Until February 3; doggerfisher, Edinburgh

Before the ZX Spectrum won my heart, I used to love those Choose Your Own Adventure books, which offered a choice of routes and a variety of outcomes. If I stumbled blindly into a bad ending, I would secretly flip back to the page where I went wrong, and try another path to success.

I am increasingly reminded of those furtive backtrackings by a new generation of artists across the globe, which doesn’t seem to like the ending it has been presented with. From its utopian beginnings over a century ago, modernism was elevated to the high creed of minimalism, and thence to conceptualism, escaping the studio forever. As ideas became paramount, craft and materials became obsolete, and over the past few years, young artists, armed with pencils, foil, and whatever bits of stuff they could lay their hands on, have started to fight back.

As the shape of their rebellion emerges, it transpires that this younger generation has flipped back to a page where modernism still had all its options open. They don’t want to follow their elders down the road of reduction, where the human touch is eliminated until there is nothing left to touch at all. They linger with fondness on that old page, running their fingers over every choice, not yet prepared to seal their fate.

That’s the territory you’ll find in doggerfisher’s show, Friedrich. Nothing to do with the German Romantic painter of the same name, the show features seven young German artists based in London, all friends. The name Friedrich, apparently borrowed from an obscure German fashion stylist, is something of a red herring.

The overall feel of the show is so balanced that it seems a shame to pick it apart, piece by piece. Guest-curated by Bruce Haines of Camden Arts Centre, the two rooms are orchestrated in perfect, invisible harmony. No single work dominates the others, and a sense of all-round contentment hangs in the air. There are no labels telling you what you should know, but if there were, they might only disrupt the quiet equilibrium.

References to early 20th century modernism abound. In the centre you are reminded of Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column, and on the wall, the light experiments of Lázló Moholy-Nagy. On a ledge perches Josef Albers’ early foray into stained glass and on the floor, the colour studies of Paul Klee. All of these, and more, are not reproduced, but lovingly quoted.

Karin Ruggaber’s Relief #22 sits, only just, on the wall; a doodle made concrete. Roughly set slabs of plaster, with air bubbles and burred edges, balance on a few protruding nails. The curving shapes, tinged here and there with pink, fit together like a watercolour petrified. Early modernists grappled with the idea of the painting as a physical object in its own right, and here, its status is unmistakeable.

The human glow of Relief #22 recalls the subtle tones of a Paul Klee wash, and the resemblance is even stronger in Ruggaber’s Wall #4. Here, too, she builds a painting out of chunky, tactile materials: plywood and clay, in a patchwork of Klee’s slate, skin and sky hues. Like a rough-iced cake, Ruggaber’s façade draws you in, this free-standing little wall celebrating both its object-hood and its surface appeal with a mud-encrusted, primal glee.

Alex Heim brings out the magpie in you with his glittering installation, Untitled (Five found wing mirrors). Propped up like trinkets on a mantel-piece style ledge are five shattered mirrors, rescued from the treacherous Rotherhithe Tunnel in London. Their shattered surfaces, like jewelled mosaics, remain in their oval black frames, their prettiness belying the possible tragedies of their past. Bauhaus artist Josef Albers’ assemblages of shattered glass, picked up from the streets of post-war Weimar, come immediately to mind.

Above the entrance passage, Heim’s video, Kanal 2, revisits the cluttered canvases of abstract expressionism through the constant, silent bobbing of flotsam on the surface of a canal. Projected on the whitewashed brick wall of the gallery, this heaving, breathing mass of indistinct form and colour rivals the most textured of expressionist paintings. But it is ephemeral, composed only of light and restless movement.

Back in the world of real paint and canvas, Helene Appel’s large oil, The Minutes, takes time to unfurl its magic. At first sight it is an indifferent action painting, brown and red curls of paint scattered evenly across the raw canvas. On closer inspection, some of the brown lines are carefully drawn twigs, their pale shadows differentiating them from the abstract strokes which share the surface. Abstraction is born before us, all over again, as three dimensions and two engage in a silent battle for supremacy. All possible outcomes hover in the air, the adventure ready to begin all over again.

Catrìona Black, Sunday Herald 07.01.07