Heaven on earth: one of Catherine Yass's photographs of an Edinburgh grave; and Yass at work in Greyfriars Churchyard

Beyond the grave

Photographer CATHERINE YASS takes a different sort of look at places you wouldn't want to be caught dead in. Story: Susanna Beaumont

A meat market. psychiatric hospital. steel factory. cemetery hardly a line-up of what you might call salubrious venues. conjuring up as they do images of slaughtered flesh hanging from hooks. the mentally disturbed. smouldering infernos and dank graveyards. The underbelly out-stations of society. imagined and mythologised. demonist and dreaded. Yet Catherine Yass has been to them all and taken photographs. The results are being shown at Edinburgh’s Portfolio gallery.

‘I am interested in the way such places hold both a kind of threat and seduction.’ says Yass. who to satisfy her own curiosity. got permission to photograph the interior of London’s Smithficld meat market and British Steel’s factory at Port Talbot. ‘I had gone past Port Talbot on the train and just wanted to go inside.’

Yass admits the authorities thought she was perhaps a touch ‘nutty’. but insists that gaining access to institutions that are off the daily beaten track but part of the urban landscape is part of the intrigue. So what is Yass’s line on those places that are out there but usually far from cherished?

‘I am curious about how they build up in the imagination.’ she says. “But I am not making a moral judgement. just expressing some anxiety about the institution.’ explains Yass. ‘I am trying to open up ambiguity rather than giving an opinion.’

'You're given the idea that life after death is heavenly and beautiful. that it might not be so bad, but who knows what happens the other side of the grave?’ Catherine Yass

And she does so with extraordinary effect. Spurning the straightforward photograph. Yass sandwiches together positive and negative transparencies after much experimenting. and displays them on light boxes. The resulting images luxuriate in colour and luminosity. with a sense of the sensual.

ln Corridors. seen in Edinburgh at last year’s British Art Show. a series of hospital corridors become strangely alluring. A tunnel vision of claustrophobic and institutional enclosure. yes. but they glow, giant jewel-like. in acidic limy green colours. Yass quite simply kicks out at assumptions: ‘I want to question objectivity. suggest new ways of seeing.‘ She does so. transforming the mundane or just plain ugly into something beautiful. almost magical.

In her show at Portfolio. Yass is showing Steel from Port Talbot along with a new series. Grave, taken at Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Churchyard. Tucked away behind a high wall. just over the road from Portfolio. the churchyard boasts Scotland’s finest collection of l7th century monuments. And of course being in Edinburgh. there’s another more nocturnal history of Burke and Hare body snatching and Jekyll and Hyde-type anecdotes.

‘I saw the cemetery as an open space but you don’t really know what happens there.’ says Yass. who found her mind turning to thoughts of death while she spent wintry afternoons working there. ‘After a long time I started to feel quite freaked. thinking about all the bodies underneath.’

Inspired by the way the grave stones cut into the sky. acting as a sort of divide between heaven and earth. Yass’s Grave series is a musing on mortality. ‘You’re given the idea that life after death is heavenly and beautiful. says Yass. ‘That it might not be so bad.’ but who knows what happens the other side of the grave?’

Steel And Grave by Catherine Yass, Portfolio Gallery, Edinburgh, Fri 28 Feb-Sat 5 Apr.


ECCENTRIC DUO Gilbert and George - the art world's equivalent of Morecambe and Wise - are currently enjoying a high exposure. A recent two-parter on the South Bank Show had them talking art and shit, and exposed the fact that they bulk buy toilet paper annually to cut out a weekly shopping trip. For a more critical approach. and in an effort to cut the crap, Ken Hay is giving a talk on their 1980 work Exhausted at the Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art, Edinburgh on Monday 24 February at 12.45pm.

IS SPALDING about to come a cropper? It seems the fracas surrounding Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries director Julian Spalding, have been dubbed the Battle of Julian’s Ear. He is faced by warring factions from all sides and one insider has claimed that ’it is to the death', so angered are employees with Spalding’s style of management and the proposed restructuring of museums and art galleries staff. Could The Birth Of Impressionism, planned at the McLellan Galleries as the summer blockbuster, be the next ammunition fired by the anti-Spalding camp? Word is that if there are staff cuts there will be no show.

MEANWHILE IN another corner of Glasgow’s art scene, Java Exhibition Space, last year's new addition to the city's venues, is temporarily taking time out to revamp its underground space and 'restructure'. Let’s hope they haven't got the Spalding bug. (Susanna Beaumont)

THE CONCEPT of body as canvas might be becoming old-hat, but Fernando Arias is taking it a step, or perhaps we should say a cut. further. He has had his signature tattooed on his body, just above his right pelvic bone and now, through an extensive mail-out to Britain's art lovers, is to auction off the signed flesh to the highest bidder. Arias. a Colombian born, Edinburgh-based artist. has even mimicked the logo of Christie's auction house on his mail-out info, questioning notions surrounding the art market. It definitely gives a new twist to the idea of the pound of flesh - Arias knows there is no avoiding blood-letting when he's under the surgeon's knife.

21Feb—6 Mar 1997 racusr .5