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Rachel Whiteread: Ghost in the Room

A profile of English artist Rachel Whiteread. Alan Yentob visits Rachel in her studio and revisits her most acclaimed and controversial work, House.


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This programme contains some strong language

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The sculptor of a house who won this year's Turner Art Prize

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has watched her work being demolished.

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The piece, which has been variously described as

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a post-war masterpiece and a lumpish eyesore,

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was created by injecting an empty

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Edwardian terraced house with concrete,

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and then knocking the walls down.

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Many local people thought it ugly and a waste of money.

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The man who lived in the house for 50 years wasn't sorry to see it go.

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He knows what kind of art he likes, and it isn't this.

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Most of the people around here that I've spoken to,

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and if you see anybody go on the bus, or if you're on a bus,

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they say it's a waste of money, it's just a load of concrete to them.

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If the purpose of modern art is to provoke us to think twice

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about the world we live in, then Rachel Whiteread's house

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has been a triumphant success.

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The artist exploring the new

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is always liable to derision and hostility.

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The new is always shocking.

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The 1993 winner of the Turner Prize is...

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Rachel Whiteread.

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In 1993, the British sculptor Rachel Whiteread

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became the first woman to win the Turner Prize.

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This perceptive, understated artist is celebrated across the world...

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..but Rachel Whiteread has always had a knack

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for courting controversy.

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On the same night that she received the £20,000 Turner Prize,

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she was forced out onto the steps of the Tate

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to accept a £40,000 protest prize for the worst artist in the world.

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I mean, it's quite something

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that the most significant work that you make is about to be demolished,

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that you're the best artist in Britain,

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and the worst on the same day.

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Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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And you're better rewarded for being the worst

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-than you are for being the best.

-Yes. Yeah.

-So, no wonder...

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I'm surprised you're still with us!

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SHE LAUGHS

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Rachel's preparing for the largest exhibition of her work to date.

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MAN HUMS

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I choose things because of their humbleness, really...

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..and they're things that we all have some sort of relationship with.

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It's making space real,

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it's kind of giving space an authority

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that it's never had before.

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It's like that space underneath your desk

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that your legs have always gone under,

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you know, it's suddenly there.

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It's solid.

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I started making these pieces

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with the cast of the space underneath the chair.

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I wasn't satisfied with casting one,

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and I cast about ten different chairs.

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I wanted to make a sort of absence of an audience.

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There's something very architectural about it.

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Something quite sad about it.

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You do feel a real absence.

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There's an element of her work that is highly formal,

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that comes out of minimalism...

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..but she's managed to give a feeling back to minimalism,

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she's allowed it to touch you.

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She's allowed...

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..memory to be both...

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..particular and personal...

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..but also universal.

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I knew throughout college that there was something I was trying to do,

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but I couldn't draw it out properly.

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I had been thinking about my parents, where they had come from,

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the kind of families that they had,

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the kind of furniture that they might have had.

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CHILDREN SHOUT

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When I was a little kid,

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I used to enjoy hiding in my mum and dad's wardrobe.

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I had two older sisters, we'd play hide and seek and stuff,

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but also I think I was bullied a bit.

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It was a little, safe, cosy place that you could go.

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I just remember the smell of the clothes,

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and the furry blackness of the space.

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I wanted to somehow make that real.

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I didn't really know what I was going to do.

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I just thought,

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"I'll make a big plaster cast of this wardrobe and see what happens."

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I shut the doors and just kind of crossed my fingers,

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peeled it off, and I'd made this thing.

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I covered it with black felt.

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I was like, "Wow, actually, that's really interesting."

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The lock's all back to front and where the wood is, it's not...

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..and it just felt right.

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It somehow felt that I'd found my...

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..place, or something. Something fitted together.

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I'd somehow managed to make memories solid.

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Rachel Whiteread was born in Essex in 1963.

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The youngest of three girls.

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Her father was a geography teacher, and her mother an artist.

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It was a kind of nurturing household...

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..but also, I would say, later in life,

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I've realised probably a bit neglectful, as well,

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in terms of, erm, just letting us get on with

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what the hell we wanted to do, really.

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Which was great in lots of ways.

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But I think it was, you know,

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there were times that were quite tough in our family.

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-What kind of tough?

-Er, my parents, you know,

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had moments of not really getting on so well.

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My mum had some...

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you know, she dealt with depression quite a lot.

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There were trials, definitely.

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It wasn't a sort of idyllic sort of unflawed childhood.

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Tell me about your mum, then.

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Being a woman artist at that time, that was quite unusual.

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She was a big character, my mum, and she was...

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People, if they met her, they remembered her, you know?

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She was a feminist?

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Yeah, I think she was certainly a strong voice

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and she was quite eccentric,

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and she wasn't going to be told that she couldn't do something.

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There was a show called the Women's Images Of Men

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which was shown, selected in our basement.

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I'd come home from school and make coffee for all these rabid feminists

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who were all shouting at each other in the basement.

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There was some terrible work.

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Even I remember, as a kid,

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looking at this thing and thinking, "Blimey!"

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But there were some great things, as well.

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I always feel very grateful to her and her generation

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for having stuck their necks out

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to make it possible for my generation to do what we do.

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I'm also thinking about your father who was a geographer.

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When I was a little kid, our back garden was a massive field,

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and beyond the back garden there was a Roman road...

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..which I always remember as being one of the most exciting things -

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and I'd often walk along the Roman road with my dad

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and think about what had happened there.

