BY Sally O'Reilly in Reviews | 05 MAY 02

To value the exchange of ideas as a means of education and mutual assistance is a fine, noble sentiment, but the motive for exchange at Richard Salmon's gallery was quite different. The project (conceived by Henry Coleman and Rupert Norfolk), was an exercise in extrapolating germs of ideas and, conversely, retracing artworks back to their notional beginnings. Eleven artists were asked to formulate an idea for a future piece of work, which would then be reassigned to one of the others. The ideas were collected in the form of text and imagery and, using an undisclosed system of chance, redistributed so that each artist knew neither who was realizing their own idea nor whose proposition they were working from. This was not an exercise in improvisation, as the time lapse of two years between inception and exhibition gave the artists plenty of time to absorb the allotted propositions into their own practice, which many of them did to such an extent that the initial idea is indiscernible in the final work. The mainly sculptural results are displayed in the gallery as an exhibition of seemingly autonomous work while, upstairs, the ideas on paper are pinned on a notice board. By using two gallery maps as a key, each idea and its outcome can be compared and the level to which an artist has adopted or disregarded the suggestion of another can be judged.

The process seemed to upset the usual principles of intellectual property. Whereas plagiarism elevates the position of the plagiarist through the hidden efforts of another, here the appropriation was above board, making some artists even more determined to retain their own position. Peter Fillingham's proposal for instance: 'Something with stretchers, blankets, curtains, boxes, cabinets, paint', was passed on to Roger Hiorns, who made a knee-high structure with shrubby plants coated in electric blue copper sulphate, hung by bulldog clips from wire mesh. Other than the questionable definition of plants as the 'wood' of the proposition, the piece bears no relation to Fillingham's initial proposition. Then Fillingham, when working from David Musgrave's idea - 'Sculpture in darkness' - seems to have doggedly stuck to his own starting point. Although his pile of blankets, electrical appliances and chairs is in semi-darkness inside the wooden boxes with sliding doors, it complies rather closely to the list of materials in his own idea.

It is misleading to talk about respect or disregard for ideas in this context. The arena is not one of diplomacy, but an almost scientific interest in propagation. Take David Musgrave's treatment of Karin Ruggaber's idea: she typed out a rootless paragraph about the disappointing misuse of a particular building, and coupled it with a plastic folder containing torn up pieces of paper - although it already looked like Conceptual art, this was just the starting point. From it Musgrave produced a fine graphite drawing of the torn paper laid out to approximate a map of Europe and Africa. You could complain that he had ignored Ruggaber's complex idea and simply absorbed it into a particular strain of his regular practice. But then, why shouldn't he?

There are, nevertheless, some ingenious collaborative moments. Henry Coleman takes Rupert Norfolk's drawing of the Back to the Future car in wheel clamps, isolates the square spoilers and translates them into free-standing shelves. With bright chequered patterns and a dynamic tilt, they have Formula 1 connotations. Dave Muller, meanwhile, presented an erratic series of drawings and paintings on paper - Venn diagrams, statistical representations of emotional states, graphic and pseudo-scientific structures, badges and slogans - which come from an equally erratic set of text and graphic prompts from Hiorns. Henry Coleman proposed a Frank Stella table, which Mark Titchner realized in the form of a totemic construction with the declaration 'in eternity all eyes are open' accompanied by a strobing, rotating video of an iris and pupil. A signature Stella pattern appears in the background of the video and imprinted into the concrete base - the only horizontal element that could embody a table. There is no reason to insist that Titchner should actually have made a table, but it does make you wonder about the point of having such loose parameters.

In this context the temptation to project arrogance, perversity and wilful obscurity on to the artists is difficult to resist. If the exhibition were to be viewed solely in terms of the final work, ignoring the route from conception to realization, then the strong geometric presence is certainly cohesive, along with a distinct 'mid-20th century goes lo-fi domestic' tendency. This is a group of artists who often show together, so it is refreshing that they have cross-pollinated in a new, laboratorial manner. Even if the results don't seem radically different, the journey has been circuitous.

Sally O'Reilly is a writer, critic, teacher and editor.