views where architect Ptolemy Dean sketches landmarks that are disappearing.  He had sketched the Sheffield Cooling Towers prior to demolition.  This week I intend to capture it much as possible.   The event has made me consider views of the imposing chimney and how I would find the right vantage point to paint or sketch from.  Unfortunately the view from the playground is also prohibited as recently the school too has been partly demolished.

The Stack & MM

 

 

 

 

MM Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stack and the playground

The Stack and the playground

jellyfish and stack 1

The boat shed, the school and the stack will all be physically removed like an erased De Kooning drawing.

The Red Case and Killalea

I had not made plans to go with the Picknick Painters this week but things changed last-minute and they were going to Killalea. I thought that I may not be able to do this again for a while because of other commitments, so I threw my stuff in a bag, a book on Philip Guston for Kaye, some book binding notes and my sketchbook.  It looked pretty black towards the south so I wasn’t expecting to stay long. Killalea had its own plans for me.

 

It’s beauty never fails to amaze, pushed to the edge by McMansion after McMansion just a small mottled concrete barricade to stop the grey roofs from spilling in on the green hills. To the east, Bass Point, a quarry and the constant rumble of trucks on dirt that disappear behind the hill. To the west vivid yellow-green hills and escarpment hem us in even further. For me it’s the view northwards that tugs at my attention and draws me away from the natural beauty.

The stack sits embedded in a finger of coast, surrounded crucifixion like be a scattering of smaller inconsequential chimneys. Mum always said -”I know I’m home when I see that stack.” Each time I look at it, it conjures childhood memories in some form. Scanning out to sea eastward from the stack, the five islands off Port Kembla float amongst the shipping containers like large bags of jetsam. The last page in my sketchbook contained notes on jellyfish within the lake. Images and sketches sometimes merge and I found myself humming “Five Jellyfish sitting on a rock…” meanwhile I sketched my thoughts. A tanker towing the island and in turn the island towing the jellyfish. It made me think of the dreaming stories associated with the local Wodi Wodi people of the starfish and  the whale.

I couldn’t decide whether they were heading ashore or out to sea but it made me think of the red suitcase, a symbol of my need to run, to escape.

Each time I work it feeds more and more into the lake series which is becoming stronger in my mind through my experience in this landscape. I feel I have opened the suitcase a little more, perhaps feeling more ready to settle.