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And he'd go, "This is a Roman brick!"

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And be incredibly excited about it.

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He was interested in making the stuff of the world alive.

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We'd go on these sort of family Sundays to Victorian waste tips,

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and get entire dinner services.

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All this stuff you'd just dig out

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and you'd go to the guy at the end and say, "How much for this lot?"

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And he'd say, "Well, it'll be three quid."

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You'd get an entire dinner service for £3!

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I must say, it's either something in your DNA, or...

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I mean, in some families,

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picking up rubbish from Victorian tips and bringing them home...

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-And eating off them!

-And eating off them,

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would not necessarily be a normal part of family life.

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Oh, it was day-to-day with us. Certainly, yeah.

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So, all of this stuff, somehow, is sort of, in my...

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I kind of feel it and live it,

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and somehow it comes back into what I do.

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I kind of recall that your father laid the cement floor

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in your mother's studio.

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Yes, and I helped.

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I would mix concrete and carry buckets of concrete down.

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I was only ten or something.

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Yeah.

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But I really enjoyed doing it.

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My dad was no real genius at making things.

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His father had been a carpenter.

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He had some sort of skill he'd learned from his dad.

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It was very much the thing that I did with my father.

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Was it inevitable that that was what you were going to do,

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-you were going to be an artist?

-No, not at all.

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And it was because of my mum.

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You know, I just didn't want to do what she did.

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And once I started...

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-You didn't want to?

-Didn't want to, no.

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So, you were resisting, in other words?

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I was resisting. I thought, "What am I doing?

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"Just go to art school, this is what you want to do,

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"why are you pretending you don't?"

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So, you're 18 years old, you leave home,

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and then you go to Brighton to study at the poly.

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I notice you're not making sculpture.

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Yeah. When I was at Brighton, I painted,

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"properly" painted in my first year.

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Second year, I was sort of getting bored

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of the edges of paper and canvas.

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Explain this to me - you were bored with the edges?

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I'd wanted to go further than the edge of something.

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So, I'd be like, ooh, I don't like the fact that that stops there.

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So, I'd then start making things and cutting things out.

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And then I got interested in the sculpture department.

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I sort of hijacked them, and started working down there, as well.

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And I just... I was one of those students that -

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I decided to work across all disciplines,

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which was exactly what the art school didn't like at that point.

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It's a great town to be at college.

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I'd go for these walks on the beach

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and I'd pick up what I'd call "found lines."

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They were always bits of metal, bits of rubber tyre and all this stuff,

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and I'd just constantly be picking it up

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and putting it in my panniers on my bike

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and cycling it back to the studio and making things with it.

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That's really where I first started to think about just using

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strange bits and bobs that I found.

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I would very often go for the ugly object,

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the thing that no-one else would want, that would be my preference.

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Yeah.

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The Tate Exhibition will trace Rachel's work over 30 years,

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starting with four pieces she made for her first solo show in 1988.

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Everything that I've always used has been second-hand.

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And there's nothing more seedy, really,

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than a second-hand hot water bottle.

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WATER FLOWS

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The process of filling a hot water bottle

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is very, sort of, emotional and familiar.

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If we've been fortunate enough to have a relatively happy childhood

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and family life, then these things are all part of our history.

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These things really do have the essence of us on them, somehow.

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Casting the space inside a cupboard, under a bed -

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it's interesting that all this happened at a time

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when your father was terminally ill.

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There was definitely a sadness within me

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that I knew my father was dying.

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You know, he was gradually slipping away.

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A lot of the work had been...

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..incubating, really, throughout that time.

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The piece that was most to do with that

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was the cast of the space underneath the bed.

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People have said it was the bed that I was born in,

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it was the bed that my father died in, it was, you know,

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everyone wants to have a, you know...

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It was a bed.

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That moved me, that idea, because, actually, I do recall...

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-Hiding?

-Hiding under a bed -

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and it's a very early memory for just about everyone.

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And it's the claustrophobia,

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it's the smell of the hessian, it's the dust.

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It's the space you never think about.

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Rachel had been channelling her energy

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into small neglected objects...

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..but for her next project, Ghost,

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she looked beyond the object to the space that surrounds it.

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It's like every room I've lived in, you know,

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it's like the room I was born in...

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..and when I left home and moved to Brighton, I had...

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It was virtually exactly the same as the first room I had

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when I left home.

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There had to be a fireplace,

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a door, window, cornicing and skirting board.

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There were these five elements that it had to have.

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Working over a period of 18 months,

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Rachel cast the entire room in plaster panels,

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and rebuilt it in her studio,

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so that the edges and surfaces were now on the outside.

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It was, she said, as if she had mummified the air inside the room.

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Ghost says everything,

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and Ghost is the linchpin in the development

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of what sculpture can do.

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Making material out of the immaterial,

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making the intimate monumental, making the private palpable.

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That somehow here is this space that has become an object.

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I mean, that itself is an extraordinary idea.

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I've been using plaster for years, now.

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It's incredibly sensitive

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and will pick up the minutest detail of colour.

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So, the surface of it, to me, feels like a kind of fresco.

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It's picking up traces of former lives

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of the people that lived in there.

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We think of the rooms that we live and eat and talk and die in

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as a result of the confrontation with Ghost.

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Ghost was bought by Charles Saatchi.

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He showed it alongside Damien Hirst's Shark

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in a small show that first coined the term YBAs.

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Young British Artists.

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Rachel emerged at the very moment when...

