I recently visited a new exhibition, White: a project by Edmund de Waal, at the Royal Academy of Arts. This exhibition, which runs until 3 January, is unusual as it takes place in the RA Library and Print Room. As a librarian, I was really interested to see inside this space.
The project is curated by artist Edmund de Waal, and is an exploration of the colour white, its meaning and impact and its role in different contexts. De Waal has collected a number of white objects for display, each of which is very different. The objects include books, sculptures, paintings and photographs.
Edmund de Waal, who has written a forthcoming book relating to this topic – The White Road – is best known for his memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes. That very same hare is on display in this exhibition: created around 1880, and attributed to Sawaki Rizo Masatoshi.
Some of de Waal’s own white sculptures are visible here, and other varied pieces are also displayed, including a bust of a woman from the late fifteenth century, sculpted after Francesco Laurana. My favourite, however, was the South Arabian calcite alabaster anthropormorphic stele, carved in the first century BC or AD.
Images included Garry Fabian Miller’s It’s Open Clear Light from 2014–15, as well as Horatio Ross’ Fir trees on the banks of Dornoch Firth between Ardgay and Fearn of around 1850. In terms of the written word, the manuscript of John Cage’s 4’33” and the white page from Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy were also displayed.
The exhibition explored what the colour white might mean, revealing its lack of neutrality, its blankness, purity and spirituality. It got me thinking about what the colour white means to me, what it represents. When I think of white I think of clouds, of blank paper, but most of all of the icy landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctic. What does white mean to you?