Down the pan

Assuming Positions at the ICA brings together the work of 10 creative young people (the oldest is 37), some of whom, according to the blurb introducing the exhibition, are artists making work that doesn't look like art, and others are "non-artists" making work that does. The point of the show is the old question, what is art? or, as they put it: "What makes art art, and where can you find it? Assuming Positions is about the moment you decide."

That all seems pretty clear and not a bad idea for an exhibition, especially for a summer show at the busy ICA, temple of the up-to-date but, sadly, once you get beyond the basic notion of flux and shifting boundaries, there's very little left to occupy either mind or eye.

The exhibition begins with a video monitor showing a television advertisement for a fizzy drink (not art): the one where a fat man marches out of his office, shedding clothes and gathering an entourage, and into a boxing ring on the cliff edge at Dover where he prepares to bash a little French boy who doesn't like blackcurrants. Across the room, two other video screens, described as video sculptures (definitely art), show Hilary Lloyd's films of Dominic the DJ on his way to and from work in the back of a taxi. On the way there, he's all spruced up in his Zebra print robe, on the way back, he looks a bit frazzled. And that's about all there is to it.

It isn't all videos. Elsewhere, there are some photographs, objects, an illuminated dance floor, a toilet and assorted bits of furniture. Tobias Rehberger, a young German with a growing international reputation, has made four vases named for, and intended as portraits of, other artists. The work was conceived for a gallery in Berlin where all the artists had previously shown, and some of the vases, such as a large terracotta and cold glaze pot and a lop-sided blue glass bottle, are really very beautiful but, removed from their original context, the result looks too much like a corner of the Conran shop to have any wider implications. Rehberger is clearly an able artist, capable of designing beautiful things, but one is left wondering why he feels the need to dress up his obvious talents as installations.

Jorge Pardo, a Cuban living in Los Angeles, who has already shown at the Museums of Modern Art in LA and Chicago this year, is one of the more established contributors and, like Rehberger, has a keen eye on modern design. Here he exhibits a range of modernist furniture that looks elegant enough, but which, on the lounger at least, has a sunk ridge that would hit the base of the spine and render the thing impossibly uncomfortable. His work is described as "resolutely functional" but it is shown here under a "Do Not Sit" notice. Not, I think, a post-modern joke, more like a flaw in the making.

One can, however, sit on The Great Flood, a new sculpture by Turner prize nominee Sarah Lucas. I say sculpture because she says sculpture, but all it is really is a working loo signed with a gold marker pen. "Is it," asks the notice that accompanies the exhibition, "a step beyond Duchamp's `Fountain', a laconic metaphor for the body, or just a plain piece of plumbing?" I'd go with the latter. It stands alone in the last room of the exhibition and, I have to say, it seems like an appropriate note on which to end.

ICA, The Mall, London SW1. To 28 Sept (0171-930 3647)

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