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..the phrase young British artists was applied to every artist

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aged 25-35 who was working in Britain...

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..but I've always felt that she was in a slightly different position

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from - even Sarah Lucas, and definitely Damian.

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Somehow, she was always slightly apart.

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LAUGHTER

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So, what do you have in common? What made you decide to work together?

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-Well...

-We both... One big thing.

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We both lost our virginity in Margate.

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We were all a group, we were all friends, we all knew each other.

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LAUGHTER

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We'd been swimming in London

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and Rachel and a few other people came round to my flat

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about seven o'clock in the morning and we carried on drinking...

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..and Rachel put her underwear over the back of a chair,

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and it dried completely...

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..as if it was in plaster...

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..and I always remember thinking that I had a small Rachel Whiteread.

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But Rachel's a really good example

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of why the YBA thing wasn't actually genuine and real.

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It was just a label.

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Rachel's work is poetic, has clarity,

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and it's always been very, very mature.

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The success of Ghost brought Rachel the backing she needed

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to push her idea further.

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This time, she wanted to cast not just one room but an entire house.

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Eventually, this place came up.

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I was just absolutely blown away by the site

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and the fact that it was on this sort of green corridor.

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At the end of the street you could see Canary Wharf

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which had been Thatcher's dream that had been built in the '80s.

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So it always had that sort of political edge to it.

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I'd never done anything quite like that before on that scale.

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Rachel worked with a small team stripping the walls,

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sealing up all the gaps,

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digging new foundations so that the house became a mould to be cast.

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It wasn't, as some people suggested, a case of making a house

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by pouring concrete down the chimney

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or squirting it through the letterbox.

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There are enormous technical challenges in a work of that scale.

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The method they adopted was at the time being developed

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to build the Channel Tunnel.

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They constructed the inner walls

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using a high velocity concrete spray.

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It was beyond a challenge.

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No-one's ever done anything like that...

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..and she was really young then -

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she was only about 29 when she took that project on.

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I really had utmost respect for her.

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It had taken three months,

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but, gradually, the structure of the original house was peeled away.

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On the 24th of October 1993, the sculpture was revealed.

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You saw this lone...

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..mid-terraced house, the entire terrace had gone.

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And there was a kind of monument

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which was also the kind of cast of the place that had been there.

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You imagine the life that went on.

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The shouts from upper windows for the kids to come in,

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time for their tea.

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The daily business of going out to work and coming home again.

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Up the front steps.

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It attracted crowds.

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People flew into London particularly to see it.

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They would get in a cab at Heathrow

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and say, "Take me to House,"

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and the cabbies would know exactly where it was...

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..but, at the same time, there was a sort of animosity towards it.

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The fact that something that was treated with such respect

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could have been made, really,

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on the back of an ordinary East End working class house

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struck some people as insulting, in some way.

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They felt that, like a lot of contemporary art,

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it was pulling the wool over their eyes.

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I do like sculpture that looks like what it's supposed to.

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I quite like this behind us.

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I certainly don't think it would be improved by having it inside out.

0:24:490:24:52

She told me that she sat at the end of the road

0:24:520:24:56

in a car with a newspaper in front of her face

0:24:560:24:59

with a couple of holes poked in it

0:24:590:25:01

so she could watch anonymously what was happening -

0:25:010:25:04

and I think she was pleased, obviously,

0:25:040:25:06

but aghast and perhaps a bit terrified

0:25:060:25:10

of the kinds of attention it had.

0:25:100:25:12

Rachel had been nominated for the Turner Prize that year,

0:25:180:25:22

but the whole thing would come to a head

0:25:220:25:24

on the very day of the awards ceremony.

0:25:240:25:26

23rd of November, 1993.

0:25:300:25:32

-Tell me about it.

-Oh, gosh.

0:25:320:25:34

Yes, what a day that was.

0:25:340:25:36

Yeah...

0:25:370:25:38

23rd of November.

0:25:390:25:41

Yeah, so, I woke up in the morning.

0:25:410:25:42

Didn't really think about much

0:25:440:25:45

except, "It's the Turner Prize tonight, wonder what'll happen?"

0:25:450:25:49

And the phone rings and it is this KLF bunch

0:25:490:25:52

who decided that I've been voted the worst artist in the world.

0:25:520:25:58

In the weeks leading up to this,

0:25:580:25:59

a group calling themselves

0:25:590:26:01

the K Foundation had taken out a full page

0:26:010:26:04

advert in The Sun asking readers

0:26:040:26:06

to vote for the worst artist in the world.

0:26:060:26:09

Bearing in mind the Turner Prize was £20,000,

0:26:090:26:13

they were giving me £40,000 and, if I refused to receive it,

0:26:130:26:17

-they were going to burn it.

-They were going to burn it?

0:26:170:26:20

They were going to burn it, burn the money,

0:26:200:26:22

and it was going to be my fault.

0:26:220:26:24

And I was, like, "You fuckers," you know?

0:26:240:26:27

I decided,

0:26:270:26:28

after a lot of umming and ahing that I would take the money

0:26:280:26:32

but I would give it away.

0:26:320:26:33

All of this was going on,

0:26:380:26:39

I was beginning to get a bit of a nervous wreck.

0:26:390:26:42

The 1993 winner of the Turner prize, Rachel Whiteread.

0:26:430:26:50

I had to then go and deal with the fucking KLF.

0:26:550:26:58

Sorry...

0:26:590:27:01

You're allowed to say that.

