Turner Prize winning sculptor Rachel Whiteread is very much attuned to the power and importance of architecture in relation to landscape. Her solitary shed situated on New York’s Governors Island casts a gaze across toward Lady Liberty, evoking memories of “Thoreau and the American Romantics“. Her library-as-bunker Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna is situated as an architectural provocation and memory of the horrors endured by the Austrian victims of the Holocaust. Her most recent effort, another of her “Shy Sculptures Series, awaits deep within England’s Yorkshire Dalby Forest for visitors to experience its haunting full-scale concrete details imprinted with the corrugated steel and wood details of a Nissen military hut once common in these forests.
“They are church halls, village halls, people live in them. They are very adaptable structures. I try to cast their souls.” – Rachel Whiteread
The hut was originally the brainchild of British Army engineer Major Peter Norman Nissen, a prefabricated form designed to expedite construction to just a few hours, requiring only the effort of four men to construct as needed. The Nissen hut’s first role was to provide prefabricated housing for men who fell trees and replanted saplings in the Dalby Forest during wartime efforts during the first World War. In time, the shelters more notably became primary housing for prisoner of war camps in forests across the British countryside, while also assuming duties for military and civilian housing, storage, and communal halls during wartime efforts.
Drawn by the history of these adaptable once common structures, Whiteread’s latest work is a silent architectural commentary of war’s impact upon the British landscape, inviting visitors deep into the heart of the forest operating as an open-air venue of memory, history, and reflection – “celebrating 100 years of forestry, 1919-2019”.