Review: VISUAL ARTS Duncan MacAskill Wapping Pumping Station, London

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The problem with many temporary art installations is the competition between artwork and building. A rare example of an artist not wishing to compete but harmonise with the setting is currently to be seen at the Wapping Pumping Station. Built on Wapping Wall in 1890 to provide hydraulic power for the central London area, its heyday was in the 1930s before converting to electricity. By the time it finally closed in 1977, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station was the last of its kind in the world, the engine rooms full of rusting machinery and peeling green paint. Little has changed, though it's now administered by the Women's Playhouse Trust.

Duncan MacAskill was given a month's residency in this cavernous brick building. In the turbine hall, still filled with massy machines, he has erected a framework to take 1000 postcards made individually in response to Wapping. Viewers can buy these original artworks for a mere pounds 4 each and select where on the frame they should be hung to make a larger picture for the duration of the exhibition and until posted to them by MacAskill. (Mail Art has been a preoccupation of MacAskill's for over a decade: he sends some 2000 postcards a year to selected "cardees". Around the walls of this room are hung open-work steel sculpture, named for the philosophers MacAskill particularly admires - Descartes and Wittgenstein. Initially, these welded wire and flat-bar pieces were to be painted, but MacAskill decided to leave them plain to blend in with the original fittings. The visitor is encouraged to ask what is art, what machinery.

Passing through to a small room on the right, the viewer encounters A Wapping Wall, a floor-to-ceiling structure of found and painted wood, held together with paint as mortar. On the surrounding walls are 10 small paintings, while in two display cabinets repose half-a-dozen sketchbooks and an accumulation of things both organic and synthetic that inspire the artist. The room on the other side of the corridor is titled from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and consists of a false floor of interlocking green canvases. This crazy jigsaw is sprinkled with french chalk, the work being completed by the passage of spectators across it. (It's for sale in part or entirety). Three differently filled sinks contribute to the room's identity, along with a CD of noises and snatches of song made by MacAskill with the composer Glyn Perrin.

In the main open space down some stairs hang the recent series of abstract DNA paintings (likened by one commentator to Paul Klee on speed), more steel sculptures and two huge new canvases. The paintings employ a method of burying information beneath layers of bumpy paint which are combed through to reveal traces of what went before. A further derelict room contains the sectioned trunk of a heaven tree in bud, complete with pigeon's nest and eggs. On the way out, look at the other, rougher side of A Wapping Wall, lit by changing coloured lights, its forms dissolving and reforming. The installation is about the meaning and effects of memory. It's a truly sensitive use of space and an imaginative response to the decaying magnificence of a unique building.

Duncan MacAskill's installation 'Acoustic Shadows' is at Wapping Pumping Station, Wapping Wall, E1 (Info hotline: 0171-379 9700). To 4 May

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