0:27:010:27:03

I think it's perfectly appropriate...

0:27:030:27:05

And it was just, like, oh, my God,

0:27:050:27:07

I just felt like my head was going to explode.

0:27:070:27:10

And on that same night when she won the Turner prize

0:27:230:27:27

a vote was taking place

0:27:270:27:28

to decide whether House would be granted a stay of execution

0:27:280:27:33

to spare it from planned demolition.

0:27:330:27:35

Making House was really stressful,

0:27:390:27:42

and then everything that went with it was very stressful,

0:27:420:27:44

and the fact that I never really saw it, in a way,

0:27:440:27:47

because I made it and then there was this whole circus around it,

0:27:470:27:52

and then we pulled it down.

0:27:520:27:53

I was there for the demolition.

0:27:550:27:57

-How was it?

-Quite heartbreaking, really.

0:27:570:27:59

Yeah.

0:28:010:28:03

Heartbreaking.

0:28:030:28:04

I was quite unwell for a few months afterwards.

0:28:070:28:09

I think it undoubtedly destabilised her

0:28:180:28:22

while also catapulting her forward

0:28:220:28:25

in terms of an international reputation.

0:28:250:28:27

The Berlin Wall fell in the final weeks of 1989.

0:28:390:28:43

Soon after, Rachel and her husband, the artist Marcus Taylor,

0:28:480:28:52

came to live in the city.

0:28:520:28:54

A lot of these Germans had moved over there.

0:28:550:28:58

There was... There was unrest.

0:28:580:29:00

People were suspicious of one another, I would say...

0:29:020:29:05

..and it made me think about what it must have been like,

0:29:080:29:11

you know, during the war.

0:29:110:29:12

I'd spent a lot of time going to concentration camps and cemeteries,

0:29:180:29:23

and just really thinking about it.

0:29:230:29:25

In 1996, Rachel entered a competition

0:29:290:29:33

to design a Holocaust memorial for the city of Vienna.

0:29:330:29:37

Her idea then was a sort of ghost library,

0:29:390:29:42

rows of books cast in concrete with their spines turned inwards.

0:29:420:29:47

Books written, books unwritten,

0:29:520:29:54

books never able to be written because their authors were murdered.

0:29:540:29:57

She chose a library,

0:30:000:30:02

a place of knowledge.

0:30:020:30:03

And it won.

0:30:100:30:11

How did you feel?

0:30:130:30:14

Totally terrified.

0:30:160:30:17

Ten people firing questions at me,

0:30:180:30:21

saying things like, "It looks like a bunker!"

0:30:210:30:23

Really, does it? I didn't realise.

0:30:240:30:27

Knowing full well that that's exactly what I was trying to make,

0:30:270:30:31

something that was as aggressive as that.

0:30:310:30:33

They needed something aggressive there.

0:30:340:30:36

If it had been something polite,

0:30:360:30:40

it wouldn't have worked.

0:30:400:30:41

One of the jurors was Simon Wiesenthal,

0:30:430:30:46

who had spent years campaigning for a Holocaust memorial in Vienna.

0:30:460:30:50

He was very proud of what he thought was this young Jewess

0:30:520:30:55

who was going to be making this Holocaust memorial...

0:30:550:30:58

..and there was this big stack of TV and news people,

0:30:590:31:03

everyone with cameras, and he had his arm around me,

0:31:030:31:06

and they said, "Rachel, Rachel, are you Jewish?"

0:31:060:31:10

And I said, "No."

0:31:100:31:13

And his arm fell from my side.

0:31:130:31:15

It was a very male dominated group of people,

0:31:190:31:23

and I don't think they had ever met somebody like Rachel.

0:31:230:31:26

This is then set into the prefab structure.

0:31:280:31:30

You pour around it and then you just remove the ceiling rose,

0:31:300:31:34

-and that way...

-No, no.

-Why not?

0:31:340:31:35

HE SPEAKS GERMAN

0:31:370:31:38

There would be a surface full of bubbles that way.

0:31:420:31:46

This could be made in rubber, with air holes going through it.

0:31:460:31:51

HE SPEAKS GERMAN

0:31:510:31:54

Yeah, but I've just made a suggestion,

0:31:570:32:00

and you nodded, and you went like that,

0:32:000:32:02

so I don't know how we're standing.

0:32:020:32:04

Often there was a Kafkaesque series of meetings.

0:32:050:32:10

They just seemed to go on endlessly

0:32:100:32:13

without decisions being made.

0:32:130:32:15

I mean, you're looking at me as if I'm a kind of madwoman.

0:32:150:32:19

I cast all the time.

0:32:190:32:23

I've been casting for ten years in every material

0:32:230:32:25

you can possibly think of.

0:32:250:32:26

I'm not an idiot. I know what I'm talking about.

0:32:260:32:29

While Rachel held her ground over the technical processes,

0:32:290:32:33

there were still more obstacles to come.

0:32:330:32:36

The piece faced opposition from neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers -

0:32:360:32:41

but also from the Jewish community in Vienna

0:32:410:32:43

who didn't want the sculpture to be built

0:32:430:32:46

on the site of a former synagogue.

0:32:460:32:48

By the end of 1996,

0:32:490:32:51

it didn't seem that the memorial would ever be built.

0:32:510:32:54

The theme of the book continued to haunt Rachel

0:33:010:33:04

as she diverted her energy in a new direction.

