Visual Art: Better than chocolate

Heart and Soul 60 Long Lane, London In the Midst of Things Bournville
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The Independent Culture
Unusually, through the various contacts of the six organisers, "Heart and Soul" mixes the work of artists who haven't had much chance to exhibit since they graduated a few years ago, with work by artists who have shown - in some cases several times in the last year - at blue- chip galleries.

There are 39 artists in total, including only six women. In some respects the show is strikingly conservative. More or less every artist exhibits a single painting or sculpture (there is little in the way of photography, video, installation, text, or site-specific work). But this means the viewer is encouraged to give equal attention to each piece, and gradually builds up a sense of the artists' recurrent concerns.

Several artists have skilfully used idiosyncratic process to produce a strong pattern. For example, DJ Simpson (routing tool on the panelled wood of the walls), Mark Titchner (spray paint on polystyrene tiles arranged into a multiple cube), Enrico David (lines of wool woven on to a large canvas) and Ewan Gibbs (a circle drawn in each tiny square of a sheet of graph paper). In each case, the unusual technique - in the last case, the tedious-to-the-nth-degree technique - seems justified by the meaning, or the mood, that emerges from the finished work.

The sophisticated use of materials is another common concern. On a small wall-mounted shelf is Peter Kapos's Ruins of Buildings. On close inspection these are plaster casts of roughly broken pieces of chipboard. It's really plaster: it is, just as significantly, crumbling masonry on the one hand, splintered bits of man-made wood on the other. Henry Coleman has taken a wooden packing case and clad half of the cube's sides with marble-effect formica. The contrast between the sumptuous and the everyday, between the real thing and the fake, is sublime.

The work in this show puts emphasis on mind and eye, with the heart and soul of the title being much less evident. Jim Lambie is an exception. He has covered a record player's turntable with black glitter, and placed alongside it a tightly-packed row of coloured plastic coat-hangers. As the turntable silently revolves, sparkling, I feel sure that the artist truly loves his record collection.

The rooms are full of boldness, irony and panache. Two of the forms these appear in, at opposite ends of the show, are a dog and a cat. Martin Maloney's mad-whiskered, paint-furred moggy set against a flat orange background is definitely the biggest picture in the show, while Brian Griffiths's crud-encrusted, spacesuited mutt made from polystyrene blocks covered with expanded polyurethane foam, was - quite possibly - the first "mongrel bitch" to shit on the moon.

This is a good opportunity to see together, jostling for position in friendly rivalry, the current generation of young British artists.

"In The Midst Of Things" is a contrasting type of large group show. Set in Bournville - a model village established near Birmingham at the end of the nineteenth century by chocolate manufacturer and philanthropist George Cadbury - it explores a utopian theme.

Inside a gallery complex by the village green, the curators have installed work by an impressive list of international artists, including Julian Opie, Maurizio Nannucci, Liam Gillick and Ian Hamilton Finlay. But it's not until you walk around the village and engage with the environment- specific works that the show - the experience - really takes off.

On factory and community noticeboards, Jim Isermann has introduced a wallpaper motif of interlocking red, yellow and blue bricks. This brings to mind modernist facades as well as a Lego-like toytown, and could be interpreted as a critique of both Sixties urban planning and Victorian paternalism. Yet the overall effect is warm.

Next to the cricket green is Dan Graham's sculptural pavilion made of two-way glass screens and similar-sized wooden trellises with climbing plants. When approached the pavilion bursts into a combination of real and illusional space, echoing the aspirations - towards creating an ideal place to live and work - with which Bournville was founded.

There are two white-tiled underpasses linking factory to recreation grounds. In most urban areas today these would be all-too-depressing spaces. The playful work installed by Nathan Coley in one, Martin Boyce in the other, makes sure this is not the case here. Coley's photoposter includes a text which suggests that the Rest House on the village green is to be demolished, and shows architects wearing models of their proposed alternatives as hats. A windowless, circular concrete structure is one candidate in this absurd contest. But you emerge from the subway with the original building in mind.

Cornford and Cross have restored a pond with fountains, the circulating water dyed the purple-blue of Cadbury's advertising. That the dye is no longer in evidence may be a technical problem with the piece, but the lack of purple seems somehow symbolic of an absence of scepticism that is in tune with the show as a whole.

In a grassy area, Keith Wilson has erected a white plastic railing in an L-shape that extends for 50-feet of meeting-cum-contemplation place. Leaning against it, the visitor can chat with locals, listen to the unusual church bells, or mull over this well-funded, thoroughly engaging show.

George Cadbury must be carilloning in his grave. Go and sense it for yourself.

'Heart and Soul': 60 Long Lane, SE1 (0171 275 7629) to 12 September. 'In The Midst Of Things': Bournville (0121 331 5762) to 18 September

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