Rachel Whiteread at Tate Modern

Rachel Whiteread is the latest person to do a big installation in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Embankment consists of lots of translucent white plastic casts of the internal space of cardboard boxes, piled in a mixture of regular and irregular stacks.

These pictures are taken with my credit card sized digital camera, which is really just a toy. So they’re not great quality.

A longish view to give you an idea of what it’s like:

[pic of Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment']

Some shots to show what it’s like to wander through it. It creates lots of different vistas and such as you walk round.

[pic of Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment']

[pic of Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment']

[pic of Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment']

[pic of Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment']

It’s probably most visually striking looking down on it from the third floor:

[pic of Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment']

[pic of Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment']

I thought on balance it was a bit of a lost opportunity. All these Turbine Hall installations are necessarily big, and they tend to be impressive through sheer bigness. The best manage to do something a bit more. For that matter, the size of this work isn’t as impressive as it might be simply because it’s made up of lots of smaller objects. A big stack of cardboard boxes is less surprising and less dramatic than, for example, one enormous cardboard box the size of a house.

Also, Whiteread has made a career out of revealing the surprising forms created by the negative spaces of mundane objects – tables, bathtubs, bookshelves and so on. But the negative space inside a cardboard box just looks like a cardboard box. If you stack a lot of them on top of each other, so the details stand out less, the distinction is even less clear it just looks like lots of models of boxes. Not very exciting. I can understand why she was reluctant to do something too much like a repeat of House, which would have been the obvious thing to do in such a big space:

[pic of Whiteread's 'House']

but boxes really seem like a boring choice of subject.

Generally speaking, the whole project of commissioning works for that space is an excellent one – it makes a big public event of contemporary art and attracts comment in the papers on a regular basis. The fourth plinth project in Trafalgar Square is very effective for the same reason.


A few posts ago I mentioned that I was trying a personalised internet streaming service called last.fm, which uses a combination of tags and people’s preferences to find music it thinks you will like. I decided it was a bit crap because when I asked for music similar to Marvin Gaye, it suggested De La Soul, N*E*R*D and Willie Nelson.

Well, I may have the answer – Pandora. They’ve classified all their music according to its musical qualities and use that information to choose songs for you. To use the same example, if I ask for music similar to Marvin Gaye, first it gives me a Marvin Gaye song, then the next is ‘Easy’ by The Commodores, and if you ask why it chose the song, it says:

Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features classic soul qualities, mild rhythmic syncopation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, string section beds and major key tonality

Then ‘I’m Stone in Love with You’ by The Stylistics, ‘I Wish it would Rain’ by the Temptations, and so on. In other words, it’s quite nuanced and accurate.

You can make it even more precise by choosing an individual song to make selections based on. I’ve noticed a few gaps in the collection already – no Twinkle Brothers! No Will Young! presumably both because it’s a labour-intensive process adding new music and perhaps because it’s a bit US-centric. At the moment I’m using the 10-hour free trial, but I’m sorely tempted to sign up when that runs out. It costs $12 for 3 months or $36 for a year, and it’s Flash-based, just running through your browser.