0:33:040:33:07

I've been neurotic in making book things

0:33:100:33:12

because I haven't been able to finish it in Vienna.

0:33:120:33:15

You know, you get results quickly.

0:33:250:33:28

Well, I can make the whole thing from start to finish

0:33:300:33:32

in three months,

0:33:320:33:34

not three years, or 30 years, or however long it might take.

0:33:340:33:37

You know, I just think it's unforgivable how they've...

0:33:380:33:41

..treated me over there, really.

0:33:430:33:45

It was exhausting for her...

0:33:470:33:49

..and, for quite some time afterwards, even...

0:33:500:33:54

..the word Vienna was filled with dread for her.

0:33:560:33:59

When, in the summer of 1997,

0:34:130:34:16

Rachel took on the British pavilion in the Venice Biennale,

0:34:160:34:20

she showed a room filled with absent books.

0:34:200:34:24

MAN SINGS IN OWN LANGUAGE

0:34:370:34:40

It had been five years in the making,

0:35:130:35:16

but Rachel Whiteread's Holocaust memorial

0:35:160:35:19

had finally won over its detractors,

0:35:190:35:21

including Simon Wiesenthal.

0:35:210:35:24

Right in the heart of the city of Vienna you have this oasis of calm,

0:35:460:35:53

of silence, of contemplation, of reflection,

0:35:530:35:57

and it is completely carried by this memorial.

0:35:570:36:01

I'm really proud that it's there.

0:36:050:36:07

It is doing its job very well...

0:36:090:36:11

..but it wasn't a joyful experience.

0:36:130:36:16

I don't think one should be happy about making something like that.

0:36:260:36:30

It's a really big deal,

0:36:330:36:35

and it's...

0:36:350:36:37

..kind of...

0:36:390:36:40

Takes a lot out of you, you know?

0:36:440:36:46

You just have to be...

0:36:480:36:49

..you know, well emotionally equipped to do something like that.

0:36:510:36:54

And, over the years, I've done my fair share of...

0:36:560:36:58

..sculptures that have...

0:36:590:37:01

..taken a lot out of me, to be honest. You know, and...

0:37:020:37:05

..made me quite unwell.

0:37:060:37:09

You know, sort of, a bit too sensitive, sometimes,

0:37:120:37:16

for these things.

0:37:160:37:17

You know, they can leave big scars.

0:37:210:37:23

Far beyond the public gaze, Rachel has been working

0:37:410:37:45

with casts of sheds, huts and cabins

0:37:450:37:48

in a series of works she calls Shy Sculptures.

0:37:480:37:52

They exist more as mental sculptures than physical ones.

0:38:010:38:06

We imagine their presence.

0:38:060:38:08

Part of the reason for seeing the pieces is the journey

0:38:120:38:15

and the way of getting there and the anticipation...

0:38:150:38:18

..and the slowness of the work.

0:38:190:38:21

We all want, now, the sort of instant hit

0:38:400:38:42

for everything that we see and do.

0:38:420:38:44

I wanted it to be a slow version of the work.

0:38:510:38:53

I do very much like the idea that somewhere in the Mojave desert

0:39:070:39:11

is a Rachel Whiteread sculpture

0:39:110:39:14

that hardly anyone will ever see.

0:39:140:39:17

The series of Shy Sculptures,

0:39:430:39:45

they are a natural progression for Rachel.

0:39:450:39:48

Cabin on Governors Island looks over the scene of 9/11,

0:39:530:39:59

so it is both a very gentle sculpture,

0:39:590:40:03

a Shy Sculpture sitting in a very unassuming landscape

0:40:030:40:07

that you might come across,

0:40:070:40:10

but the position she has chosen is quite resonant...

0:40:100:40:13

..and, I think, probably as close as she would want to come

0:40:140:40:18

to making an actual monument to 9/11.

0:40:180:40:21

It is situated looking straight out to the site

0:40:260:40:29

of where the twin towers were.

0:40:290:40:32

When we actually placed the work there,

0:40:330:40:35

I really had a very strange sort of out of body moment.

0:40:350:40:39

I knew what I was doing but once we actually put it there, it was like,

0:40:420:40:46

"Fuck, you know, this is quite something, actually."

0:40:460:40:49

SHIP HORN SOUNDS

0:40:510:40:53

This wasn't the first time that Rachel had made work

0:41:000:41:03

in response to the streets of New York.

0:41:030:41:05

Soon after making House,

0:41:120:41:14

I was walking around New York feeling a little bit wary,

0:41:140:41:18

shall we say, after having had this amazing sort of shitstorm

0:41:180:41:23

in London around House.

0:41:230:41:25

I wasn't really ready for doing the same thing in New York...

0:41:250:41:28

..and I just couldn't contend with the street in that way,

0:41:300:41:34

and eventually just started looking up.

0:41:340:41:36

I had always noticed the water towers.

0:41:390:41:42

It was one of the things that struck me.

0:41:430:41:45

I remember sort of thinking about them

0:41:470:41:49

as part of the furniture of New York...

0:41:490:41:51

..and then I thought, "Wow, if you cast that in resin,

0:41:540:41:57

"you could make, like, this jewel, like a diamond

0:41:570:41:59

"that pings in the sky there."

0:41:590:42:02

Back in London in 2001,

0:42:250:42:28

faced with the prospect of making a temporary sculpture

0:42:280:42:31

to sit on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square,

0:42:310:42:34

Rachel used the same transparent resin

0:42:340:42:38

to subvert the very idea of a monument.

