Exhibition: Everything in the garden is not at all rosy

Sarah Jones Jerwood Gallery, London
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The Independent Culture
An empty consulting-room couch, its surface retaining impressions of the bodies of patients who must have lain there in the past, and bringing to mind those who might lie there in the future, is the image which underpins the rest of this show of work by Sarah Jones.

All the photographs are unframed, one-and-a-half metres square, and mounted on aluminium. Those spread through a double gallery are of three adolescent girls posing in the dining-rooms, bedrooms and gardens of a couple of well-to-do home-county houses. The girls' hair and skin are groomed to the same pristine perfection as the hardwood furniture and plush carpeting. A girl sits with her chin resting on her hands, her forearms flat against a highly polished tabletop. She's gazing inscrutably into space, but her reflection in the lacquered mahogany implies that her thoughts are shallow, vain and self-centred.

The domestic environment in which the young girls are seen would seem to be overly respectful of tradition. It represses individuality, high- spirits, free-exchange, warmth, dirt. A place for everything, and everything brushed under the Persian carpet. The girls try to place themselves under the table, under the bed. But the fittings and decor bring to mind a regime that insists there is a right and a wrong way to do things ("Camilla, dear, we've told you before - sit up at the table, and don't talk with your mouth full"). Nurture versus nature - this way madness lies? Or possibly just expensive sessions with a psychoanalyst.

The girls are on the verge of womanhood, and this is most obvious from the photographs taken in the walled-and-fenced gardens. One girl stands straight, head bowed, a picture of misery, beside a tree which has been so vigorously pruned that it is effectively a single sterile trunk. Barefoot, another lies on top of a low brick wall, her new breasts evident below her blouse which is sweat-stained under the armpit. Her long, silky hair flows down across her face to merge and mingle with border shrubs.

Elsewhere are four photo-graphs from a series begun this year, taken in the back gardens of London homes. Perhaps not much has changed: a young girl stands - face just as dolefully inscrutable as the three in the other galleries - surrounded by an abundance of sprouting plants. But the presence in one photograph of the only adult portrayed in the show does make a difference.

He is sitting in the back garden of a Charlton terrace at a table made of chipboard, one hand resting on its matt-painted surface, the other supporting his head. His bare feet are firmly planted on the ground. Leaves and tendrils, which belong to the luxuriantly growing plant partially trained across a trellis, seem to emerge from his close-shaven head. It seems strange that the only person on display who might have attained some sort of equilibrium with the world should be male. Maybe the artist's work is in the process of breaking away from being gender-specific. Indeed, dotted throughout the show are photographs where people are absent altogether and a tree is the subject. One tree must have been hacked back to the ground at some stage, but it has grown strongly again and now there are thick intertwining branches thrusting upwards. Another isn't the great spreading entity it might have been, but for all that it's a free-standing, fruit-bearing individual, thanks surely to the common-sense way in which it was raised. I can't help feeling there is hope for the girls, after all.

It's easy to be seduced by these images individually, and they are hung so that there are some intriguing juxtapositions. But every photograph pulls its weight in this subtle, complex and - finally - uplifting installation. The consulting room couch seems much less portentous on my way out.

'Sarah Jones': Jerwood Gallery, SE1 (0171 654 0171) to 12 September

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