When putting the process before the product leads to a journey without end







OF THE changes that swept in when "art" became "contemporary art", one of the most profound has been the shift in emphasis away from finished work to artistic process.

In Rembrandt's day, or in Renoir's, an exhibition was the end point of artistic endeavour. One artist might have been interested in how another artist arrived there, but the audience wasn't expected to be.

Today it is widely accepted that making art can be a means by which to study one's own way of making art. The process is part of the show. In some cases, it is the show. Jane Topping's solo show at Goma, They Are the We of Me, is a study in process. It is inspired by the American writer Carson McCullers, but does not attempt to explore McCullers's writing, or her difficult life. Topping is chiefly interested in the fact that McCullers's artistic process - she wrote vivid, unrelated vignettes she called "particles" which then grew into stories - is something like her own. She seems to be studying McCullers to understand her own process better.

The result is work which seems to be straining towards a point of completion, but never reaches it. Her pencil collages look like pages torn from a very rough sketchbook, barely more than committing ideas to paper. Her small paintings and installation are more polished but no more resolved. These are Topping's "particles". But McCullers didn't stop there. She took the fragments and wrought them into finely crafted novels and short stories. One can't help wonder what would happen if Topping applied the same rigour.

Prisms & Shadows at Glasgow Print Studio, curated by Becks Futures-winner Toby Paterson, is also preoccupied with process. The 12 artists he has chosen appear, on the face of it, to have little in common. However, the handout tells us that the uniting factor is that their processes are "layered or refracted".

Not surprisingly, given Paterson's own interests, several of the artists here are in some sort of dialogue with modernism or architecture. Others, like Jim Lambie, are concerned with pop culture - one of his works here is a study for a Primal Scream album cover. Others work in collage: Kevin Hutcheson makes delicate collages of found text and images, Tony Swain paints abstracts on to newspaper. In addition to this, a number of these works are maquetes for or prints based on larger works.

If this show feels more rigorous than Topping's, it also gives less away. There is not a sufficient body of work by any one artist to allow us to probe their concerns and ideas. This may be a substantial and carefully thought-out show, but the layman will not master it without prior knowledge, either of the artists themselves or of the context in which they operate.

If any proof was needed that Biennale fever has taken over the world, then the Lyon Biennale now has offshoots in six other cities. One of these is at Tramway, which has garnered an impressive quintet of artists for its contribution. The results, however, are less compelling. In Kader Attia's I Wait For You, the amplified sounds of two clocks challenge one other in a dark, silent room. Unfortunately, in this installation the room is neither dark (having two entrances open to the great hangar of Tramway 2), nor silent (being punctuated by music from Rob Kennedy's nearby video).

Ambassador is a film by Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer about the British consul in Hong Kong, a man whose role is in a state of flux. It's a delicately made work with a quality of stillness we have come to recognise in Nashashibi. Shown on a split screen, it juxtaposes images of the consul with the objets d'arts in his soulless quarters, a portrait of a man never fully at ease.

Fabien Verschaere has produced an exuberant drawing which stretches the length of the room, a text sculpture and an animation. He mixes the iconography of comic books and advertising with anti-war propaganda. It's like listening to a tale in an unfamiliar tongue: you might pick a word out here and there, but it's hardly satisfying.

Rob Kennedy's double video, Between yes and no, stop and go, also seems to be about the breakdown of narrative. But how does a work which seems to be about the fragmentation of meaning deliver its meaning to us? However skilled it is, it is doomed to remain trapped in a conundrum of its own making, leaving its audience frustrated.

• Jane Topping and In Between Times run until 20 November; Prisms & Shadows until 19 November.