0:42:380:42:42

When I was asked to do it,

0:42:420:42:43

I was just wanting to make something that was a pause

0:42:430:42:46

in the middle of London.

0:42:460:42:48

It is a very complex and expensive pause.

0:42:500:42:52

Why was it so difficult?

0:42:570:42:58

No-one had ever cast something

0:42:590:43:01

that big in resin, so you just didn't quite

0:43:010:43:03

know what was going to happen to it.

0:43:030:43:05

The heat generated whilst making the material

0:43:050:43:07

makes it very unpredictable.

0:43:070:43:09

Endless problems - it was just a pain to make.

0:43:110:43:14

I have never seen a crack in any of our stuff...

0:43:160:43:18

..before today.

0:43:190:43:21

So, when you first said crack, there's a crack, I thought crack?

0:43:210:43:24

That doesn't look cracked.

0:43:240:43:26

But I've never done anything like this, so...

0:43:260:43:28

MAN HUMS

0:43:300:43:32

If you have been wondering what is being kept under wraps

0:43:430:43:46

in Trafalgar Square over the weekend - and haven't we all? -

0:43:460:43:49

today the secret was revealed. A new piece of public art.

0:43:490:43:52

It is designed to bring a moment of peace

0:43:520:43:53

to the bustle of Central London,

0:43:530:43:55

it is also the biggest object ever made from resin.

0:43:550:43:57

It weighs 11 tonnes and it is a mirror image

0:43:590:44:02

of the plinth it stands on.

0:44:020:44:04

But not everyone was impressed.

0:44:090:44:11

I never intended to become an artist that made public monuments.

0:44:140:44:18

It's just happened that way.

0:44:200:44:22

The challenge that we have,

0:44:260:44:27

and I think Rachel's work with the Fourth Plinth did it so perfectly,

0:44:270:44:32

is to find an appropriate replacement for

0:44:320:44:36

the plinth monument...

0:44:360:44:38

..while not doing the job, I think, as it were,

0:44:400:44:43

it's an extraordinary hinge

0:44:430:44:45

that makes the question vital

0:44:450:44:48

and immediate and apparent.

0:44:480:44:50

How do we make things that can be the focus for hope and fear?

0:44:520:44:56

Our collective idea

0:44:580:45:01

of what the future might be.

0:45:010:45:03

Perhaps in that transparent, open upper...

0:45:070:45:12

..plinth, now rendered weightless and luminous...

0:45:130:45:20

..those sort of hopes are encapsulated.

0:45:220:45:25

Now, at the same time that you are making these public sculptures,

0:45:570:46:00

you're also making casts of your own home,

0:46:000:46:02

the building you were living in.

0:46:020:46:04

We found this building in Shoreditch,

0:46:060:46:09

it had originally been a Christian church and then it was a synagogue,

0:46:090:46:12

then it was a textiles warehouse.

0:46:120:46:15

It was one of those buildings

0:46:150:46:17

that had just been left for years and years and years,

0:46:170:46:20

no-one had really paid it any notice whatsoever -

0:46:200:46:23

and I was interested in the sort of nothing architecture,

0:46:230:46:26

the nothingness of it, really.

0:46:260:46:28

And I wanted to make that concrete.

0:46:280:46:31

So, what I'm standing in now is the staircase that is going to be cast.

0:46:320:46:38

I had to make decisions about how high it was, where walls ended,

0:46:380:46:43

where things began, where things stopped.

0:46:430:46:45

So this is essentially what this is,

0:46:450:46:48

this will be blocked off and this area will be blocked off

0:46:480:46:51

so this will be a big, white solid going down here,

0:46:510:46:56

around the corner and then some spaces underneath it

0:46:560:46:59

will also be cast.

0:46:590:47:00

When I made House,

0:47:080:47:09

the one part of House that I was unhappy with

0:47:090:47:13

was the staircase, because when I cast it,

0:47:130:47:16

what I had actually done was cast around it,

0:47:160:47:18

and you just had this sort of wooden spine.

0:47:180:47:21

I never felt that I had resolved it properly,

0:47:220:47:24

so, in the way that I do things,

0:47:240:47:26

I was like, "I know, I'll make three of them."

0:47:260:47:29

So, explain this to me.

0:47:310:47:33

This is the staircase.

0:47:330:47:35

-So, if you imagine it that way up.

-Oh, yes, of course.

0:47:350:47:39

-Yeah.

-So they are stairs that you walk up.

-Yeah.

0:47:390:47:43

The detailing, when you start to look at it...

0:47:450:47:47

-Yeah.

-It's just like the bookshelves, in a sense.

0:47:470:47:49

-Yeah.

-And the books touching the surfaces.

0:47:490:47:52

Well, it is all to do with that ghostly touch of things

0:47:520:47:55

and the way things get worn down by human presence

0:47:550:47:59

and the essence of human is sort of left on these things,

0:47:590:48:03

whether it's the pages of books or staircases or doors or windows.

0:48:030:48:08

What is going on in your own life at that time?

0:48:110:48:13

2001?

0:48:150:48:17

2001, I was thinking about becoming a mum, actually.

0:48:170:48:20

Which eventually happened -

0:48:220:48:24

and that has been a really amazing part of my life.

0:48:240:48:28

It's been a, you know, a juggling...

0:48:280:48:31

..game and, you know - but we have got through it.

0:48:330:48:36

We have been together for nearly 30 years, you know?

0:48:370:48:40

-Have you really?

