VISUAL ARTS Roger Ackling and Katrine Herian The Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham

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The Independent Culture
The Angel Row Gallery, tucked away on the first floor of the Central Library Building in Nottingham, isn't the most glamorous exhibition space in the country, nor is it the most accessible, but since the start of the year they have been running a contemporary art programme that puts many more distinguished venues to shame.

They began with a painting show by Ian McKeever, then sculpture by Sarah Stockwell, and now host a neat pairing of exhibitions by Roger Ackling and Katrine Herian. Of the two, Ackling is the senior artist: he is 50 this year and his work is well represented in public collections around the world, although it has been seen all too rarely in an exhibition context in this country, which is a shame because he's an artist whose work looks best in numbers.

His sculptures and panels are made from pieces of driftwood with marks burned into their surface by focusing the sun's rays through a magnifying glass. An exhibition of them automatically becomes a kind of installation; made up of single works, but to be taken as a whole. In this case, 40 pieces arranged rather eccentrically around three rooms.

Ackling installed the exhibition himself. He brought 200 or so works to the gallery and selected those that he liked best in the space. Some are pinned to the wall, others placed on little plinths; some at eye-level and others down by the floor or up against the ceiling. I'm not quite sure why he does it like this, unless it is to help us see the exhibition as a whole rather than as a series of individual exhibits, but the effect is rather eerie. Most of the work is very small: at most a foot or two long, often no bigger than a matchbox, so there's a lot of white wall and an element of discovery; looking for the work before looking at it. It all feels a bit archaeological, like finding a collection of relics that defy our usual notions of time and place.

There is something oddly beautiful about the combination of aged driftwood, bleached by the sun and rubbed smooth by the sea, and Ackling's charred patterns of black dots. Occasionally the work seems to relate to something. Either by chance: the combination of 17 little sculptures, for example, arranged on a shelf, their formation dimly resembling the silhouette of a high-rise city. Or by design: as with two jointed rectangular panels, like the pages of an open book with lines of overlapping dots in two grids of text. It is too deliberate an association and Ackling's methods are too precise for it to have come about by accident. He plans his work carefully before making the first mark and then burns his way methodically from left to right across the wood's surface; his gradual progress determined by the strength of the sun.

A precise, if rather fiddly, way of working is the link between Ackling and Katrine Herian, subject of the Angel Row's second exhibition. She places household objects on small pieces of square paper, draws in pencil around their edge and shades them in. It sounds silly, but the images that result are curiously haunting. She's only 33 and may yet become an interesting artist, although on the evidence here, and next to the significant presence of Ackling, her talents look a little insubstantial.

Angel Row Gallery, 3 Angel Row, Nottingham. Information: 0115-947 6334. To 24 May

Richard Ingleby

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