Spaces in the chapel : Rachel Whiteread at YSP

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I love Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Every time I visit there is something new to explore, more treasures to discover. It’s impossible to see the Longside, Chapel and Underground galleries, park centre and 500 acre outdoor gallery nestled in the south of Wakefield in a single day. Even more impossible to write about it all in a single sitting!

During my most recent visit on a temperamental summer afternoon we sought shelter in the park’s Chapel gallery where we discovered the new ‘Transparency’ exhibition, supported by the Arts Council Collection’s National Partners Programme.


The subject of transparency was inspired by the 18th century chapel itself. Built in 1744 and dedicated to St Bartholomew, the chapel served the families and workers of the Bretton Estate before it was de-consecrated in the 1990s. The exhibition is designed to consider the multiple meanings of transparency, from the transition of light and clarity, to truth and freedom from deceit. It comes at a time when the need for clarity from politicians, corporations and the like is in high demand, not only in Britain but around the globe.

The collection includes work by Garth Evans, Hiraki Sawa, and Yelena Popova; but the exhibit which grabbed my attention the most was by Rachel Whiteread. I’ve been aware of Rachel’s work for some years now; her sculptures were held up as an extraordinary example of contemporary art during my school days.


Rachel Whiteread studied painting in Brighton and sculpture in London from 1982 to 1987. She has described how the pivotal moment of her career as an artist began with a spoon. It was cast in sand which she then poured molten lead over. The spoon lost it’s “spoon-ness” and by casting in this way the object was completely changed forever. Rachel “fell in love with that process”.

She employs casting methods and materials that are more commonly used in the preparation of sculptures rather than for the finished object. Concrete, plaster, rubber and resin, have all been used in the past. Rachel makes sculptures of the negative space surrounding everyday objects, and is famously known for her more monumental public sculptures such as ‘Ghost’ (1990) and ‘House’ (1993-94) for which she was awarded the Turner Prize in 1993.


In the past Rachel has said “I’m always looking for ways of representing the body but not actually physically putting it there.” Sometimes this can appear anthropomorphically as the sculpture takes on human form or characteristics. At other times her sculptures “stand for the absence of a body”.

In ‘Untitled (6 Spaces)’ (1994) now showing in the Chapel gallery at YSP Rachel has created six resin casts of the voids found underneath six different chairs. Each cast is unique both in form and colour; like a neat display of precious jewels, or a delicious row of sweets waiting to be devoured. They instantly captured my attention, before I was even aware of their author.

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In their context here the sculptures are not only visually semi-transparent but emote a feeling of absence or loss with their invisible chairs and sitters. In the setting of a chapel it transforms into an absent congregation; perhaps a reflection on state of faith today, both in religion and faith in humanity. But that’s the wonderful thing about Rachel’s work; she doesn’t aggressively explain or label it. The audience is allowed to make their own interpretations based on their personal feelings and experiences.

‘Transparency’ will be showing in the Chapel at YSP until 4th September 2016 from 10am to 5pm daily. I thoroughly recommend visiting, both this exhibition and the many other delights the park has to offer. Stay tuned for more YSP features on the Pocket Gallery blog in the coming weeks!



Images courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park & Jonty Wilde

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