-Yeah.

0:48:400:48:41

Over 30 years, actually.

0:48:440:48:45

Did your work change at all when the children arrived?

0:48:470:48:50

I mean, you have always been drawn to make things

0:48:500:48:52

from the stuff of everyday life...

0:48:520:48:54

It was really... Got into colour for a while,

0:48:550:48:59

and sort of colour and domestic rubbish, really,

0:48:590:49:02

were the two things that I was playing with -

0:49:020:49:04

and maybe that is something that was from the kids, you know,

0:49:040:49:08

there was more colour about, you know, when the kids arrived,

0:49:080:49:11

all their plastic crap comes with them and, you know,

0:49:110:49:14

your house becomes a sort of different place,

0:49:140:49:18

a different landscape of things.

0:49:180:49:20

And you made that rather beautiful piece with the cast of -

0:49:220:49:25

wasn't it the inner tube of a toilet roll?

0:49:250:49:29

So I started working with all of that stuff and playing, actually,

0:49:290:49:33

I really enjoyed playing.

0:49:330:49:34

MACHINE WHIRS

0:49:410:49:43

Rachel's latest work takes a more destructive approach

0:49:550:49:58

to the stuff of everyday life.

0:49:580:50:00

This is Rachel's shredder.

0:50:050:50:06

When I moved studios, it was a kind of rush,

0:50:200:50:22

and I just couldn't get my head around throwing everything away,

0:50:220:50:26

so I took an awful lot of stuff with me

0:50:260:50:29

and then went through all of my cabinets

0:50:290:50:31

and then started shredding it all.

0:50:310:50:33

I bought three different types of shredder.

0:50:330:50:36

Three different types of shredder?

0:50:360:50:37

Yeah, the ones that had long... you know, some are cross cut,

0:50:370:50:41

so you could make a different sort of texture.

0:50:410:50:43

For her most recent exhibition, at the Lorcan O'Neill Gallery in Rome,

0:51:100:51:15

Rachel has shred the paper trail of her life

0:51:150:51:18

to cast the walls of a 100-year-old shed.

0:51:180:51:22

What emerges is a sort of deconstructed

0:51:220:51:25

Shy Sculpture in flat-pack form.

0:51:250:51:28

One section, entitled Wall Door,

0:51:320:51:35

is made from the shredded correspondence and images of House.

0:51:350:51:39

Others are made from whatever came to hand.

0:51:520:51:54

So this... This is called Wall Apex, and this is cast from...

0:51:560:52:00

With all sorts of different...

0:52:000:52:02

You know, you can see, look, some tomatoes, there.

0:52:020:52:05

-Really?

-Yeah. Yeah. There's bits of tomato.

0:52:070:52:11

If you really, sort of, look across the surface, you can pick out words,

0:52:110:52:15

"..period Suite in exquisite..." something, it says there.

0:52:150:52:18

That was an antique furniture catalogue

0:52:200:52:22

that I had that was shredded.

0:52:220:52:24

-You can recognise...

-I can recognise what that was, yeah. Yeah.

0:52:240:52:28

It's very...

0:52:310:52:32

Well, someone said it's very, sort of, Proustian,

0:52:340:52:36

but I think it's more OCD than that, actually.

0:52:360:52:40

So, do your family come and say, where's my...?

0:52:420:52:45

-Where is it?

-Where's my maths homework gone?

-Yes.

0:52:460:52:51

BELL TOLLS

0:52:570:52:58

Also on display in the gallery in Rome,

0:53:090:53:12

in a case like a religious relic,

0:53:120:53:14

is a book Rachel made in collaboration

0:53:140:53:17

with the Irish writer Colm Toibin.

0:53:170:53:20

"When you say that he redeemed the world,

0:53:230:53:26

"I will say that it was not worth it.

0:53:260:53:30

"It was not worth it."

0:53:320:53:34

In 2011, Toibin wrote a one-woman show,

0:53:380:53:41

giving voice to the Virgin Mary,

0:53:410:53:44

who gives a frank, first-hand account

0:53:440:53:47

of the life and death of her son.

0:53:470:53:49

Colm approached Rachel to create images to accompany the text.

0:53:560:54:00

I mean, the reason why we went to see Rachel

0:54:010:54:03

was that there are very ordinary things in this text

0:54:030:54:06

to do with the Virgin Mary.

0:54:060:54:08

She's a human before she's anything.

0:54:080:54:09

She's living in a domestic space before there's anything.

0:54:090:54:12

In the studio, she had this jumble of objects that looked like things

0:54:150:54:20

that anyone could have collected anywhere.

0:54:200:54:22

In other words, what she is brilliant at

0:54:220:54:25

is that idea of the tactfully-made image,

0:54:250:54:27

the purity of it,

0:54:270:54:29

and that whatever happens to you as you look at these images

0:54:290:54:34

is mysterious.

0:54:340:54:35

Some candles - and one of them will have been used and put out.

0:54:370:54:41

The eye just goes there for one second.

0:54:430:54:46

I think I saw something or felt something

0:54:480:54:52

that I cannot fully articulate.

0:54:520:54:54

These were the cheapest things.

0:54:590:55:02

Your enamel, water...

0:55:020:55:04

Just picking something up and looking at it

0:55:040:55:07

and some memory or some emotion

0:55:070:55:09

that was private and secret and was hers.

0:55:090:55:13

It was one that she would then seek to hand to you, to communicate.

