Tense? Nervous? It might be art

Adrian Searle finds the ICA reinventing itself as culture's twilight zo ne `A Twilight Zone museum . . . not the kind of place you'd necessarily want to t ake the kids on a wet Sunday afternoon. It is a site where reason has gone Awol'

Welcome to the Institute of Cultural Anxiety. Angela Bulloch is measuring the light levels on a solar-powered meter, Godzilla is playing on four small screens, and someone is smearing Vaseline over the trigger of a land mine. Jean-Michel Jarre's

"Oxygene" is playing on the acoustiguide, by way of a commentary, and a chirpy, ghostly canary is hopping around a bell jar on an antique stand, in perpetual flight from its virtual imprisonment.

Things are becoming temporarily unhinged. The trippy scene in Kubrick's 2001, where the astronaut disturbs his older self, is running in endless loops - there goes the guy in the spacesuit again, interrupting himself at lunch. Hieronymus Bosch is here, with a page of studies of phantasmagorical monsters, though he could well have drawn them from life, down in the bar where the art-world hangs out.

Catherine Yass has taken some spooky photographs of hospital corridors, and Karen Eslea found a film of a woman playing with her baby - but mummy has no hands, just a pair of bio-mechanical prostheses that look like they belong on a kitchen blender. Jackand Dinos Chapman have dragged in a "failed experiment", involving motorised hammers, desiccated brains, bottles of rancid milk and a pink plastic dildo rigged to a hydraulic system. The entire apparatus is gummed up with filth and - luckily for us - doesn't work anymore. What are all these jokes about the exploding space shuttle doing on the wall - and why has Graham Gussin insinuated little signs around the building? The one outside the ladies loo says: "Alien. Oct. 1946".

The Institute of Cultural Anxiety: Works from the Collection is a Twilight Zone museum, a fake collection from an imaginary institution, and not the kind of place you'd necessarily want to take the kids on a wet Sunday afternoon. It is a site where the normal categories have irretrievably broken down and reason has gone Awol.

Even though there are institutes devoted to most aspects of human endeavour (a flick through the phone book finds institutes of chiropodists, psychic phenomena, taxation, disaster studies, adult education, even an Institute of Curiosity and Execution), nowhere will one find one that lays bare our troubled consciences about the nature of contemporary culture. The Institute of Cultural Anxiety may be a fiction, but most of us would qualify for immediate membership: we are all culturally challenged, aesthetically confused and anxious now.

The Institute and its "collection" have been devised by Jeremy Millar, winner of an open curating competition set up by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in order to give a platform to young artists and to "raise the profile of the practice of curating amongst a wider audience". In Millar, a relatively unknown 24-year-old former art student from Nottingham, the ICA has found nothing so dull as a curator: the boy's a wunderkind.

Although the ICA is as anxious an institution as one could hope to find, Millar's curatorial debut in London involves more than a play on the ICA's name. He has brought together artworks by British, American and European artists; scientific models and illustrations; films, jokes, odd artefacts and bits of technological detritus; as well as a number of texts (some specially commissioned from the French urban planner and cultural theorist Paul Virilio) printed on the walls as slogans.

In the Institute of Cultural Anxiety, no one knows what's going on any more. The exhibition maps out the museological terrain of a future suffering from information overload, in which the study of things collapses under the weight of an excess, rather than a dearth, of material. The vaults are full and the data bank is suffering a fatal haemorrhage. "A collection," writes Virilio, "is an ensemble eternally unfinished." And: "The fetishism of the collector draws him forever into the unending quest for th e whole, for completion." The museum without walls becomes the world itself, a collection without categories: Donald Campbell's crash helmet; a Jeff Koons bronze snorkel; a pile of glass eyes; the writings of an 18th-century schizophrenic; a heap of mete orites; a row of computers engaged in some arcane word and number crunching routine; a grainy film of a dredger endlessly sifting a mudbank.

Millar is smitten with the notion that there's so much stuff, and so much specialised information in the world, that it is impossible to take it all in. Emerging from his usual, shadowy role of clerkly scholar and custodian of the artefacts in his care, the curator here becomes as much an object of our attention as the collection he has created.

Millar's response to the confusion about him is to rummage amid the fragments, inventing a loose, ad hoc structure for the "collection" as he goes along. Thus, the Chapman brothers' diabolical machine belongs in a corner devoted to the body, where it sits alongside a rubber cast of a human heart, some photographs of surgical reconstructions of the shattered faces of First World War casualties, a skeletal human arm, and a painting by Luc Tuymans from his series "the diagnostic look", which is based on ph otographs of terminally-ill hospital patients.

Elsewhere, the exhibition takes a look at our relation to the natural world, with Vincent Shine's delicate, hyper-realistic sculptures of tiny plants, Thomas Struth's photographs of flowers, a stuffed rodent stuffing a stuffed cockerel, and one of Jacob Robson's peculiar, beguiling paintings of a paradisical landscape. Vija Celmins's obsessively detailed, introverted pencil drawing of a patch of the desert floor hangs opposite a text by Fiona Banner which describes, frame by frame, the enti re action ofDavid Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia; the lines of Banner's text form a vast panorama of words, filling a sheet of paper as large as a cinema screen.

Risking confusion at every level, Millar's exhibition is a romp through the modern world. This may seem a hysterical, dystopian vision, but is also one of the more endearing cliches of 20th- century speculative fiction. It might also be an accurate representation of the way things are. The question is whether this show is an analysis of our cultural confusions - between master works and ephemera, art and science, high culture and low - or whether it merely perpetuates them. Millar recognises that the rationale we impose on things is at best arbitrary and temporary, but also that order of some sort is necessary, even if it is always on the verge of breaking down. What is surprising here is that Millar's exhibition does not collapse into an incoherent babble. This latter-day cabinet of curiosities is a baroque and perverse ensemble, but one which invites us to revel in our anxieties, to stop worrying and actually begin to enjoy them.

n For details see below

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice