Terry Grimley enjoys the wacky world of Swiss duo Lutz and Guggisberg at Ikon Gallery and takes a look at Ikon's new outpost in Digbeth.
Whatever you think of the work of Swiss artists Andres Lutz and Anders Guggisberg, who are having their first UK exhibition at Ikon Gallery, you have to admit they have a sense of humour.
Lutz and Guggisberg, who have worked together as a team since 1996, have filled two floors with installations, projections, photographs and sculptures. I warmed to them straight away with the first instalment, called Library.
You enter a room which seems to have been plucked from the home of an avid and eclectic reader. It is decorated with sumptuous standard lamps, a wooden sculpture in the form of a globe made of found objects, and paintings by the artists inspired by landscapes from various styles and periods.
However, the main focus of attention is the very diverse collection of books which are stacked on shelves and displayed on tables. On closer examination it begins to seem asome-what odd collection, with subtly implausible juxtapositions of titles, authors and jacket designs: my favourite was called Christmas Dishes with Billie Holiday, with a cover photograph inexplicably showing asnowy crevasse.
On still closer examination, it becomes apparent that these are not books at all, but dummies made from blocks of wood. Apparently, depending on how much time you have available, all sorts of interlocking links can be found between these perplexing volumes.
In the next gallery there is a throwaway, one-line joke which might be poking fun at Antony Gormley's famous Field collection of small terracotta figures. Called 35 Tonies shifting the block, it consists of 35 tiny, cartoon-like figures straining to move the central display screens.
The screens themselves display Impressions from the Interior, a series of 30 black-and-white photographs with a wide range of subjects from cluttered shop displays to wide-open Alpine landscapes. Some are distinctly idiosyncratic, like Seashells, Teeth and Jacket, which seems to show asinister figure -actually just a costume - wearing a pig mask and surrounded by garden gnomes. But overall the effect is too diffuse to make much of an impact.
Upstairs, Wash the World is a two-screen projection in which an absurd comic-book scientist twiddles the controls of some power station-like machinery which is obviously crudely made out of cardboard. His efforts result in natural phenomena being reversed so that, for example, a waterfall flows uphill.
Possibly this wonky homage to studio-bound science fiction has some intended ecological message, but there is more artistic magic in Man in the Snow. Here, a looped film of a man struggling through heavy snowdrifts is projected on to a lit white wall, so that the wriggling figure is wraith-like and at times scarcely visible. So much so, in fact, that I initially walked through the gallery without noticing him.
The other occupants of the gallery, by con-trast, would be very difficult to miss. The whole room is filled with around 200 sculptures of birds, knocked together with happy abandon and sometimes laugh-out-loud wit, out of fire-blackened wood reclaimed from old packing cases.
Ikon is also showing three videos by Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle, who likes to take a bird's eye view of unusual interventions in city traffic.
In one, a fire engine circles a roundabout while spraying water into its centre, while in another equally spaced white vans drive around a courtyard, preventing access to other vehicles.
However, Iwas most struck by Confronto (Confront), in which a team of fire jugglers performs in front of vehicles stopped at traffic lights. Each time the lights change the jugglers step back, returning with the red lights with two additional members.
Eventually there are eight of them, completely blocking the road, and this time they ignore the lights turning to green - provoking a cacophony of horns and some intimidating behaviour from the drivers.
There is something quite compelling about this escalating drama, partly to do with the elemental factor of fire and partly to do with the ambiguity of the jugglers as they switch from entertaining motorists to defying them.
Over on the other side of the tracks, Ikon has just opened its new outpost in Eastside. Located on Fazeley Street, with a clearly signed entrance, it is more of a white-cube exhibition space than either of its previous incarnations, though this was not immediately apparent when I arrived, as it was in almost total darkness.
However, it turns out that the lighting of the initial installation, Island by Soi Project - a group of artists, musicians, architects and de-signers established in 2003 by Japanese architect Jiro Endo and Thai artist Wit Pimkanchan-apong - is meant to simulate night and day.
The installation consists of two imaginary tropical islands - one large, one small - created in three dimensions and covered in pho-tographs of forests, while the entire floor of the gallery around them is covered in a photographic print of the sea.
Visitors are provided with stickers representing various tourist-related activities which they can add to the display in locations of their choice,in aseemingly redundant parody of neighbourhood consultation.
It's an interesting space, but this particular exhibition needn't detain you long. The only other visitor Isaw was aman who stepped in off the street to use his mobile phone.
* Lutz and Guggisberg Impressions from the Interior and videos by Cinthia Marcelle are at Ikon Gallery, Brindleyplace, until July 20 (Tue-Sun 11am-6pm; admission free); Soi Project Island is at Ikon Eastside, 183 Fazeley Street, Digbeth, until June 22 (Thur-Sun 1pm-5pm; admission free).