0:55:130:55:17

Everything that is used in the book, you know,

0:55:230:55:25

they are all things that are very much a part of our everyday lives.

0:55:250:55:29

Things that mean something to me, though -

0:55:320:55:34

for example, my mother's shoes are in it.

0:55:340:55:37

There are some chairs that I bought with my husband over the years.

0:55:370:55:41

There are candles that I bought at a jumble sale about 30 years ago.

0:55:410:55:45

There are... You know, there are things in it that I've had forever

0:55:450:55:48

in the studio, and have never really known what to do with them.

0:55:480:55:51

"Memory fills my body as much as blood and bones.

0:55:540:56:00

"As the world holds its breath, I keep memory in."

0:56:070:56:13

When I was a little kid,

0:56:250:56:26

I remember so clearly going to the Museum of Childhood.

0:56:260:56:30

It was a long road that, sort of, lead to the heart of the East End,

0:56:330:56:38

the depths of East London...

0:56:380:56:40

..and I just can so remember that feeling of being all excited,

0:56:460:56:50

seeing all these doll's houses and being totally amazed by them.

0:56:500:56:53

These tiny worlds

0:56:590:57:02

of domestic life...

0:57:020:57:04

..and then I can really clearly remember the journeys back,

0:57:120:57:17

taken along this road again, and the night-time,

0:57:170:57:20

and the, sort of, autumnal skies, and the night drawing in early...

0:57:200:57:27

and...

0:57:270:57:28

..counting the lights along the dual carriageway,

0:57:290:57:33

I always remember, was...

0:57:330:57:35

You'd just get, sort of, mesmerised, as you only can when you're a kid.

0:57:350:57:40

Literally count the lights, for the, sort of, 25 miles, and, erm...

0:57:400:57:45

It often would be, work comes from an emotive state,

0:57:480:57:53

or from something that I remember, and then I just...

0:57:530:57:56

..kind of worry that place and see what happens.

0:57:580:58:01

I started to collect doll's houses

0:58:040:58:06

and just building with them almost like building blocks.

0:58:060:58:09

It's a bit macabre, and it's sort of...

0:58:120:58:15

There's parts of it that sort of feel a bit sentimental,

0:58:150:58:18

and other parts that feel quite, you know...

0:58:180:58:21

..nightmarish.

0:58:230:58:24

When my mum passed away, she died very suddenly,

0:58:340:58:40

and my sisters and I found it very hard to pack up her house,

0:58:400:58:44

and we just all, you know, were in, sort of, denial, actually,

0:58:440:58:48

for quite some time.

0:58:480:58:49

We sort of started in the basement and worked up.

0:58:520:58:55

There was this box, and I just kept it.

0:58:550:58:58

My sisters were like, "Chuck that away."

0:59:000:59:02

I was going, "No, no, I'm going to keep that." You know?

0:59:020:59:06

And when I was asked to make something for the Turbine Hall...

0:59:060:59:09

..this box just kept niggling in the corner of my eye.

0:59:110:59:15

It was there going, "Look at me."

0:59:150:59:17

And I decided that what I wanted to do was to cast, you know,

0:59:190:59:23

thousands and thousands of boxes.

0:59:230:59:24

MAN HUMS

0:59:270:59:28

And my mother had never made a penny out of what she did.

0:59:340:59:37

I didn't for a moment expect myself to be a successful artist.

0:59:380:59:42

It was purely about just this dream

0:59:450:59:49

and just having this creative urge that I couldn't stop.

0:59:490:59:54

It's very bodily, which I'm very surprised at.

1:00:371:00:40

Because they have a, kind of, very organic feel to them,

1:00:421:00:47

and I really like that. Yeah, their softness.

1:00:471:00:50

I think my favourite piece is the bookshelf one.

1:00:541:00:57

This ghostly bookshelf where you can see the imprints of each page,

1:00:571:01:01

and it's really quite magical.

1:01:011:01:02

Seeing, like, a mattress by itself,

1:01:061:01:10

kind of, says abandonment - not rejection, but loneliness.

1:01:101:01:14

Everything here is a solidified piece of memory.

1:01:221:01:25

In a way, it's still there.

1:01:471:01:48

It exists as a memory.

1:01:501:01:51

It's an absence of an absence.

1:01:531:01:55

Even when I pass, as I frequently do,

1:02:031:02:06

that point between Roman Road and Globe Road,

1:02:061:02:10

and I can never pass without glancing back,

1:02:101:02:14

just in case it might be there again.

1:02:141:02:16

An intimate portrait of British sculptor Rachel Whiteread as she unpacks her life's work for a major retrospective at Tate Britain in London. Though she rose to prominence with the YBA generation of Young British Artists, Rachel Whiteread was always something of an outsider. Her work explores themes of memory and absence, casting sculptural forms from familiar domestic objects small and large, from sinks and hot water bottles to living rooms - and a terraced house. This film revisits Whiteread's acclaimed and controversial work House, a full-scale replica of the interior of a terraced house in London's East End that fuelled a national debate about contemporary art. Alan Yentob visits Rachel in her studio. She recalls the turbulent day in 1993 when she became the first woman to win the Turner Prize and simultaneously learned that house was to be demolished - and she would be obliged to accept a protest prize as the Worst Artist in the World. That day proved to be a turning point in a remarkable career. Since, Whiteread has represented Britain at the Venice Biennale and won the commission for yet another highly controversial, now universally-acclaimed work - The Holocaust Memorial in Vienna.