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Time for reflection

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review - Douglas Allsop At Kettle's Yard, Castle Street, Cambridge, until 12 September

One of my favourite moments in Kettle's Yard is seeing Prometheus, the Brancusi child's head, resting on the Bechstein grand.

The polished dark cement oval, the shiny wood-grained piano top, and the even darker shadow-pool, give incredible richness with such minimal means. There is a tense and poignant stillness: the form, surface and reflection between are in perfect balance but you feel it is about to tip.

Between the piano and the sash window is a new wall-piece by Douglas Allsop (above), one of five works currently installed in the house at Kettle's Yard. It is a large black acrylic sheet, about 0.5 x 1.25m, hung on tiny steel pins. Landscape in format, with four equally spaced vertical cut-out slots, it seems just to skim over the surface of the wall. The slots are quite wide, revealing the white roughcast wall behind, and are widely spaced, framing large areas of acrylic within the whole. The acrylic is smooth, shiny and dark liquid-black, but as it reflects the space and objects around, sections become bright and light - brighter, even, than the white wall it is on.

You start to question what it is you are actually seeing - the surface, the reflection, movement beyond and behind; it is all there in front of you, momentarily captured at a point of change, but nothing is as it seems.

This piece is one of an ongoing series of works called Reflective Editor - a name that is completely apt, as the relationship between you and the works is a constantly changing dialogue between the reflecting and editing process. The series - three more of which are in display in other parts of the house and five in the gallery - explores the effects of different proportions, and the relationship between the material and the space they frame, both through what is taken away - literally the space of the wall - and the space that is reflected back onto the acrylic.

There is a certain anxiety, for Allsop at least, about showing pieces like this in Kettle's Yard. Allsop's work is challenging. It is cool, mechanical and rational - in some ways diametrically opposed to the Kettle's Yard aesthetic, the comfortable 'just rightness' and gestural narratives of St Ives.

Allsop is more accustomed to 'white cube' spaces, where attention can be focused on the work without having to compete. You can understand his concern about working within a domestic setting, particularly one as precious as this, but it's unfounded; here in Kettle's Yard, the Allsop works both complement, and are complemented by, the objects around. Both share, while expressing it differently, a basic concern for space and light.

The themes are explored further in Blind Screen, a piece that has been installed in the upstairs extension. A continuous weft of videotape is stretched backwards and forwards wall to wall at high level, its overall depth and length matching the roof light that it runs alongside. It appears taught and tight, and you feel the tension pull between the walls. From an oblique angle the work appears solid, but as you move towards it you become aware of the small gaps between the tape; it shimmers and becomes more fragile.

From directly underneath, it is so thin that you hardly perceive it at all. The work is just made from ordinary videotape (60 hours play time, apparently), but it has an extraordinary presence in the room - being somehow both obtrusive but, at the same time, scarcely visible. Blind Screen acts as an ordering device, a sort of datum line, organising the collection of Alfred Wallis paintings on the wall behind. But it explains the essence of the room itself (see above).

The Reflective Editor series and Blind Screen are impeccably executed works that stem from simple, strong ideas of order, space and light. Much could be made of the theoretical connection, say, between framing and surveillance, but such ideas do not explain the most important aspect of these works: their arresting beauty - both as objects in their own right, and how they respond to their locale, whether white cube or home.

They make you look, reflect and edit; you slow down and see things in a different way.

Sarah Jackson is a CABE design review adviser

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