Catherine Yass

Independent Artist

Falling Away
Can there be a pleasure in vertigo? A moment when the proximity of death makes life imminent? In my films I try to get as close to this edge as possible.

High Wire (2008) is literally on that edge where one step could be fatal, but each safe step is survival and freedom. The film is the dream of a high-wire artist to walk in the air. For him it represents freedom, but this freedom is conditional on the constraints of gravity and the dependence on the wire. He does not fulfil the dream; the wind forces him back. The high wire stretches between two towers on Red Road Housing estate in Glasgow, buildings which embody the Modernist dream of streets in the sky transcending poverty and poor housing conditions. Now regarded as a failure, the towers were recently demolished: falling to the ground, thwarting the ambitions of both walker and estate.

Descent (2002) opens up the split second between stability and falling to imagine time and space during the descent from top to bottom of a high rise. The film was made from an 800 foot crane, with the camera slowly lowered to the ground through thick fog. As the surroundings are gradually revealed, it becomes apparent that the viewer, or the image, or the camera are upside down. Sometimes it is clear that the camera is moving. Sometimes, as parallax builds up, it seems as though it is the buildings that move. The descent is disorientating, as in a fall where time slows down allowing in memories and reflections. The site seems alternately archaeological and futuristic, introducing a timescale outside the limitations of the image.

In Lighthouse (2011), the camera circles slowly down the structure of an abandoned lighthouse, revolving evenly around the clockwork order of the sun's reflections on the sides, down to the sea where the tidal pull of the waves sends it into an ellipse, and then underwater where all references to direction and orientation are lost. The film is taken first from a helicopter, circling the lighthouse from a distance and then closer in. The same circling movement is taken up from a boat till the camera is sent underwater and completely upturned with light coming up from the surface below.

Catherine Yass lives and works in London. She trained at the Slade School of Art, London, the Hochschüle der Künst in Berlin and Goldsmiths College, London. Her work features in major permanent collections worldwide, including Tate Britain, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Jewish Museum, New York. In 2002, she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

Important solo exhibitions include Lighthouse at Alison Jacques Gallery, London (2012); a mid-career retrospective at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea (2011); Flight, Phillips Collections, Washington DC; The China Series, Stedelijk-museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands (2009); and Descent, St Louis Art Museum, St Louis MO (2009). Catherine recently participated in the Montreal Photo Biennale (2013) and other group shows include Desire Lines, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2012); Government Art Collection: Commissions: Now and Then, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2012); The World in London, Photographer’s Gallery, London (2012); Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2012); and High Wire, Tate Britain, London (2012).

Major commissions include Decommissioned for the Jewish Community Centre, London (2013); Rambert, Rambert Dance Company, London (2013); and Split Sides, Merce Cunningham Trust, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York (2003). Yass spent five weeks in China on a British Council residency, where she made Lock (2006), which was filmed at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.
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Production still, High Wire (2008)