This unique project at the RA Library and Print Room sees Edmund de Waal explore the colour white and the impact that white objects have on their surroundings, through an interweaving of words and books with sculpture, paintings and photographs.
‘I have spent my life thinking about white. My very first pot thrown on a potter’s wheel as a child was white. Forty-five years later I am still making white pots, porcelain vessels. For the last six years I have been travelling to the places in the world where porcelain was created and desired, researching and writing The White Road about the cost of this obsession. On my journey I dreamed of the images and objects that mattered to me most. And now I have brought some of these together for this project.
There are vitrines filled with manuscripts, poems and ripostes about white – the white pages of Tristram Shandy, Samuel Beckett, the score for John Cage’s 4’33’’, Rachel Whiteread’s plaster sculpture FOLDED. There are works that capture the difficulties of white: an early photographic negative, a Renaissance enamal grisaille illustrating the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, an ivory netsuke of a hare. And, crucially for me, one of the first pieces of white porcelain made in the West.
In the library itself, some of the shelves of books are displaced by a drawing, a sculpture, or a vitrine. A Giorgio Morandi still life of vessels on a tabletop takes the place of a run of periodicals. Up high is the fragment of a twelfth-century corbel head of a saint. A marble lantern by Ai Weiwei is juxtaposed with a porcelain table by Amanda Levete Architects: weight and weightlessness. Malevich’s Suprematist Teapot – intensely, angrily pure - sits on a shelf. High above us is a new work by Garry Fabian Miller called It’s Open Clear Light.
White is aura. White is a staging post to look at the world from. White is not neutral: it forces other colours to reveal themselves. It moralises – it is clean when nothing else is clean, it is light when most things are heavy. It is political. It is enmeshed in the world.
It is also impossibility. White is a place to begin and a place to end.’
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