02 November 2008
A black velvet curtain shrouds the entrance to British born Rachel Whiteread’s new installation piece at the MFA. The curtain opens to quite a different reality than the one that bustles outside. Step through the curtain and you find yourself in tomb-like silence, surrounded by fainted illuminated darkness. As your eyes and ears adjust to the room, you suddenly find yourself amidst a village constructed of over 200 dollhouses.
The meticulously arranged houses are empty of any furniture or decoration. A proverbial ghost town. This is unsettling to the viewer, even though the houses are merely playthings of children. In Whiteread’s “Village” they become something more. They are shells, empty surrogates to the outside world. A void.
The only source of illumination comes from within the dimly lit little rooms. The installation space is aglow with small patches of light from tiny windows. It reminded me of passing through cities and towns, watching the lights fly by in a blur as I speed anonymously through by car or train or plane. There is a voyeuristic disconnect, we are merely looking into empty rooms and empty lives. We are not visitors, we are trespassers.
Why are these small empty rooms so unsettling to us? We expect the rooms to be furnished, to have signs of life, to be inhabited. We expect a small, mirrored reflection of the real world. Instead, we are met with emptiness. No tiny chairs to marvel at or furnishings to compare to our own. Instead we must confront the emptiness, the void. And fill it will our own experiences of home and rooms and the lives lived in them, and the lives left behind, and put in storage. We find ourselves dwelling, not in those dimly lit tiny houses, but in the dimly lit recesses of our own memories.
Rachel Whiteread's "Place (Village)" 2006-8, is on view now at the Foster Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through January 25, 2009.