399 Days by Rachel Kneebone

Rachel Kneebone

399 Days, 2012–13, Porcelain and mild steel, 540 x 287 x 283 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, © Rachel Kneebone Photo © White Cube (Jack Hems)

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Human Making, Hidden Spaces

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

The title of 399 Days, the largest sculpture produced by Rachel Kneebone, reveals the duration of its construction, disclosing the corporeal reality of the artist’s labour. And in form, as well as in name, 399 Days dramatizes the sustained intensity of the artist’s work.

Solomon built his temple from timber, gold, silver, bronze, and iron (2 Chronicles 2:7)—‘practical’ materials of strength and permanence. Kneebone works in porcelain, challenging perceptions of her medium as delicate by constructing from it something so majestic and imposing. The column’s scale and shape, like the striking bodies that comprise it, subvert our associations between porcelain and refinement.

Yet Kneebone simultaneously undermines this effect. Whereas a column ought to be solid and impenetrable, 399 Days includes vertical interstices which allows us to glimpse its hollow interior.

Glimpses are all we are permitted. Like Solomon’s temple, whose inner sanctuary or Holy of Holies was known only by the High Priest, this sculpture retains its secrets.

But as Kneebone permits her individual porcelain tiles to fracture and crack, the viewer may be prompted to consider the relationship between strength and vulnerability. Human beings are perennial makers, artists, builders. And whilst some of their works—like the temple in Jerusalem—may outlive or transcend their physical instantiation, comprising part of a greater imaginary, their material form is always ephemeral.



‘Rachel Kneebone Ovid in Exile’, available at https://whitecube.com/exhibitions/exhibition/rachel_kneebone_hong_kong_2017 [accessed 11 March 2020]

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