TOMMY GRACE & KATE OWENS ****
INGLEBY GALLERY, EDINBURGH
CORN EXCHANGE GALLERY, EDINBURGH
THERE'S a story that circulates on the subject of contemporary art, that an artist made an installation out of rubbish which appeared in a London gallery with a hefty price tag attached. All was well until the cleaner came and threw it away.
I've heard several versions of this story over the years, naming different artists and different galleries, affirming that it has now reached the level of urban myth. It's hardly surprising: people like the joke. You have to be a highly cultured person, it implies, to tell the difference between contemporary art and rubbish.
The show currently at the Ingleby Gallery achieves exactly the opposite effect. Tommy Grace and Kate Owens, two young artists from Edinburgh who work individually and collaboratively, may make extensive use of materials such as empty carrier bags, but their work is anything but throwaway.
The centrepiece is a "stained glass window", NU-autumn, which filters the light through the gallery's long Georgian window in shades of orange and green (visit early in the day for the best effect). It's so effective and carefully made that you need to look more than once before you realise that it's made from fragments of plastic bags - orange from Sainsburys, green from Marks & Spencer.
And then there's the bin. Owens and Grace, both founder members of Edinburgh's artist-run gallery The Embassy, were in the RSA's Young Athenians show last year which transferred to this year's Athens Biennial. While in the city, Owens became intrigued by the design of the litter bins used by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in the Acropolis and has made an exact replica, painted white.
But the stand-out work here is a set of hand-tinted photo-etchings of abstract shapes in a stone alcove. Delicately coloured in soft but dramatic lighting, they somehow manage to suggest classical sculptures, despite the fact that they are (you may have guessed it by now) empty carrier bags.
The best is a pale green M&S bag which looks like a kneeling figure. It's a contemplative, suggestive work which - though it sounds faintly ridiculous - puts me in mind of a pieta. It's rare, but once in a while art achieves this kind of alchemy, it takes an utterly ordinary thing and makes of it something truly extraordinary.
This small show manages to speak both with the art of the past - classical Greece, neo-classical Edinburgh - and the present's conceptualism. It speaks about our obsession with shopping and packaging; our near-unconscious absorption of logos; our desire to consume (the prints are hand-coloured with e-numbers, not paint). It has a light touch, but it is more than a visual punchline. It's profound and unexpectedly beautiful.
Meanwhile, there are more bright young artists than you can shake an M&S carrier bag at in Open, the first group show at Leith's Corn Exchange. Some 35 students from all over the world currently doing the Edinburgh College of Art's Master of Fine Art course, were challenged to make a work with maximum size of 30cm x 200cm.
Time was that this would have produced a lot of long, thin paintings, but artists these days are used to thinking outside the box and have produced sculptures, installations and much else besides. By its nature, it's a taster show, and without the benefit of context, the quieter works are going to struggle to hold our attention.
Nevertheless, Jonathan McFadden's prints, Ingvild Andersen's Eulogy for a Housing Estate photographs, Pingyeh Li's delicate paintings, Yuping Li's Edinburgh cityscapes, Brian Hewitt's Constellation No 5, made of wire and fairy lights, and Daniel Irwin's figurative paintings all deserve a mention.
But the work which one remembers from a show like this tends to be that which captures the imagination from leftfield. Here it is Jana Liptak's A Poem for all My Lovers, Past and Future, which made me chuckle; Sandra Vick's quirky wood cutouts, which work like a children's puzzle; Helen Johnson's Cup Concerto, fully scored for a plastic cup and a pair of hands and Selkirk & Begg (there's always one) allocating 200cm x 60cm x 30cm of empty air.
There isn't enough here to form a conclusive opinion on any artist, but it's a intriguing foretaste of things to come.
• Tommy Grace & Kate Owens runs until 24 November; Open runs until 20 December.