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concrete sculpture of a house
concrete sculpture of a house

Rachel Whiteread, House.  Photograph: Ian Goodrick/Alamy

Rachel Whiteread, Artist

In 1990, when I was in my late 20s, I made a sculpture called Ghost: a plaster casting of a Victorian living room. Next I thought: “I’d love to make an entire house.” It seemed like a crazy idea. It would cost thousands – and who would fund it? Then James Lingwood came to have a cup of tea at my studio. He had just taken over running the arts organisation Artangel, alongside Michael Morris, and was in a very upbeat mood. “Is there anything you’d like to do?” he asked, so I mentioned the house idea. He said yes straight away.

The one we found, at 193 Grove Road in east London, wasn’t empty: a guy called Sydney Gale was living there with his daughter. He was a wonderful character. Bow council had been trying to get him out for years, but he didn’t want to be rehoused in a high-rise flat. Eventually, they found him another Victorian house, I think. He was bemused by the idea, but interested. He had been a DIY fanatic in the 1970s and had spent a lot of time doing up the house: he’d installed a bar, hung different wallpaper on every wall, that sort of thing.

In terms of making, House wasn’t a complex idea. The mould – the house itself – already existed, so the job was really to make a building within that building. We made a new foundation, removed the internal fittings, took the roof off, created a metal armature to support the new structure – and then filled the house with concrete. The complex thing was finding the right material to spray on the walls so that the concrete wouldn’t stick when we tried to remove them. It was messy and exhausting – and the whole thing took months. We began in August 1993 and didn’t finish until late October. The other hard thing was making sure that it didn’t get broken into. A poor security guy basically had to live there for months.

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