Leading Article: A concrete idea well worth preserving

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The Independent Online
THERE it stands on a scruffy patch of parkland in Bow, east London, the concrete ghost of a Victorian terrace house, opposite the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Grove Road. But those who bear witness, Bible in hand, will knock on the concrete door of No 193 in vain. This is a house inhabited only by solidified particles of sand and concrete.

Rachel Whiteread, who created this remarkable artefact, is one of the four artists shortlisted for the much-criticised Turner Prize. Three years ago she gave the world Ghost, a plaster cast of a bedsitting room in an abandoned house in the Archway Road, London. It was bought by Charles Saatchi, and one of its offspring, Untitled Room, is among the works by the shortlisted artists on view from today at the Tate Gallery on Millbank, London. House, as the creation in Grove Road is called, is a logical development of those smaller works.

Whiteread's inspired idea was to use the derelict house that stood on the same spot as a mould, a traditional method of making bronze sculptures. Room by room, floor by floor, the house was filled with concrete. Then the brick walls and windows that formed the mould were delicately removed. The result is unexpectedly moving. Sightless, solid windows indented by vanished transoms and mullions gaze out unseeing. A departed staircase zigzags up a wall. The hole that was once a fireplace protrudes like some primitive adornment. For a sculpture, the bulk is impressive, yet the overall effect is strangely spectral.

Whiteread's was in many ways a wacky as well as a brilliantly original idea: just the sort of thing that people who dislike much contemporary art, and especially abstract art, tend to hate. Yet the artist has, in the most traditional way possible, taken an everyday object - albeit a very large one - and transformed it into a work of art. Being literally a concrete image of a dwelling, House could not be further removed from the abstract.

Bow Neighbourhood Council, which generously lent the site to the sponsoring organisation, Artangel, had requested that House be demolished at the end of this month. It would be performing a service to art if it were to extend its presence there not just for a month or two more, but until it has lost its pulling power. That is likely to be a long time hence.