A SUNNY evening in summer, and once again the Institute of Contemporary Art comes up with the goods. The neo-classical shrine to the eternally avant- garde was holding an opening for two exhibitions: a group show called 'Real Time', and some photographic works by one Steven Pippin.

Currently, of all forms of passive entertainment, art galleries - private views in particular - offer the most laughs for the smallest cost. The corridors were crammed with girls in orange flares and young men wearing Michael Caine glasses sucking on cups of red wine and shooting the breeze.

In the first piece in the main gallery, the artist (Gabriel Orozko) had laid out eight round stainless-steel bowls of the type used in surgery. As he declared in his accompanying text, he had tried to imagine an all-purpose utensil - for food, drink, anything you fancy - and his imagination had alighted on the bowls. Just think, consumer angst in the face of everyday multiple choice would be banished.

A weak idea, which only left me hungry for more. A few metres away he was doing the same thing - on video this time, and with blankets. Blanket as fashion garment, comfort blanket, raincoat . . . that was the extent of it. It was vaguely tempting to take up one of the pile of neatly folded sample blankets and try one on. Perhaps this was The Point? But no one else was, so I resisted.

By now I'd been there four minutes and had already done about half the art (the large black blob in the shape of an Ali Baba laundry basket didn't merit more than five seconds, I'm afraid). To slow things down, I fell back on the old speculation about the boundaries between art and life: perhaps the artists are trying to say something about the potential of objects to be transformed by their contexts?

Normally in an art gallery one wonders whether the packing cases and the bits of plywood left against a wall are part of the act, and keeps a respectful distance for fear of showing oneself up as a philistine. Here, however, the art regulars, the crop-haired and the pierced, had happily sat down at the trestle tables and were tucking into a Thai vegetable meal.

Here was Art You Consume. The artist, Rirkrit Triatanija, cooks a post-colonial-guilt-inducing curry at an industrial-style hob in a corner of the gallery, and the punters eat it. That's it. Bite- sized pieces of art. As you munched, you could ponder the integrity of the piece. Was the sign on the wall saying that, since they were not licensed caterers, the public ate at their own risk, relevant to the work?

Another cup of wine later and I was thoroughly in the swing of it. A serious-looking fellow and I approached the third exhibit simultaneously - a transistor radio, wall-mounted behind a Perspex shield - and, with synchronised confidence, sat down on the nearby chairs. We had learnt something about boundaries by then.

The artist Lincoln Tobier's radio played 'Protest (Pop) Music of the Thatcher Era' as categorised by the British Library's National Sound Library: 'Food for Thought' by UB40. 'Stand Down Margaret' by the Beat. 'Tramp the Dirt Down' by Elvis Costello. It all made sense. How unsubversive it had proved.

Twelve minutes in and I did the corridor on the way upstairs. A video made by hanging a camera out of the back of a bag in a supermarket. My, how things look different when we alter our perspective. Upstairs, Steven Pippin's work was in full effect. 'Introspective' was one wall of one room covered in photographic paper. On it was an inverted, negative image of the adjoining room. Pippin had turned the room into a pinhole camera by temporarily blocking off the central arch and leaving a hole about the size of a football. Exposure time, 24 hours.

What a cool idea. Then I looked at his catalogue. Washing machine made into pinhole camera. Wardrobe made into camera obscura. Photo-booth made into pinhole camera. Uh oh. Ten years, one idea. 'He should try swallowing a film and using his bottom,' I suggested to the attendant, but he obviously wasn't as avant garde as me, and kept his head in his book.

As I was leaving, a callow youth was entering the gallery, carrying a student-sized purchase of groceries in a Safeway bag. Through a tear in it, an unidentifiable can of produce dropped slap on the floor without him noticing, followed a few paces later by some courgettes.

'You want to be careful, mate,' I warned him. 'You might get taken for an artist.'

Comments