PUBLIC VIEW: ADVENTURES IN CONTEMPORARY ART NO 17: INVERLEITH HOUSE
Sunday 24 January 1999
The title of the show is "Family", and for it the rooms have been nominally returned to their functions from the time when the place was the Keeper of the Gardens's family home. So downstairs there is an elegant dining room which contains a set of six white Simon Starling chairs - hand-made reproductions of classic Charles Eames chairs - and a white turpentine streaked and stripped painting by Callum Innes. And at the other side of the back of the house is the drawing room which contains, on one wall, a frieze of drawings by Damien Hirst, Paul Miller, Tatsuo Miyajima, Tim Head, Richard Hamilton, and Marc Quinn. While on the opposite wall there is nothing to stop the eye rising to an ornate period cornice.
I go through all the rooms: each is sparsely and sensitively hung with work by Emma Kay, Rachel Whiteread, and others, but it's the billiards room on the first floor that I return to. On the wall there is a single image, a Richard Billingham photograph of his father Ray who is drinking in the corner of a cluttered kitchen. Stripped to the waist, Ray is grinning dementedly as he screws on the top of a bottle of spirits. His glass just squeezes onto the draining board on which stand all sorts of domestic things. Behind him is a wall, gloss-painted a sickly shade of green, down which run brown tracks, perhaps produced by teabags thrown in the general direction of a bin, or dirty water splashing out of the sink, but in any case reminiscent of the Callum Innes canvas. Also behind him is a vacuum cleaner, and this reminds me that Richard Billingham's mother is also in residence at Inverleith House right now, in a photo downstairs in the inner hall. "If you're drinking, Ray, I'll clobber you," I can almost hear Liz shout. But that's unfair. She looks serene in her picture, responding positively, it appears, to the idyllic surroundings here.
I walk round the billiards room. From the tall windows, I can see Edinburgh castle on the skyline to the south, an Andy Goldsworthy stone sculpture on the east lawn below, and trees, rhododendron bushes and lawns off to the north. Magnificent views. A single line of text on the wall reads, I believe in miracles. Space and light all around me; and the three dots above the i's in Douglas Gordon's sentence seem to hover aloft. There is a pool table in the room, the only prop used throughout the show. I wonder if Ray would like a game of pool in this glorious space. But Ray stays in his grimy little corner, unimpressed with my offer, or intent on getting pissed, or simply not able to believe in an existence with so much more to offer than he's accustomed to in his flat. Whatever, he's staying put.
I move along to the bedroom at the front of the house where Georgina Starr is crying on video. She's standing in the corner of a white-walled room with her arms folded, sniffing, her face crumpling up and her shoulders shaking every now and again when whatever it is she's sad about strikes her as particularly so. Maybe the young artist is sad about old Ray. His limited horizons, his unhealthy lifestyle, his inability to change. But I seem to remember she made the video at a period in her life when she felt particularly low. These candid tears are of self-pity.
I believe becomes I believe in becomes I believe in miracles when seen through open doorways while returning to the billiards room. I ask Ray again if he fancies a game of pool. Ray laughs aloud. The arm with which he's clutching his bottle has tattoos from upper wrist to mid bicep. First there's "Liz" then there's a fish, a butterfly, an anvil and finally the body of a woman - Liz, perhaps. Why should he play a game of pool with a po-faced snob like me? Why should he play around with arty-types who are always on the verge of blubbering? Why should ... but Ray suddenly loses interest in the subject. "Down the hatch," he says, grinning defiantly, in the grubby corner that's making this grand house shine.
`Family': Edinburgh Inverleith House (0131 348 2943), to Sunday 31 January.
`Personal Delivery', Duncan McLaren's book on contemporary art, is published by Quartet (pounds 12).
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