It is a most eerie and vertiginous experience [and] is one of Yass's best works to date…In Lighthouse, the angles are blended - grazing the waves, rushing below, rising to aerial viewpoint - and the pace changes to the point where the experience is dizzying. The film fills one's entire optical range, as it seems, with something too strange to grasp.
Laura Cumming, The Observer, July 2011
The new film and series of photographic lightboxes by British artist Catherine Yass centre on one of the most remarkable maritime structures in Britain, the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse, set five miles out to sea off England's south coast. The lighthouse, standing alone, a perfectly square platform resting on a circular column, appears both monumental and precarious, making it a fascinating subject for Yass's interest in the psychological effects of architectural space. The filming and photography that form the basis of Lighthouse were taken from a range of different vantage points, including the use of a helicopter, a fishing boat and deep sea divers, allowing a number of dramatic and startling perspectives on the structure, which take the camera from high up above the tower, down the column and under the water.
Like many of her acclaimed films over the past decade, most notably High Wire, Descent and Lock, Catherine Yass's new film addresses the architecture of her given subject as both an object embedded within specific social and environmental contexts, and as a set of formal geometric relationships. She describes Lighthouse as 'a temporal drawing' in which the camera is always moving as it follows a trajectory around the lighthouse, turning, circling, spiralling, inverting, and submerging. The effect is at times so disorientating that it becomes uncertain as to who or what is moving and sinking - the camera, the lighthouse, or the viewer. This dizzying array of views accentuates the feelings of awe, isolation, and dread which the figure of the lighthouse inspires. Built to safeguard mariners from the myriad dangers of the sea, the lighthouse offers emotional as well as aesthetic resonances, the elaboration of which are central to Yass's work.
As well as exploring perceptions and experiences of interacting with the built environment, Catherine Yass is also interested in the materiality of lens-based media; in particular the possibilities of film and photography to record and explore time and space through manipulated film stock, inversion and reversal. Her lightboxes, produced with a unique method of overlaying one positive photographic transparency on top of a second negative transparency taken moments after the first, offer extended meditations on these themes. The Lighthouse series captures the sun as it moves behind the north-eastern face of the lighthouse. The artist's lyrical approach to thinking about time's passing is clearly seen as the transparencies register the motion of the sea and the changing position of the sun. Yass's process inverts the sun into a deep blue-black blind spot, turning the image inside out into an internal landscape, a poetically altered reflection of reality.
Catherine Yass (b. London, UK, 1963) trained at the Slade School of Art, London, the Hochschüle der Künst, Berlin, and Goldsmiths College, London. Important recent solo exhibitions include her mid-career retrospective at De La Warr Pavilion, UK (2011); High Wire, 2008 (commissioned by Artangel and Glasgow International Festival and exhibited widely internationally), Descent (St. Louis Art Museum, MO, 2009); and The China Series (Stedelijk-Hertogenbosch Museum, The Netherlands, 2009). Her work features in a number of major important collections worldwide, including Tate, London; the collections of Arts Council England, The British Council and the Government Art Collection, all London; The Jewish Museum, New York; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; and Biblioteca Albertina, Leipzig; In 2002 Yass was shortlisted for The Turner Prize. She lives and works in London.
Lighthouse was commissioned by De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, and was produced with funding from Arts Council England, Alison Jacques Gallery and Galerie Lelong.
The exhibition will also be shown at Galerie Lelong, New York, 3 February - 17 March 2012.