Nick Hackworth

Publicness, ICA

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

In a breathless bid to generate publicity at a time when immigration and nationality are once again high on the political agenda, the ICA has hyped the fact that foreign nationals gain free admission to their latest group show, Publicness, while luckless Brits will have to pay the usual entrance fee. Seemingly a self-serving topical stunt, the bizarre admissions policy is actually an initiative by Jens Haaning, one of the artists in the exhibition, designed to provoke questions about immigration, racism and the ownership of culture.

Even if you are not a foreigner, the exhibition is worth seeing because it highlights an odd but increasingly important strand of contemporary art practice, “intervention art”, that has evolved from the traditions of performance and conceptual art. Along with his fellow exhibitors, Matthieu Laurette and Aleksandra Mir, Haaning does not make art objects intended for gallery display. Instead, all three occupy a grey area somewhere between art, direct social and political action and eccentricity, and work by interacting with people and institutions to realise their creative ideas.

Haaning’s interventions play upon people’s innate prejudices against foreigners. For example, he plastered Geneva with thousands of copies of a poster he created in Arabic that, since 9.11, many would assume carried anti-Western invective but, in fact, told an old, Arabic joke. Mir displays a video of her one-day event First Woman on the Moon, where she involved an entire Dutch community in a mock-moon landing, and plans for a beautiful piece of public art, a meadow field in the midst of a rundown area of Glasgow. Laurette, meanwhile, uses more demotic forms of engagement, including numerous appearances on crap French TV shows and the staging of lookalike events, one of which took place at the ICA last night (featuring the pictured Mr Bean), to investigate the idea of spectacle in modern society.

Though many would be hard pressed to recognise some of the activities of these artists as art, their way of working is likely to become ever more prominent, and in its further erosion of the distinction between cultural production and life it holds both the promise of invigorating life with the idealism of culture and the danger of infecting art with the mediocrity of everyday life.

Until 16 March. Box office: 020 7930 3647