Visual Arts: In every home a headache

As Christmas approaches, an exhibition in Edinburgh offers a fresh take on the ghosts of festivities past: nostalgia and claustrophobia
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The Independent Culture
IT'S ALL Perry Como's fault. And Bing Crosby's, Andy Williams's and Val Doonican's while we're on the subject. For they brought us the definitive, ultra-cheesy Christmas Specials, with their families (or were they from Rentamob, I always wondered) gathered round piles of roasting chestnuts. They never looked like the folk we mostly surround ourselves with for the annual turkey-fest: in perennial soft-focus they beamed, so chuffed to see one another - they never overdid it on the sherry, argued or fell asleep in front of the telly.

At this time of year, the complicated reality of family life looms large as we contemplate visits home to our nearest and should-be dearest. All the mixed feelings this prospect may trigger - that strange blend of nostalgia, security and claustrophobia - are touched upon in Family. This is a fascinating group show of work by artists largely associated with the YBA phenomenon (but don't let that put you off): Damien Hirst, Georgina Starr, Rachel Whiteread, Gary Hume, and many others. It's no insult to the art to say that the star of the show is the setting, Inverleith House.

A private family residence until the late Fifties, it's a grand old place in the middle of Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens, with fabulous views over the city to the Castle. As a gallery it has enviable light, space and serenity, but for this show it has the special distinction of having also been a home. You half expect to meet the ghosts of Christmases past on the stairs.

For Family, those ghosts have been stirred from their slumber, with the original domestic use of each room playfully revived and no labelling of work, to accentuate the atmosphere of a private house. In the drawing- room, there are seven drawings, hung along one wall, the wires left visible, highlighting the room's cornicing as much as the work itself. Apart from the works, the room is empty - as if to remind us that this use of space is now largely redundant. Not many of us have a room like this just for formal receptions.

Sometimes this organisation of the work produces a quite magical effect. Best of all is the dining-room, an already calm white space, with huge windows that flood the room with weak, wintry sunlight. Here we find Callum Innes's white painting, Resonance XII, which through his trademark use of turpentine to remove patches of paint, looks like white gauze over a torn or scarred surface. In the centre of the room are six white chairs made by Simon Starling, copies of Eames chairs from the mid-Fifties, arranged around an invisible table. The room is like nostalgia itself - a tempting place to go, but there's always something missing; a resonance of the past is indeed all you ever get.

Next to the dining-room is the odd little Inner Hall where Lisa Roberts's sound installation, a recording of a 15-minute walk through Central Park in New York, captures the muffled sound of conversations passing her by, and the wild whistling wind. It draws attention to the in-between nature of this small space - not deep inside the house, but not outside; a space usually passed through quickly with just a glance at the view.

Richard Billingham's photograph of his mother, in his well known brutal realist style, renders the Inner Hall suddenly more claustrophobic, a place you could get trapped in.

Upstairs, in the traditionally private rooms, things are more dramatic. In the billiard room Billingham's father fixes himself a drink, looking like Steptoe in the squalor of a kitchen specialising in liquid lunches. In one bedroom, it's about the attraction (or at least co-existence) of opposites - Whiteread's drawings of concave and convex beds, and Tatsuo Miyajima's red and green LED numerical display, Opposite Harmony: two screens of changing numbers, strangely compelling and calming to look at; in the other bedroom, a private moment of misery in Georgina Starr's video, Crying.

Maybe she got the wrong end of a cracker.

`Family', to 31 Jan at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gdns, Edinburgh (0131-348 2943). Open10.30am-3.30pm, admission free. Closed 24-28 Dec, 28 Dec-1 Jan, and Mondays

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