Exercise 3a: 193 Grove Road, Bow, London

The aim of this exercise is to begin to understand the emotional attachment a person may have to particular spaces, and why. To explore the difference between a house and a home; to look at the theoretical concept of ‘home’. To do this I have found out as much information as I can about the artist Rachel Whiteread and the 1993 work House.

Rachel Whiteread is an English artist who produces sculptures from everyday settings, objects, and surfaces and transforms them into replicas. She was the first woman to win the annual Turner Prize in 1993. Back in 1990 she was 27 years old and earning her money off the Enterprise Allowance Scheme that the government created to help young unemployed people earn a small income whilst setting up their own business. This was the year she set about making ‘Ghost’, it was her first large-scale sculpture, created by filling a room of a victorian house in North London with concrete to create a solid cast that picked up the details of the walls, mantle and windows.

Fig.1 ‘Ghost’ created using plaster and steel frame.

In the late 19th century, Grove Road, where ‘House’ would be constructed, was a typical row of terraced houses of the kind built throughout the East End of London. Some of the road was destroyed in the Second World War and by the 1950s, the area was covered with temporary housing. As new tower blocks were built the prefabs were removed. At the start of the 1990s, the terrace was no more. The final houses were demolished in early 1993. From the interior of the last remaining house Rachel Whiteread made her extraordinary sculpture. The work won the Turner Prize in 1993; Whiteread was the first woman to receive the award. (Artangel, s.d.)

The last victorian house standing belonged to Mr Sidney Gale, who had forcefully resisted eviction from No. 193 by the council for years, but realising his campaign would not end in a good result he eventually gave in and he was re-homed nearby.

Gale’s loss was artist Rachel Whiteread’s gain. The practitioner had been seeking a condemned property in London for over two years to realise a project which was essentially a development upon her Turner Prize nominated sculpture, Ghost (1990); a room-sized cast of a bedsit contained in a Victorian property in Archway. (Thacker, 2015)

Finally, after months of private persuasion and occasional public meetings, the councillors of Bow Neighbourhood voted by a small majority to give a temporary lease on 193 Grove Road. After several months’ more waiting, Whiteread took possession and the physical making of the work began in August 1993. From that moment, House was of a specific place and a particular time. And it was this configuration of time and place, with its attendant contingencies of local and national politics and the added spice of the 1993 Turner Prize which, as much as the physical appearance of the sculpture, created the meaning of House and determined the course of its short life. (Lingwood, 1995)

Fig.2 The last victorian house standing – 193 Grove Road, Bow.

Rachel used the physical house as a mould, making a cast from the interior by spraying a skin of liquid concrete around a metal armature constructed to support the weight of the work. It took over a month to coat the whole house and then another ten days were needed for the concrete to cure and set. Once solid, scaffolding was erected and Whiteread and her assistants began to remove the exterior brick structure.

Rachel Whiteread's House on Grove Road in Bow, photo by David Hoffman
Fig.3 Rachel Whiteread’s house view of Grove Road

Rachel was approached by two locals who had lived in the now demolished terrace for 40 years and thanked for ‘making their memories real’. The sculpture was hailed as one of the greatest public sculptures by an English artist in the 20th century. Others were annoyed at how they got a grant for creating it when they couldn’t even get a grant for their homes. They argued they could have bought a new home for their family with the same amount of money. I can understand both sides of the debate, but the building was being demolished and an artist took advantage of it’s skin to create a public sculpture, further reading led me to find out that the decision to demolish the sculpture was taken only on the casting vote of the Chairman of the Council after the councillors were equally divided, this is very unfair on the basis that the reasons for creating the sculpture were unclear, isn’t art all about capturing experience and provoking thought?

Further research led me to an article that talked about how one of London’s evening newspaper, The Evening Standard, was campaigning for a new monument, ‘The London Memorial’. Planned to commemorate the experience of London and its people during the Second World War before it passes beyond living memory; the people who served, those who died, were bombed out or displaced or survived. How ironic that a particular street in East London was one of the first places put forward – the place where the first flying bomb fell – none other than Grove Road in Bow. There is an English Heritage plaque on the railway bridge a little further down Grove Road that commemorates the first one to strike London. How very sad that Rachel’s sculpture, ‘House’ didn’t get recognised in this way and was ripped down on the day she was awarded The Turner Prize.

V1-flying-bomb
Fig. 4 The plaque that commemorates the first flying bomb falling in Grove Road.

Referencing

(Artangel, s.d.) https://www.artangel.org.uk/project/house/ (accessed 18.11.20)

(Thacker, 2015) https://romanroadlondon.com/rachel-whitereads-house-bows-legacy/ (accessed 19.11.20)

(Lingwood, 1995) https://www.artangel.org.uk/house/making-house/ (accessed 18.11.20)

Images

Fig.1 ‘Ghost’ created using plaster and steel frame https://gagosian.com/artists/rachel-whiteread/ (accessed 18.11.20)

Fig.2 The last victorian house standing – 193 Grove Road, Bow https://www.artangel.org.uk/house/making-house/ (accessed 19.11.20)

Fig.3 Rachel Whiteread’s house view of Grove Road https://romanroadlondon.com/rachel-whitereads-house-bows-legacy/ (accessed 19.11.20)

Fig. 4 The plaque that commemorates the first flying bomb falling in Grove Road https://exploring-london.com/category/areas-of-london/east-london/ (accessed 20.11.20)

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