A haunting reminder of Orwell's Room 101 takes its place next to Michelangelo's 'David'
The most famous office in the history of the BBC was demolished during the summer. But a ghostly reminder of Room 101, immortalised by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-four, was unveiled yesterday in the form of a plaster cast by Rachel Whiteread. The artist, who won the Turner Prize in 1993 with a cast of a house in the East End, was so intrigued by the history of Room 101 that she accepted a commission from the BBC to capture its internal dimensions before it was knocked down as part of the redevelopment of Broadcasting House.
The work goes on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum tomorrowin the Cast Courts, which house reproductions of celebrated European architecture and sculpture such as Michelangelo's David.
Orwell was a radio producer in the Indian section of the BBC's Eastern Service under his real name, Eric Blair, during the Second World War when he conceived his dystopian novel and adopted Room 101 as the infamous torture chamber where disloyal citizens encounter their worst fears. There is some debate about whether the room he had in mind was at Broadcasting House or at another BBC building in 55 Portland Place where Orwell attended meetings. Although Orwell hated his time at the BBC, where he described the atmosphere as "something half-way between a girls' school and a lunatic asylum," it was decided to preserve Room 101 at Broadcasting House. Susan McCormack, head of contemporary programmes at the V&A, said the Whiteread sculpture, Untitled (Room 101), was "an incredibly resonant piece".
"I love it because when you come in you view it through the historic objects and it looks as if it just landed there. It's quite exciting."
Whiteread's casts, including one for a plinth in Trafalgar Square and one of her own room, have struck many members of the public as novel, but casts have a long tradition. When the V&A opened in 1852, it was regarded as essential for the improvement of public taste and design to have casts of architecture and sculpture. The work will be on display until June next year. It is part of a programme of commissions, continuing the BBC's tradition as a patron of the arts.
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